Many moons ago, fresh off an unexpected achievement and gaining a toehold in both the music industry and the fun, freewheeling network that was once Twitter, I decided to celebrate my unlikely success with the social media tagline, “Just your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door ... may I borrow some sugar?”
Playful? Yes. Obnoxious? Perhaps; depends upon whom you ask. But it’s true, and I won’t apologize for leading with it. It’s a cherished accomplishment and, in my rougher moments, a much-needed reminder.
But does it make me inherently “special”?
This question came to mind as I read “Having a Baby Isn’t a Miracle and Doesn’t Make You a Goddess,” the New York Post op-ed attacking a pregnant Beyoncé for evoking the deity Oshun—or, as interpreted by this writer, the Virgin Mary (whom we might still recognize as the Black Madonna)—on the 2017 Grammy stage, as she had previously in her nine-time-nominated visual album, Lemonade.
At the heart of the writer’s indignation: How dare Beyoncé declare herself special. It’s worth mentioning that this writer was once fired for arguing to eliminate black studies curricula. Truthfully, this is a piece so embarrassingly ugly in its assessment, I hesitate to even link to it. (As a palate cleanser, I suggest the rebuttal it inspired: “Why You So Obsessed With Me: How Beyoncé Exposes the Insecurity of White Women.” It’s a sublime read, and I heartily encourage you to feast thine eyes upon it.)
Here’s the thing: Beyoncé never called herself a goddess. She didn’t have to. She just showed up and Beyoncéd (yes, it’s a verb). This time, with two babies on board.
You don’t have to be a member of the “Hive” to acknowledge that pregnant or not, few accomplish what Beyoncé does in an average year, let alone this past one. Many believe that makes her special, but what she admirably did with Lemonade was make others—namely, black women—feel special. And despite being a woman—and mother—herself, that offended this white writer, likely because she wasn’t included in that narrative. Hers is inherently a judgment call on who deserves to be considered special, and by what criteria. And as seen here, it’s gross.
But we do this, too, don’t we?
By “we,” I mean black folks. For centuries, we’ve subscribed to any number of arbitrary criteria (skin color, class, hair texture, education level, etc.) to set our already-marginalized selves apart and, whenever possible, above. And while this is understandably an outcome of our history in America—from the field vs. the house to the Talented Tenth and beyond—we continue to revel in any opportunity to distinguish ourselves as “special.”
The most recent iteration of this is perhaps the most fantastical, since it literally draws on mythology to make its point. Ahh, yes ... the fabled and elusive “unicorn.”
Initially used to describe the idealized third partner to a polyamorous duo, in recent years, the term has been appropriated (yes, we do it, too) to describe certain types of black men or women who consider themselves wholly exceptional and, accordingly, entitled to more than everyone else—especially when considering prospective partners.
Also known as “Special Snowflake Syndrome,” this phenomenon evolved alongside those of New Blackness and the friendlier subset who identify as “blerds.” And though there is almost always an argument to be made for being “evenly yoked,” so to speak, there’s a distinctly problematic and even narcissistic streak that runs through the mind of a self-proclaimed “unicorn.” After all, has there ever been any more coveted and magical a creature?
But while having an intimate knowledge of anime, a sommelier certification, obsession with Harlem dandy culture or a coding fetish may be a unique, adorable or even admirable trait, it is simply that—not a testament to greatness. And insisting that it’s anything more smacks of a type of snobbishness that is sadly transparent. As humorously noted by online satire site Encyclopedia Dramatica: “Science shows that those who feel insecure about their uniqueness are more likely to constantly assert how unique they are.”
And are we handing out participation trophies for adulthood, now? Because it seems that even pedestrian accomplishments, such as holding a job, having a degree or not being a deadbeat parent—or, for men specifically, remaining unmarried and childless well into adulthood—are expected to be cause for applause. Umm ... OK. Frankly, as a heterosexual, single, child-free, career woman now in her 40s, every time I hear a man my age boast about holding out for his “list,” I hear “commitment-phobe,” not “special.”
Most importantly, to laud basic “adulting” as an accomplishment is to ignore that none of the above would be considered at all exceptional if not for the school-to-prison pipeline, lack of access to economic and educational mobility, and intraracial violence that continue to plague our communities and impact our family structures. So, at whose expense does all that “specialness” occur, exactly?
While gloating over our awards, degrees, condos, international travel or exclusive memberships to (insert elitist things here), are we being willfully ignorant of the fact that along with our hard work, ambition and intelligence, some of that success (specifically, the ability to claim specialness) is just dumb luck? Because to believe otherwise is to subscribe not only to the myth of the unicorn but also to that of the “good Negro” in a system never intended for our success. Any specialness we experience is only in relationship to and on the back of blackness itself: pretty (for a black girl), smart (for a black child), articulate (for a black man) ....
Isn’t that special?
So, how about this: When it comes to finding a “special someone,” maybe it’s time we stop chasing unicorns and hiding behind identity politics. Survival makes us special enough. Better yet, we could take a hint from Queen Bey—and Maya Angelou before her: Maybe you’re only as special as you make someone else feel.