Oh boy. Well, I mean, look. Not to say Blake Lively is a person who confuses me but she got married on a former slave plantation, so yes, I have been confused for a very long time. (Life hack: If tempted to get married on a former slave plantation, don’t. Choose another place! Like, there are many old buildings in the world that you can get married in, so maybe avoid a literal symbol of slavery and racism and death and torture. There is a very nice insurance building in my hometown that looks like an old house. Maybe try there.)
And now I am more confused because Lively took to Instagram yesterday and captioned a photo of herself with the iconic lyric, “LA face with an Oakland booty.” Which is not cool on several realms, because as Ira Madison III brilliantly argues at MTV, the lyric operates under the same realm as Beyonce’s “Becky with the good hair.” Meaning that “LA face” refers to the white, American beauty standard, and the “Oakland booty” — as Madison says — “refers to a large derriere, an undesirable butt that Jane Fonda workout tape enthusiasts from LA wouldn’t be caught dead with.” So in short, BLAKE NO. “Baby Got Back” isn’t for you. That’s not how it works. I’m sorry.
But okay. Okay. Sure. People make mistakes and blah blah blah, I am not here to defend Blake Lively because I believe if you are a millionaire celebrity, you are surrounded by the necessary tools and people you can talk to when you’re confused about things like racism and Woody Allen. (Other thing I am confused by: Blake, why are you defending Woody Allen? What’s going on over there? Is everything alright?) But I am here to say here is where we can all learn: think first, post later. Does a caption feel weird? Is there a part of you that thinks, “I don’t know if this is for me?” Do you feel like you might be appropriating another culture or making a joke that isn’t for you? If you have even a hot second of those feelings, just don’t post. Just don’t! It’s okay! Life will not end if you do not make that racist joke, I swear. In fact, life will be better. For everybody. I promise.
Because I think we’re all very quick to want to seem witty and funny and cool and hilarious and very original. We really, really want to feel like we are . . . special? Relevant? One of those. But also, in our rush to feel like “we really get it,” some of us are probably also not thinking. And thinking is the most important step in being a person because it prevents things like cultural appropriation, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, body shaming, etc. etc. etc. And odds are, Blake Lively wasn’t sitting there thinking, “HA HA HA WATCH ME NOW.” And that’s because she wasn’t thinking at all. Like, at all. But you know what? That is equally bad. “Not thinking” is sheep action. People go along and go along and go along and all of a sudden Donald Trump’s the Republican candidate. You see what I’m saying? “Not thinking” isn’t a catch-all. We have to think. It’s our responsibility as people who are alive. So as funny as you may think an “Oakland booty” joke may be in the back of a limo in Cannes, it’s so much bigger than that because you are taking something that doesn’t belong to you and then laughing at it from atop White Privilege Mountain.
And then it does a lot of harm, and people get hurt, and they get angry, and all because somebody didn’t think.
So here’s the moment of learning for this week: if something seems like it could be racist, it probably is, so don’t post it. If something feels appropriative, it probably is, so don’t post it. If you’re not sure if it’s okay for you to say something, it probably isn’t, so don’t post it. Think! Thinking is great. And ask! Jesus C., if you are confused about anything, ask someone. Anybody. Preferably a person you respect and who is not an idiot. Also, read a book. Read essays. Read the internet (the entire internet — honestly I feel like Blake needs a laptop and a year away, stat). Educating yourself is the best because it means you automatically start to think and won’t LOL at an appropriative joke and think, “I bet I can get away with this.” Because you can’t. And you shouldn’t.
And if you’re still very confused by Blake and Cannes and thinking and being racist and Instagram and everything else I just mentioned, here is an excellent quote from The Office that I like to consult:
“Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ And if he would, I do not do that thing.”
Blake Lively, I’m sorry, but that was an idiot thing to do.