Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Why I Kinda, Sorta Hate It When Black People Call Other Black People “King” And “Queen”

Yesterday afternoon, inspired by Aliya’s Lady Luck story, I went down a 90’s hip-hop YouTube rabbithole and spent a couple hours or so listening to GZA, Mobb Deep, Big L and a dozen more artists who created both the soundtrack and the aesthetic for the 15-year-old me. If you happened to be in the Pittsburgh-area during that time and you happened to bump into a gangly, headphones-donning teen rocking a fisherman’s cap, fatigues, beef and broccoli Tims, and a Wu-Wear t-shirt, there’s a 215% chance it was either me or JHubbs. That music also influenced my vocabulary, as the Pittsburgh-born and bred me starting incorporating “son” and “b” and “word is bond” and “Studying 120 right now. Call me back at the God Hourto my lexicon. (Exactly how insufferable was I? On a scale from one to 10, I was probably Lupe Fiasco. Which means I was a 12.)

Anyway, halfway through this journey, I stumbled on to few Nas songs, including a playlist where “I Can” was the first track. Now, although this song is basically Head Start Program elevator music, I’ve always appreciated its attempt to be empowering and uplifting, and I listened to it again to see if I should add it to the list I’m currently curating in my head of “Rap Songs I Won’t Skip If My Daughter Happens To Be In The Car With Me.”

Verdict? Hell no. Because on closer listen, the first verse is an awkward allegory about Whitney Houston, the second verse is basically “hey little girls, here’s how not to get raped and get AIDS,” and the third verse is peak Hotep.

The last verse also begins with a line that has always annoyed me:

“Be, be, ‘fore we came to this country/We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys”

Now, the idea that we (Black people) descended from royalty isn’t an uncommon one. It’s a popular reference, found in countless songs, texts, and speeches as an understandably empowering juxtaposition to how Black Americans have historically been portrayed here. So popular is this reference, in fact, that many of us use “king” and “queen” as pronouns. It also has some historical merit, because there were actually kingdoms with kings and queens and unfathomable wealth. But this — both the reference to descending from kings and queens and being referred to as “king” — has always (always!) bothered the piss out of me. Why? Well, because that’s not how kingdoms work!

If you’re from a place where kings and queens existed, there’s a small chance you actually directly descended from them. And a much, much, much, much, much, much, much larger chance you descended from people who were ruled by them. And, if history is any guide, if you happen to be from a place with an unfathomably wealthy ruling class, that unfathomable wealth most likely ended with the ruling class. Everyone else was either some version of middle class (not very likely) or a peasant (very likely). For Nas’s line to be accurate, it would have to be amended to “Be, be, ‘fore we came to this country. We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys. Well, like four of us were kings and queens. The rest of us tended goats and shit. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with tending goats. Goat tending is a very honorable profession. But we were totally goat tenders, not kings and queens. Except for four of us.”

Also, personally, I kinda enjoy just being a person. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. The “king” and “queen” references aren’t meant to be taken literally. They’re more terms of shared racial acknowledgement and endearment than anything else. But kings and queens rule. And have unlimited power. And are elevated from common people. And, when the people decide they’ve had enough of your rule, they don’t retire. They get captured, imprisoned, and beheaded. None of that sounds particularly appealing to me. (Especially the beheading. I like my head and I wish to keep it.)

So yeah, no “I Can” on the “My Daughter’s In The Car With Me” playlist. And if you’re one of those Black people who call other Black people “king” and “queen,” it would probably be more accurate if you started saying “teacher” or “bridge builder” or “salmon farmer” instead.

(And yes, I’ll still accept “son” and “b” too.)

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    I need you to be my phone a friend when this topic comes up with my uncle. Somebody was moving those bricks to build the pyramids, constructing the aqueducts, washing the Royal peen. I got a feeling that my clan was performing one of these tasks rather than sitting on the throne.

  • I’ve stated this CONSISTENTLY. It is illogical for ALL of us, even a small fraction of us to have descended from royalty. ESPECIALLY Egypt (Which is what they all are saying without saying). Further, what is so bad about being an artist, or a merchant, or a goat tender…and let’s be honest. There were ALWAYS criminals. Some of us descend from thieves and murderers. That’s just logic. So like. Miss me with that #Queen business. I’m Twilisha, and I have NO kingdom over which I rule. I’m just a person.

    • cakes_and_pies

      I have stated time and time again, I’m be alright being a pleb.
      Besides queens didn’t really have a choice in their spouse, and was expected to be a baby boy factory and usually had no claim to anything herself. I ain’t about that life.
      People ouchea thinking men are Eddie Murphy, we’re Iman, and all we did all day was to delight in the dancing man with curly who grabs his crotch.

      • LadyIbaka

        Ummmmmmm, ma’m I highly, highly disagree.

        • cakes_and_pies

          That’s fine.

      • QuirlyGirly

        As long as my ancestors were hard working and honest. I am fine with that. And if they were thieves and murderers then I can’t do anything about that now can I?

        • cakes_and_pies

          And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • Mary Burrell

        Remember The Time

    • The one thing I give Australians credit (well, I don’t be thinking about them that hard to have a list or anything)–but the one thing I give them credit for is that they will joke about how they are descended from criminals.

      That’s real.

    • Pinks

      Liiiiiiiike, most of us are geographically prolly from areas in West Africa, not Africa. If I see another one of them old Remember the Time a s s memes with “In Egypt we were……” I might delete my IG.

      • LadyIbaka

        Queen I think you are Baganda.

        • Lol, I thought you meant “Babaginda”

        • Pinks

          Just looked them up.. they be getting it at the ceremonies. I can get down with being Baganda lol

      • Roemello_Skuggs

        A lot of these Kingdoms people reference dealt in the trade of slaves. That’s how they got so wealthy. A King is just another name for a Dictator. There’s no reason to worship any person born of a woman.

    • Olympia

      There were Empires ALL OVER AFRICA AND THE PLANET. Not just Egypt. I think everyone needs to read more history than has been shown in public schools.

      • I’m refering to the popular images most people use when talking about our “royal heritage” I’m aware that there we many different empires, that being said, it’s still unlikely the number of people claiming royal bloodlines are indeed royal. ESPECIALLY Egyptian royalty.

  • LadyIbaka

    I’m a Queen.

    • Freebird

      Yeah its not that deep. If Charles is a prince and his mama a queen, you can be a queen all day.

      • LadyIbaka

        Shoooooo! I KNOW!! It ain’t that deep. You a KING!

    • cakes_and_pies

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with declaring *yourself* a Queen.

      • YeaSoh

        But, but, but I think AM (and you) is a queen too… is that ok? *side eye*

        • cakes_and_pies

          I don’t know what you’re saying, but there is no need to be rude.

          • YeaSoh

            Cakes stop… now we can’t joke with each other? Like come on. Clearly we disagree but it’s all love… laugh, Sis.

            • cakes_and_pies

              I can’t in these e-streets! Much love!

        • LadyIbaka

          Lmaoooooi!!!! You my peoples!!!!! Is you a Queen too? Or is that an affront to your personhood?!?!

          • YeaSoh

            We >here<

    • Yay Radley

      I’ll take “queen” over that tired “princess” trope any day.

      • LadyIbaka

        Princess leads to queendom. Lisseen….I don’t give two phakks about this royalty bruhahaha. What happened to the boo before the Radley?.

        • Yay Radley

          I changed it to “yay” in support of my move toward positivity in the ’99 and the ’16.

    • I’m a boss bit*h…

      • LadyIbaka

        You in first place or nah?!

  • KB

    I had this very discussion with someone this morning on Facebook. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of Hoteps use the term “queen” when trying to smang.

    • That Power Universal, Queen.

  • cakes_and_pies

    This is why I dislike that word now.

    • QuirlyGirly

      The last sentence is soo truth! * slow claps

      • cakes_and_pies

        The last few times I’ve been called “queen” was to shut me up and shut me down because guys didn’t like what I was saying how some Black men don’t protect Black women.I know it’s used in a good way at times, but lately hoteps done jacked the word and messed up the game..

        • mochazina

          hoteps done jacked everything they have and messed it up.

        • DebKII

          or the memes my cousins post using it to monitor how much clothing women wear. Why be a thot when you could be a QUEEEN?! please.

          • EGGGGG-zactly!

            My cleavage ain’t doing nothing harmful to you; leave it be.

            • Tina

              But Ess Tee, how will all the real Kings out here be able to recognize that you are in fact a Queen? Now stop playin and put on this burka.

              • The crown of glory that is mine afro shall do the trick!

              • Mary Burrell

                lol

            • Pinks

              Oh yes it did! You’ve effectively dethroned yourself, Claire Huxtable, Cherokee D’As s and every other nubian goddess of subsaharan ancestry with your wonton need to display your lady chesticles for the world to see! You ain’t never getting married now.

              • LOL! Cherokee D’As s, tho?!

              • badphairy

                Bring them over here. I need some scenery.

          • I’m going to flaunt these DD’s I brought in a cleavage showing dress from BeBe and hand in my queen crown. I have no F*cks to give about a Hotep’s opinion.

    • Well dang. That’s pretty deep.

    • YeaSoh

      Sorry but I call bs. That don’t eeen make sense.

      • DebKII

        Naw it makes plenty of sense. It resolves the other person from any responsibility. “You be there for me, but I can’t be there for you. You need to be strong enough for the two of us. If you show vulnerability, thats your weakness, that’s not what QUEENS do.”

        Nah son, we’re people. Not magical superheroes, ancient royalty, or fictional book characters.

        • YeaSoh

          I may be bias because I’ve never had someone call me a queen then treat me like sh*t on some “but you can handle it tho” type deal. That’s the connect I can’t make. I don’t even necessarily think strength when I hear “queen” either, I think elegance. Now, the word I hate is “independent” like I’m just supposed to do everything by myself because I’m supposed to be so independent and strong… bwoy stop the bs and split this mortgage wit yo girl.

          • fxd8424

            African brothers say I look like a Queen, and I’m not offended. It’s meant as a compliment used in that context and I take it as such.

            • Freebird

              Ninjas only mean harm to black women. You know that!

          • Pinks

            Nawl, girl. You can’t EVER claim independence, cus then nuccas will use that as an excuse as to why they won’t pay for dates, child support, flowers, a stick of gum, NOTHING, Jesus. HIGHKEY nuccas be mad intimidated by women who don’t need them financially.

            My homegirl just got a 2015 Porsche and called me this morning like “This da mn car gonna be the reason I’m single forever.”

            • Sean Harris

              Maybe your friend is a crappy person and thats why shes single. The car has nothing to do with it. And maybe she should hang around a different type of guy if all the guys are that intimidated.

              • Pinks

                Did a woman with a Porsche recently spurn your advances? You seem a little hot under the collar.

                In any event, she’s a great person who happens to make enough money to afford a luxury vehicle. She is getting work done on her house and asked a worker if he needed anything from the store. His reply: “I may not drive a Porsche, but I can buy my own food, thanks.” Seems he’s the crappy one in that situation, no?

                • YeaSoh
                  • Tina

                    LMAO. This made me cackle. That’s some insecurity for you.

                  • Pinks

                    She said she was so taken aback all she could say was “OK, well d amn.”

                    I told her she should’ve asked him if he wanted a ride in the backseat to be petty.

                    • YeaSoh

                      I prolly would have told him he can wash it some time and pretend it’s his when people drive by

                • Wow!!

                • Runthempearlshoe

                  Oh wow. That’s crazy.

                • Noor

                  Wow! It is not about hiding who you are and what you have, but be prepared for ppl to come at you crazy when you are doing big things. I, myself, prefer to keep the green eyed monsters away from me and lay low.

              • Asiyah

                You sound hurt. Calm down.

                • cakes_and_pies

                  Maybe a #WasteHisTime tweet got to him.

                • Sean Harris

                  not really just stating a possible alternative reason that makes more sense then every man on the planet is intimidated by me. which seems to be quite a self conceded hypothesis.

              • AlwaysBluffing

                There are dudes who are otherwise smart, decent guys who assume that a woman who’s highly educated or more moneyed than him has a substantially higher likelihood of being uppity and hard to deal with than women who don’t fit that description. This new Porsche owner might well be as unlikeable as you say, but let’s not pretend like a non-trivial amount of us aren’t prejudiced against accomplished women.

                • Ms. Odessa

                  Wayment. What…? Le sigh.

                  • AlwaysBluffing

                    Definitely not saying it’s everybody, or even half (I don’t think), but it seems to be enough that it’s worth acknowledging.

            • Lol!

            • NomadaNare

              Depends on the woman

              and the Porsche

              • badphairy

                Why does no one understand my Murcielago pain?

            • Question

              While I fully feel what you’re saying, I also think we have to let go of this archetype and narrative that the majority of men (cuz I know nobody said “all”) are going to be intimidated-by/can’t-handle/can’t-measure-up to our success.

              • Freebird

                There are in fact a lot of men out here who do have that problem. But in 2016 I think is disingenuous to say most men.

              • Pinks

                Real talk, I know of ONE situation where the woman makes more than her man and he’s OK with it. Obviously not all and maybe not even most men are bothered by their women’s successes, but I honestly haven’t seen cases with my own eyes where that’s worked out for an extended period. The women were always made to feel the wrath of his jealousy in one way or another, some of them subtle and others not so much.

                • Kikeh Wah

                  To be fair. Most relationships dont work out for an extended period of time.

                  People struggle with balance in many different ways. Fair ? or bs (?)

                • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

                  How much of this jealousy was unwarranted versus how much of it was understandable do you think. Real question, I’m not trying to feed one side or the other. I can say as a dude who has seen similar situations (not with myself fortunately), that ladies can often consciously or unconsciously also f*xk with the power dynamics in a relationship based on this money-making disparity.

                • Question

                  …but did they not see snippets of this discomfort before locking it in (assuming that they are married)?

            • Jasmine

              THIS. RIGHT. HERE! Lord, I can admit I like nice things. Luxury car, cute little studio in the middle of the city, the occasional excursion, but nowhere in my dating life have I claimed “independent” on the self-identification sheet. Naggas stay with the “You’ve been able to do so much on your own. You don’t need me.” Like wait…..did I sign up for a relationship for 1, bc I didn’t see any of this in the fine print.

              • Pinks

                This is all I hear from my doing it on their own friends. One guy straight up asked me what to buy her for her birthday because he felt like he wouldnt be able to get her anything she’s used to. Mind you, the girl just wanted to go to dinner and have ice cream by the monument, but because she does quite well for herself, he assumed she wouldn’t want what he could afford. It’s almost like you can’t call yourself independent or be proud that you do for yourself, otherwise you’re a braggard woman who doesn’t know her place enough to be humble and let ole boy come take care of you.

                • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

                  This is a rock and a hard place, and I know dudes OD, but c’mon, no dude you want is not gonna want to feel needed by his S.O. There’s nothing wrong with dude feeling this. Nor is it particularly weird for this guy you referenced to wonder at what to get a woman who seemingly has fine tastes and the ability to get things herself. I’ve seen ladies come at dudes sideways many a time for not being able to afford what they though befit their stature. The concern is real.

          • Crystal

            Speak on it! I get so sick of people thinking they’re are giving me a compliment when they say I’m independent. Fool Who else is gonna pay this mortgage?

        • If i called any woman a queen, it’s probably cuz i thought she was fly. Since marriage though, the title has been relegated to one. And a queen she is.

          • DebKII

            Thats sweet. Our hotep brothers don’t mean it as kindly.

            • guest

              I have only meant that in a complementary and loving way when spoken…who are these “hoteps”?

            • Question

              Can I ask – where are ya’ll constantly encountering this hotep dudes offline?

              • kid video

                They sell incense and body oils, on a table in the middle of the mall:-)

                • Question

                  But why is you stopping at said mall-kart? Now you know those incense smoke up the house and do nothing but making your eyes tear…

                  • kid video

                    Your been puttin in work wit ya twitter fingers for the past hour;-)…I forgot all about this comment.
                    I’m a smoker so…

              • DebKII

                Harlem bars

                • Question

                  *Notes to self, avoid the Harlem Bars after 9PM*

        • Mary Burrell

          Or supreme deities either Gods and Goddesses.

        • Olympia

          I don’t think we are people. I think there is a REASON civilization started with us in the form of education & spirituality, and terms like “god” and “queen” REMIND us of the higher vibration and knowledge that was naturally embedded into our culture for all walks of life at a certain point.

          If you haven’t seen or explored the highest version of yourself, you are likely to mistake the mediocrity showcased throughout this society as the best we can be.

          • DebKII

            I can experience the highest version of myself without placing someone elses superficial term on it.

      • cakes_and_pies

        Explain you perspective.

        • YeaSoh

          Responded to DebK

          • cakes_and_pies

            Gotcha

      • LadyIbaka

        ?!

    • -h.h.h.-

      *sigh*

      not every person that utters a term means to offend, my Queen.

      • cakes_and_pies

        Boy, bye!!!

      • LadyIbaka

        Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Question

        Just because you don’t mean to offend doesn’t mean you’re above giving the term deeper thought, and potentially making adjustments.

        • -h.h.h.-

          part of me agrees with what you said, and the other part of me sees the slippery slope, and does not wish to ride said slippery slope, and will instead go to Wa-Wa’s and order some food.

    • jess-s

      this is a deep and needs an entire post to itself

    • Qris_10

      Yes! The Strong Black Woman/Queen trope is what makes people unlikely to believe we suffer from mental illness, broken hearts, loneliness, etc. etc. I was given the Queen speech by my uncle when I suffered from depression and it made me feel worse. You begin to feel guilty that you’re not Queen-like and have and impenetrable sense of self and confidence through the roof. Feeling more depressed because you are depressed……ain’t that some BS?! “Queens” have to hold up this hard shell, and yet still get punished for being “too hard” or insensitive or “not feminine enough”.

      • DebKII

        “too hard” “insensitive’ or “not feminine enough” what a tightrope to walk

      • KNeale

        Yes! People don’t see black women as vulnerable sensitive human beings. First, its like girl said somewhere on this thread: our strength is used as an excuse for people to burden/abuse even more.

        Second, if we do show any kind of vulnerability we are essentially not believed and told we need to buck up. This is true with mental illness, workload, physical pain, etc. And it either comes as us being manipulative/having ulterior motives/seeking attention/being immature OR being called weak and instructed on how black women would do XYZ and only white girls do ABC.

        This is real folks. Its real.

        And I’m so tired of it!

        • Qris_10

          Just another way to stereotype us and place us into boxes…

        • SoloBolo

          “Second, if we do show any kind of vulnerability we are essentially not believed and told we need to buck up.”

          Or told that we’re just mad. Cuz black women are always mad 0__o

          • KNeale

            I used to work as a DV advocate for people getting restraining orders. People do not respond well to black women being emotional. All women have to face the “lying manipulative and/or weak” stereotype that people want to reinforce repeatedly but for black women its something different.

            They really punished black women for being human beings. If you were to look at a woman who (in the depths of trauma from ongoing sexual assault and physical abuse) is hysterical, loud, emotional, you would see a woman in crisis. Everyone else sees a liar. A woman who is “mad” that her boyfriend left her and now she is pretending/making up stories to try to extort him for child support/ punish him for leaving her. Women coming in there suicidal and/or at risk of genuinely being murdered and all the court staff (and the judges and police) roll their eyes at them, laugh at them, accuse of them of just being angry black women who is jealous of god knows what.

            And again, it sucks for all women in this situation. Help is few and far between for all women in this situation but for black women the “angry black woman” and the general disbelief that black women experience pain and trauma came together in a way that its hard for me to even articulate.

            They really believed that black women couldn’t REALLY be hurt or experience pain. All just some charade to game the system because we’re so angry.

            Also, see this woman who died after the hospital kicked her out and police left her laid out in parking lot for 18 minutes because no one believed she was really experiencing pain.

      • cakes_and_pies

        THANK YOU!

      • cakes_and_pies

        That title left me suffering in pain when I thought I had breast cancer and didn’t want anyone to pity me, limping because I thought I broke my ankle and didn’t want anyone to support me, and I was in a DEEP depression because I didn’t want to let anybody down.

      • Rich Garriques

        so now black people refuse to empower themselves and continue to make excuses for why they don’t support each other. now belief in our once powerful and strong black women is a disadvantage now? so black people have allowed white people to break them? what is going on here? you realize before slavery before the taking of our culture we knew whom we were and we didn’t harbour insecurities we knew who we were as a people that was part of our culture humanity and nature allied with the universe. now black people are letting socialism created by white people destroy their sense of accomplishments as a people. shame on you American black slaves I am sorry for what has happened to your ancestors but this is totally unacceptable I do not want my children growing up this way and thinking there is this huge void in front of their success as a people. we will never defeat white people if we continue to feel sorry for ourselves. drop the bible and quit socialism it is time to empower our people and gain back what was taken from us by force.

    • Crystal

      This ish right here!!! Hold my mule!! But I will say this is how I get every job I’ve ever gotten. I feed into their belief that I’m that over achieving black chick that does everything perfectly. Once, I’m hired….

      • Elle FlylikeEagle Davis

        Funny..Yes the need to have a dual personality…fact of life for many.

    • Jeresmom

      I love everything about this. Had to actually come out of lurker mode to post to this!

      • cakes_and_pies

        Welcome! Please engage. I was the same way, but VSB welcomes different perspectives.

    • Formerly_Marcella

      YES. OH MY GOD YES. I WAS JUSSSST SAYING THIS TO SOMEONE WHO DID NOT UNDERSTAND. Ok, I’ll cease with the caps now but I am so excited to see other people know/understand the concept. Being “superhuman” is harmful because it means you are still NOT HUMAN.

      • cakes_and_pies

        It’s enough for you to want to yell “Be-otch, I bleed too!”

  • Eric Billings

    first time I heard the instrumental on I Can I thought it was a public service announcement from the Department of Education

    • miss t-lee

      *hollering*

  • Dmaclee

    I just discussed this on FB. We weren’t all kings and queens but most of us had jobs. Something that many of these hoteps seem to miss.

    • They also seem to miss that the bulk of Africans who were sold into slavery came from the western side of the continent and not Kemet or Nubia.

  • panamajackson

    Peace King, but you will not disrespect the royal lineage from which I descended, god. Bong Bong.

  • I honestly use it as a term of endearment, yes I’m guilty. I don’t use it often but it’s more of a reference to power, confidence, beauty, etc. and less “position.” If it equated to my being actual royalty, I wouldn’t be planning my whole entire schedule around making sure I get me a powerball tix before tomorrow’s drawing.

    • panamajackson

      I got mine, queen.

    • OSHH

      I have to pick the spot I am playing in MD, where one can remain anonymous when I go collect that 496 mil cash payout.

      • I thought about it and with much money, I’d go public. I’d have to hire security but I would be on a billboard making it rain on myself. Forecast calls for BALLIN!

        • OSHH

          An obscene amount!!
          I’mma have to move quiet though.

    • Mary Burrell

      lol

  • Five percenters everywhere are offended by you, Damon. And they will send a child named Beautiful Royalty to spam your inbox.

    • I was riled up reading the comments and then I come across this and I am in tears laughing! Damn!

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