The first time I heard “Becky” used as a joke, Sir-Mix-a-Lot was not yet a punchline, but a genius. In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve taken the liberty of copying the famous intro skit from “Baby Got Back,” because who doesn’t love that song?!
“Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys?
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean…gross. Look!
She’s just so…black!”
First of all, let me say the unstated obvious. There are such things as black names and there are traditionally European names. There are indeed black girls named Rebecca. But anecdata suggests that black families generally do not nickname their daughters Becky. That’s a “white name.” Hence we know, in the parody before “Baby Got Back,” that the silent Becky to which the Valley Girl is speaking is a white woman. Also, I doubt another black woman would’ve said “She’s so…black!” in disgust.
From there, I’d need a etymological historian to parse out exactly when “Becky” became a racial insult. But here we are in 2013, and Becky means a lot more than just a pet name for a sweet girl. Black people commonly use the term “Becky” when referring to generic white women. It has a slight negative connotation (airheadedness), but white women don’t have to do anything to deserve the title.
But I often hear it employed during conversations of interracial relationships involving black men and white women. “Black women don’t do XYZ like white girls do, that’s why we’re wifing Becky.” I’m a bit ashamed to admit that quote from a tweet is mine, in an attempt to characterize fetishism in interracial dating. (I was parroting the sentiment and phrasing I’d heard about this topic). Even if the tone wasn’t my own, I can see how it serves to perpetuate the use of the term.
Using “Becky” really gets sticky once you venture into rap. Rapper Plies performs a popular song called “Becky.” One guess on who he’s talking about. Plies is singlehandedly responsible for coining the phrase “Give me that Becky,” and turning a name into slang for fellatio. Nothing is formed in a vacuum. His euphemism is built on the false line of thought among black men that white women readily give fellatio.
Clearly, this is as problematic as sexual stereotypes against any demographic of people. Women fight on a daily basis not to be objectified, but this portrayal takes it further and assigns white women a role to which they may not ascribe.
Despite my dislike for using a proper name as a slur, it took an actual person to bring it home to me. After my tweet, a white colleague nicknamed Becky told me about how she’s been forced to use Rebecca instead. A group of black men were catcalling her down a sidewalk and she was doing her best to ignore them. One of them yelled out, “Hey Becky!” That’s her name: she automatically swung her head around. But this had the opposite effect of validating the men’s impression that she was a Becky, not a woman named Becky. They laughed. She laughed, too, because…it is kinda funny.
But I stopped laughing quickly. I had never thought about the implications of people using your name as a stereotype against you. Where can you run to escape that? What if “dara” became a slang for anal sex because of the mistaken idea that all girls named Dara are good for it? I would grow to hate the name lovingly given to me by my parents.
Ultimately, like any broad brush insult, “Becky” is unfair because it objectifies and dehumanizes white women. And no, white women don’t need me to cape for them; they have agency and they’re perfectly capable of defending themselves against catcallers and like idiots. But at the very least, I can point out why it’s an ignorant word and stop propagating its use.
And to my colleague named Becky, and all women who have been called out of their name “Becky,” I’m sorry.