Most of us have heard, if not used, the phrase, “ride or die”—a term implying undying loyalty regardless of the circumstances. People tend to say it thoughtlessly in reference to best friends, romantic relationships, or, if you’re Kim Kardashian West, your latest perfume, but we don’t often think about what it really means, or the real-world consequences of the behaviour it encourages. People feel so entitled to this language—today, Black hip-hop culture is pop culture, and it’s full of examples—that this thoughtlessness deserves a second look. Because while the literal application of ride or die is totally restrictive for anyone interested in exploring nuanced and equal relationships, it’s particularly problematic for Black women.
Why Beyoncé is a ride or die chick
Take the narratives that have unfolded around Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44, and how they play into the ride or die narrative. On Lemonade, Beyoncé recounted her husband’s long-rumoured infidelity and the betrayal she felt—but she ultimately chose to remain his ride or die chick, both aurally (hello, “Sandcastles”) and in real life. She was largely praised for it, both within and outside the Black community. That’s somewhat surprising, since Beyoncé’s image has always been characterized by flawless professional achievements and glimpses into an equally perfect personal life. But that perception of flawlessness wasn’t shaken by her accusations of infidelity, or Jay-Z’s confirmation of it. That’s because, despite her immense talent and accomplishments, her choice to stay in the marriage—and ability to rise above hardship—was what we perceive as the only right choice. Of course, their marital difficulties weren’t shared in real time, but the vulnerability Beyoncé showed in the journey through Lemonade not only told us that she chose to stay, but that she was strong for doing so.
4:44, on the other hand, seemed designed to frame Jay-Z’s indiscretions as growth, with his wife’s feeling as collateral—and it really only scratched the surface of some of the ways toxic masculinity, particularly in the Black community, influenced his infidelity. Being a ride or die chick is a role Beyoncé exclusively performs, but it’s one that both she and Jay- Z have relied on and benefited from since the start of their relationship in the early 2000s. And that’s the conflict at the core of the ride or die ideal, as Ijeoma Oluo explained in a beautiful essay on Lemonade and the impossible standards that Black women face. She aptly states: “This expectation of Black women to suffer in silence is passed from generation to generation. Beyoncé explores this inheritance unflinchingly: ‘You remind me of my father – a magician, able to exist in two places at once / In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me.’”
We feel pressure to remain loyal to Black men—no matter what it costs us
Clearly, in this case at least, celebs are just like us. Famous or not, superstar or not, the idea is that Black women must live up to the ride or die ideal as a requirement to succeed and thrive in relationships. And it’s not just about standing by your man after he cheated. In “The Other Side of the Game,” a play written by Toronto-based artist, educator and television host Amanda Parris, the expectation that Black women will remain loyal to Black men, regardless of the cost, was a consistent theme throughout.
In an interview, Parris told me that she was inspired to write the play after visiting a friend who was incarcerated in a Toronto jail. After looking around and realizing she was surrounded by mostly Black women, she began to wonder just how disruptive these visits were to these women’s lives: “What did these women have to do with their day in order to be there, did they have to take time off work or have to find childcare, did they have a car to get there or did they take transit?”
Parris asked women who had supported loved ones that were incarcerated these exact questions, and those interviews led to the foundation of “The Other Side of the Game.” Toggling between two time periods—the ’70s and the early 2000s—the entire play showcases the nuanced language Black women use to communicate our feelings when we are let down by the men in our lives—and the betrayals it portrays are ones I innately recognized. When the Black men we work with in our activist circles simultaneously sexualize us and erase our contributions, it creates a hyper-visible erasure, where we are seen, but not recognized, something that’s fuelled by misogynoir.
An unfair burden on Black women
And then there’s the pressure to attain and maintain Black love. When our relationships fail, we’re the ones who experience disappointment and shame. They might end due to disloyalty, distrust or infidelity on the parts of Black men, but Black women still internalize it as our failure. The concept of “Black love,” while limited to the narrowness of heteronormative cisgender relationships, remains a staple in our community.
Black women already navigate absurd stereotypes of hyper-sexuality, criminalization and overall suspicion as we move through the world. With Black men, we may be able to shed the latter, but we are often faced with constant unrealistic expectations of loyalty and the expectation that we are unendingly tolerant in all relationships, ranging from romantic to familial. Because we love and protect our community so fervently, we don’t need to be told to be ride or die—we already are, even to our detriment.
But what would the world be like if our communities made a concerted effort to be ride or die for us? I think it’s time we find out.
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