“Did you ever know that you’re my hero, and everything I would like to be? I can fly higher than an eagle, for you are the wind beneath my wings.” — Bette Midler, Wind Beneath My Wings
On Thursday, September 19, 2019, singer and actress Bette Midler posed a question on Twitter asking if Beyoncé’s followers, known as the “Beyhive,” could prioritize voting against President Donald J. Trump during the 2020 presidential election year. Her tweet read as follows:
“#Beyoncé has 133 million Instagram followers. More than double the people who voted for Trump. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the #BeyHive mobilized to defeat him? I also wouldn’t mind if a regular bee hive fucked his shit up.”
While the request seemed harmless, given Beyoncé’s mass appeal and Midler’s apparent distaste for the current president — thus resulting in her push to remove him from office, Midler’s tweet was met with much criticism. Some felt she was putting unnecessary pressure on Black women to impact the presidency. For example, Twitter user @megi_jay wrote:
“Hi, white liberals need to stop pressuring black people into saving us. Black women are already very invested in the party-even though the party has often abandoned them. It’s on white people to work on other white people. You could have addressed this message to Taylor Swift.”
Arguably, the tweet aimed at Beyoncé and her followers is an example of the burden often placed on Black women in America to help progress the country, while also removing responsibility from other women, White women specifically. This ideology is troublesome, given the many accomplishments throughout US history that were made possible because and at the expense of Black women. Moreover, Midler’s words seemingly ignored the current political involvement of this demographic.
Ask of the Body
Prior to and throughout President Trump’s first term in office, many have argued that he is not fit to serve the role. At times, his temperament has been questioned. Moreover, the president is accused of colluding with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. Some have even speculated that his racist rhetoric has led to violent attacks on Blacks, Hispanics, and other people of color. For these reasons and more, numerous Americans including Midler have been looking for ways to remove Trump from the presidency. A general consensus among US citizens opposed to his presidential term is that he is “tearing the country apart.”
In contrast to popular opinions about President Trump’s negative impact on the US, Black women as a collective have consistently worked to better the lives of Americans. First, one must consider the Black woman’s body. The enslavement and exploitation of Africans in the US is largely responsible for the country’s current wealth and power. During this period, White slaveholding men and women primarily used Black women for their physical labor and reproductive abilities. This often came at a great cost to slaves but benefited White slaveowners directly and other occupants of the country indirectly. For example, in many cases Black women were expected to partake in wet-nursing, a practice that involves a woman breastfeeding another woman’s child. White slaveowners believed that Black women had a superior ability to suckle and utilized Black women’s breasts to raise healthier White children — the next generation of slaveowners and exploiters of Black people — while paying “scant regard to the very real difficulties faced by black mothers attempting to raise their children under a system of bondage” (West & Knight, 2017, p. 48).
The use and abuse of Black women’s bodies has also occurred in the American medical field as well. According to Savitt (1982), the Medical College of the State of South Carolina used “black patients for surgical demonstrations throughout the antebellum years” (p. 335). Black women were among these patients. Moreover, James Marion Sims, considered “The Father of Modern Gynecology,” conducted research on enslaved Black women without the use of anesthesia. Perhaps a more widely known instance of the American medical community exploiting Black women occurred when Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951, had cells taken from her without the knowledge of her family or her consent. Her cells, now called HeLa cells, never cease diving and have helped bring about some of the most significant medical discoveries of the modern era, including advances in cancer and HIV/AIDS research. However, Lacks’ family has never been properly compensated for her contribution to modern medicine.
Need for the Mind
Black women have also been major contributors in politics. During the 2016 presidential election, specifically, Black women made up the largest demographic voting for Hillary Clinton (94 percent), according to CNN exit poll data. By contrast, most White women (52 percent according to the same CNN exit poll) voted for then-candidate Trump. A similar result was seen during the 2017 US Senate race for Alabama, in which national news media focused on controversial Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democratic hopeful Doug Jones. Despite Moore being twice removed from the bench as Alabama chief justice for opposing same-sex marriage, once accepting a $1,000 donation from a Nazi group, and having several women claim that he romantically pursued — sexually assaulted — them when they were teens, Jones narrowly won the Alabama Senate seat. Exit polls from NBC News indicated that most of Jones’ supporters were Black women (98 percent) while 63 percent of White women voted for Moore.
Given the abovementioned findings, perhaps Midler should not be targeting Beyoncé or the Beyhive to vote against President Trump in 2020.
As a counter to Midler’s critics, one could argue that there is no racial component to her tweet since Beyoncé has a diverse fanbase. This viewpoint was expressed by some, such as Twitter user @kunstmansarah, who wrote:
“You assume she said this cause Beyonce is black? And you assume all Beyonce fans are black? I’ve reached out to celebrities via twitter for support on important issues because of their huge fan base, not because the color of their, or my, skin. Much love and healing to us all.”
A possible rebuttal for this viewpoint, thus acknowledging that race is a factor, could be that: 1) Beyoncé has visibly aligned herself with the Black community in recent years and 2) Beyoncé was the only mainstream artist Midler has targeted recently.
First, since 2016 Beyoncé has publicly supported Black causes, evidenced by her album Lemonade, the Super Bowl 50 halftime performance where she paid homage to the Black Panther Party, and her 2018 Coachella performance, nicknamed “Beychella,” in which Beyoncé took part in a historically Black college and university-themed production. During this year, the artist collaborated with several African artists to produce The Lion King: The Gift, which featured a song she performed entitled “BROWN SKIN GIRL.”
Second, Midler did not reach out to other celebrities who are just as popular on Instagram. These include Taylor Swift, Kylie Jenner, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, and Selena Gomez. Oddly enough, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is currently the only other Black celebrity with Beyoncé’s level of Instagram popularity. However, debate surrounding his racial ambiguity often distances Johnson from the Black community.
Freeing the Soul
To close, Midler is within her rights to ask for anyone’s help in removing President Trump from office. However, her request of Beyoncé and the Beyhive is another case of history repeating itself. During the US slave trade, Black women helped the US gain wealth and power while simultaneously caring for their White slaveowners. Their bodies have helped advance medicine so that all Americans and beyond now benefit. Additionally, the political involvement of Black women must not be undermined. The voting power of this demographic is great. For this very reason, Democrats hoping to run for President of the US in 2020 look to Black women as a key voting bloc. Despite their involvement in shaping the US, however, more is expected.
Perhaps Midler and others like her should look to their own for help. Black women have earned a rest.
Savitt, T. L. (1982). The use of blacks for medical experimentation and demonstration in the old south. The Journal of southern history, 48(3), 331–348.
West, E., & Knight, R. J. (2017). Mothers’ milk: Slavery, wet-nursing, and black and white women in the antebellum south. Journal of Southern History, 83(1), 37–68.