Another week, another round of Rihanna going viral for all the wrong reasons.
Three days after she brought the haters to the yard via her Super Bowl halftime show, she shared the cover image for the March 2023 issue of British Vogue, in which she’s traipsing on a beach, pulling her boyfriend A$AP Rocky by hand as he holds their 9-month-old son while kissing his head.
My immediate takeaways: “Black excellence. Black beauty. Black success. Black family. And I’ll never look as good as Rocky in a leather vest with no shirt.” The first comment under my share was a friend telling me the cover would lead to vomit-tary. I didn’t see it at first glance, and I wasn’t ready for how correct he was.
Questioning the agenda of a mass media machine that has historically injected its messages — subliminally and otherwise — is understandable, especially in a world in which Fox News exists. But I’m blown away at the degree of wild theories people have taken away from a perfectly innocuous photo: The emasculation of Black men. A Black woman with “hard angles” dominating a “soft” Black man. It’s apparently the origins of COVID, HPV and Avian flu wrapped up in one shot on the beach. This one image single-handedly may have a hand in the corruption of the Black family and the decline of civilization as we know it.
A married Black woman with children said in my comments that she didn’t like the photo because it plays to the “strong Black woman” trope, and the picture “feels like it’s taking her out of her feminine energy.” Some folks flexed their apparent Osteology degrees to type with sincerity that Rihanna’s face looks “too masculine,” as if she’s no longer the gorgeous Barbadian we’ve all been lusting over for two decades.
(Rihanna also went viral for the backlash over calling her son “fine.” Because now that the pandemic is over, folks need to manufacture stuff to complain about.)
You see, the Vogue cover article is about Rihanna, so it stands to reason that she is in the foreground on it. She agreed and maybe even had the idea of having Rocky on the cover with their son. No guns were pointed at anyone’s head, and clearly, Rihanna is happy with it since she shared it. Also, imagine if everything else was constant and Rocky was pulling Rihanna as she held the kid. A boss billionaire Black lady being led by a less-rich, less-famous man…? The pitchforks would be out.
I don’t know anyone in the art or editorial department at British Vogue, but it’s a mile-wide stretch to assume that they’re all plotting to emasculate Black men and got one of the world’s biggest stars in on it. I’ve worked for these publications before… it’s not that serious for them. Everyone just wants to get the job done and get home in time to catch “Jeopardy.”
One day after Rihanna’s share, Ebony shared a photo from its February 2023 issue featuring rising star Jonathan Majors in a cover spread. Appearing as if he hasn’t seen an ounce of body fat since the Dubya administration, the first photos of the chiseled Majors that the magazine shared earlier this month doubtlessly had many women treating “Creed III” pre-orders like Beyoncé concert tickets.
The new photo depicts Majors sitting on the back of a couch draped in a frilly pink jacket (or cape?) with his nipples out and some jean-footie-boots combo that I’m nowhere near fashion-inclined enough to understand. Majors, already the patron saint of duck lips, is particularly duck-lippy in the photo.
I objectively view the cover as something that Billy Porter might do and can understand why someone unfamiliar with Majors might wonder about his sexuality, given the photo. But since Majors is not openly gay, in came the stentorian comments section detractors complaining about Ebony contributing to the emasculation of Black men for daring to shoot a brother draped in pink.
First off, some of the manliest cats we know have routinely rocked pink: Ric Flair, Macho Man Randy Savage and Cam’ron, to name a few. Secondly, that photo is actually an homage to Donquixote Doflamingo from the popular anime “One Piece,” a deep nerd gem probably lost on 98.72% of Ebony readers.
Secondly, it’s nigh certain that Majors like Rihanna was allowed to see and sign off on the photos that made it to print. I could be wrong, but I doubt he’s teeing up his lawyers to sue the publication for making him “look gay.”
Majors shared his thoughts on the cover, and, as suspected, he thinks it’s dope.
“It’s great. It’s beautiful. It’s Blackness, art, culture, creativity that’s what we’re about,” he said on the red carpet at a recent event about the cover image hitting the internet before adding, “It’s always good to make a ruckus when it’s a positive ruckus.”
The persistent yet tiresome conversation about “emasculating” Black men suggests an ongoing conspiracy in 2023 by the White Man ™️ to Beta male us all back to chattel slavery. Whenever someone says “they” are plotting a conspiracy but can’t exactly specify who’s behind the pronoun, assume that they probably religiously donate 10% of their income to Dr. Umar Johnson’s Marcus Garvey School of Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.
It also evokes the True Hollywood Stories skit from “Chappelle’s Show,” where Charlie Murphy talked about Prince. Murphy mentioned that in the early 1980s, it was perfectly acceptable for dudes to wear eyeliner, mascara and long, drippy jheri curls. “The guy who looked most like a bitches was getting all the women,” Murphy said. It’s as if folks over age 40 spewing Black emasculation theory forgot what vinyl album covers looked like back then.
Speaking of Prince, that dude strolled around with a swish, wore eye makeup, had flowy hair, and rocked assless chaps. He represented himself with a symbol that merged both male and female. Not only weren’t we questioning Prince’s masculinity 35 years ago, but he became every straight man’s role model by consistently pulling eye-wateringly beautiful women two-and-a-half feet taller than him.
You don’t have to be attracted to men in makeup and dresses, but a person’s sartorial choices are not emasculating. It’s quite the opposite — they’re applying their agency to shift the paradigm. A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Jaden Smith and the like choosing to wear skirts is dead last on the list of concerns people should harbor for Black men, especially when these men are rich and likely pulling finer women than your broke ass could ever dream of. And that is not to say that wealth, and one’s choosing to dress in what has traditionally been considered feminine attire are completely synonymous or that being a wealthy femme-dressing man will lead to attracting a higher caliber of romantic partners. Because Black men are not a monolith.
To that point, there’s a delicious irony that men who crow about “masculinity” often turn women off. Rocky, playing his role on the cover as a doting and supportive dad, has opened himself up to a whole new demographic of adoring women. Meanwhile, the dudes talking about, “Naw, that couldn’t be me dog… Rocky looks like a punk” are somewhere getting outed on social media for their pathetically canned “hey, beautiful” DMs to women.
Your hypothetical 7-year-old Black son isn’t going to alter his sexuality by admiring Majors in ”Ant-Man: Quantumania” and then looking at his duck lips-friendly Ebony photo. Our people won’t suffer from the objectively positive image of a connected Black family on the cover of British Vogue. A government that can’t even find a way to control guns doesn’t have a secret division somewhere dedicated to our wholesale emasculation.
Again, a boatload of historical context justifiably makes some people question some media-released photos. But in these cases, you’re likely wrong, and you’re probably just looking at dope-ass pictures. So, shut up and enjoy them. And, for chrissakes, give Rihanna a week of peace.