From the Associated Press:
A newly discovered horse fly in Australia was so “bootylicious” with its golden-haired bum, there was only one name worthy of its beauty: Beyonce.
Australian researcher Bryan Lessard, 24, says he wanted to pay respect to the insect’s beauty by naming it Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae. Lessard said Beyonce would be “in the nature history books forever” and that the fly now bearing her name is “pretty bootylicious” with its golden backside.
This is not an honor. He is not doing her a favor. In fact, Lessard is evidencing an ongoing, problematic fascination with black women's bottoms. Dr. Janell Hobson, in an essay in which she analyzes "the prevalent treatment of black female bodies as grotesque figures, due to the problematic fetishism of their rear ends," (88) on the history of this bullshit:*
[A] history of enslavement, colonial conquest and ethnographic exhibition-variously labeled the black female body "grotesque," "strange," unfeminine," "lascivious," and "obscene." This negative attitude toward the black female body targets one aspect of the body in particular: the buttocks (87).Dr. Hobson delves into the longstanding fascination with/assumptions about black women's alleged hypersexuality, a hypersexuality symbolized by our deviant bodies and an "emphasis on the black female rear end, with its historic and cultural tropes of rawness, lasciviousness, and 'nastiness'," (97). And though this history extends much farther than two centuries into the past, she highlights the heartbreaking and dehumanizing display of Saartje Baartman, arguing that "perhaps no other figure epitomizes the connections between grotesquerie, sexual deviance, and posteriors than the 'Hottentot Venus'," (89), put on display primarily for the " 'strange,' singular attraction" of her rear end (88). As crunktastic notedm over at the Crunk Feminist Collective, about Lessard's naming of the fly in Beyonce's "honor," "The legacy of Saartjie Bartmann lives."
Lest you think this is purely a compliment (I say purely because I am sure, in some strange way, Lessard meant it as such), ponder Dr. Hobson's words on Sir MixALot's Baby Got Back:
This so-called "appreciation"of black women's bodies does not necessarily challenge ideas of grotesque and deviant black female sexuality. Interestingly, both the song and video uphold and celebrate the black body precisely because it differs from the standard models of beauty in white culture, (96).Substitute "the naming of the fly" for "both the song and video."
If you're still leaning towards, "compliment," think of this: The recent "global desirability of a Black girl’s ass" is not complimentary; it grows out of a history of othering and "exotifying" black women's bodies and "excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair," you know, the still grotesque and "ugly" parts of us.** But the appeal of black women's butts is not always enough to "excuse" our deficiencies/lack of beauty in other categories. In fact, a curvy backside becomes even more desirable when it is not attached to a black woman. As Dr. Hobson notes,
[P]erformer Jennifer Lopez offers a slightly different take on rear-end aesthetics. Her Latina body, already colored as "exotic" in a so-called changing American racial landscape, bridges the desires of black and white men, because she can serve as the "racial other" for both. More importantly Lopez's derriere does not carry the burden of Baartman's legacy.Or, as I read in my Facebook feed the other day,*** part of the adoration/fascination with Kim Kardashian is the desirability of having physical features typically associated with a black woman unencumbered by the history of racism, colonization, and devaluation.[snip]Dominant culture came to celebrate Lopez's behind as part of a recognition of "exotic" and "hot" Latinas, women perceived as "more sexual" than white women but "less obscene" than black women. In this way, Lopez's body avoids the specific racial stigma that clings to black women's bodies (97).
I guess what it boils down to is the naming of this fly as symbolic of a culture of what crunktastic calls "disrespectability politics":
This is a world where disrespectability politics reign, a world where black women’s bodies and lives become the load-bearing wall, in the house that race built, a world where the tacit disrespect of Black womanhood is as American as apple pie, as global as Nike. (Just do it. Everybody else is. ) In this world, Black women have moved from “fly-girls to bitches and hoes” and back again to just, well, flies. Insects. Pests.
Please spare us honors like these, Mr. Lessard.
* Janell Hobson, "The 'Batty' Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the Black Female Body," Hypatia 18, no. 4, Women, Art, and Aesthetics (Autumn - Winter, 2003): 87-105.
** From this sentence by crunktastic: "In this world, the global desirability of a Black girl’s ass excuses her allegedly less desirable dark complexion, full lips, and kinky hair." I know, I know; someone might argue that full lips are all the rage, but remember they can't be too full and they are much "better" on a non-black woman--hello, world's fascination with Angelina Jolie!
***paraphrased from a note or article posted by one of my friends for which I have searched desperately and cannot find. Please let me know if you know the citation. (Update: Here it is! Hat Tip to checarina at Shakesville, where this is crossposted)