This woman's work: The case for Beyoncé and black feminist criticism

This woman's work: The case for Beyoncé and black feminist criticism
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| February 25 2016,

08:30 am


Due to the instant connectivity we all share, now more than any other time in history, we see a demand for artists, entrepreneurs, and influencers with large followings and platforms to take a stance on some of the largest and most political movements happening in the world. People with a visible career or background are often denigrated the most whether they take a stand on prevalent issues or not. It's evident in the act of erasing the voices who aid in the screams of justice, as Elaine Brown condemned about the Black Panther documentary. It's evident in the divisive nature of attacking those with an opinion, as Ebony's senior editor Jamilah Lemieux experiences often. It is also evident in the contradictory criticisms that praise one person's work over another's despite the common theme or rhetoric being portrayed in the case of the artistries of Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé. As it relates to the Black Lives Matter movement, there have been several approaches that celebrities have taken to align themselves with the cause. So why is it that the work of black women, in movements and advocacy, gets attacked and diminished more so than that of black men?
Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr
Kendrick Lamar has amassed a fanbase that capes for his lyrical genius and storytelling ability in songs that paint pictures of his exposure to the street life of Compton, California and growth as an artist and a man. His album To Pimp A Butterfly, continued his reverence as an artist committed to showcasing his journey in the music industry as the heavily jazz and funk influenced record addressed the struggle Lamar faces between his humble beginnings and the hypocrisy he encounters with his new found fame. Ensuing Kendrick Lamar's performance on the Grammy stage this year, he was praised for his direct and brazen rendition of the songs "Alright", "The Blacker the Berry", and the premiere of unreleased material. He dropped lyrics about the proliferation of police brutality in the black community before segueing into the more upbeat anthem about loving his blackness and black people; then ended with an intense piece about his reaction following the murder of Trayvon Martin. The imagery of K.Dot chained to other black men in prison uniforms to breaking free around African custom themed dancers sent timelines into a frenzy as people and even the White House rallied around his unapologetically black performance in front of a predominantly white audience at home and in the star-studded Staples Center.
Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr
Yet just nine days prior, Beyoncé released her song and video, "Formation" on TIDAL. The song, an ode to Beyoncé's black heritage and “cocky fresh” confidence was synonymous with the visuals she portrayed in the video. Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, the nearly five minute music video, begins with Beyoncé atop a NOLA police car in the flooded aftermath of Hurricane Katrina addressing the nay-sayers who attribute her success to an ungodly figure of satanic proportions. Between dance breaks, images and sounds of the gender fluid bounce culture, southern Baptist churches, and the #BabyBlackGirlMagic that is Blue Ivy, Beyoncé asserts a political statement of owning her blackness and the experiences that make up her full identity. She reclaims stereotypes of black culture (physical features and cultural motifs) that stem from the roots of her parents, because of the pride they give her and the role they play in the undeniable success she’s had in the music industry. She also took an apparent stance on the Black Lives Matter movement with graffiti saying "Stop Shooting Us" before the image of police and a young black boy posture themselves with arms raised in reverence of the "Hands Up Don't Shoot" campaign. The critically-acclaimed award winning artist took the song a step further when she and her band of female dancers took to the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show stage and performed "Formation" dressed head to toe in a uniform similar to that of the Black Panther Party. Beyoncé's attempt to visibly affirm her black life and that of others was taken as offensive by many and quickly shrouded in criticism and confusion that insinuated protests of her artistry and boycotts of her upcoming #Formation tour

Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr
Though the anti-police sentiments were similar and the foundation of celebrating black life was apparent in both performances, Beyoncé faced significantly more backlash and attempts to discredit her artistry for her approach. Upon reading the reactions of her performance and song, there was a clear message from many that showcased a lack of understanding about the black experience from the perspective of black women. More often than not, the black experience is based on the male perspective because the default framework of the United States deems the ideals of men as more pertinent. Those ideals present themselves within any of the patriarchal, capitalist, Christian, heteronormative standards prevalent to the fabric of this country. Even though black men benefit from that system, for as men they are sought after to portray a role of leadership and dominance in communities, their identity has been demonized, and dehumanized, to fit within that perception. It’s apparent through poor media representation, the prison industrial complex, and the profiling that lead to instances of police brutality. It is when black men, like Kendrick Lamar, speak out on the systems that they are victims of get applauded for their bravery and candor while when black women do so, it is criticized as divisive although they too are victims of the same oppression. Due to that one-sided propaganda of the black male experience, the presence and experience of black women then finds itself being misinterpreted, forgotten, or unknown. Knowing how the lens of the black American experience is viewed, it becomes more clear to understand how misogynoir plays a role in the confusion and ensuing chaos surrounding Beyoncé's “Formation” and her Super Bowl performance. The plight of the black woman's life in society is still not widely understood, or known within the context of the American experience. The 1982, award winning, black women's studies collection All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell-Scott, Barbara Smith speaks to that truth. In an essay by Barbara Smith, she details this necessity to move "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism." "There is no political movement to give power or support to those who want to examine Black women's experience through studying our history, literature, and culture. There is no political presence that demands a minimal level of consciousness and respect from those who write or talk about our lives. Finally there is not a developed body of Black feminist political theory whose assumptions could be used in the study of Black women's art." In order to offer commentary on the expressions of black women, one must be educated in the spectrum that encompasses not only black life, but all the identities and the intersectionality within it. Making the choice to ignore those points of view, furthers not only the miseducation and misinformation of what black feminism intends to support, but also aids in discrediting the right to be human for all people, and the right to express all the components that make up our varied experiences. The need for black feminist thought calls to challenge that default narrative and eradicate systems that discredit the work of black women. In continuing to follow those oppressive systems, it not only denies the analysis that black women's experiences need, and deserve, but also affirms a system of patriarchal ethics that isn't conducive to revolutionizing the way black life should be represented.
Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr
Luckily, thanks to advancements in technology, understanding the discourse on the experiences of black women doesn't have to always be sought out in academia. Resources that address the spectrum of black women's lives, and their work, are as close as the nearest book store or in your mobile device in the form of an articlepodcast, YouTube video, or just following many thought leaders on Twitter. We have direct access to the work of activists, educators, and scholars who are doing and sharing their work publicly, so that in turn, it may be beneficial for restructuring a movement that may be more inclusive than previous attempts. By simply paying attention, people can facilitate the process of opening their consciousness to the experiences of others that does not align with the default mentality we have been predisposed to accept. In doing so, more thoughtful analyses of the methods of the movement can be raised, and in turn diminish the instances of attacking or erasing the work of black women in the movements that they are so influential in shaping. Addressing those differences isn't divisive. Instead it proclaims that all identities and experiences within the black lives matter movement have a seat at the table. As black people, we move in a world that sees us as both visible and invisible simultaneously. There are many female leaders in the movement from all backgrounds and identities who are still unseen, unheard, or dismissed. While we band together in the fight for equality and demand a revamping of a system that doesn’t protect us, we must also make sure that we are protecting each other. For the movement surrounding black lives to work, we must eradicate the barriers within our own community that hinder us from reaching a collective understanding of what we all are fighting for, which is equality. We must be willing to stand in solidarity with, and hold accountable, the brothers and sisters whose experiences and identities we do not share. We must be collectively determined to understand that all the work within black liberation is vital, and needs to be recognized in order to tailor the movement in a way that fights and works for all of us. The black experience is not a monolith, and methods of revolution do not come in a one size fits all package. The revolution cannot be if it does not liberate us all
Photo: Yahoo
Photo: Yahoo

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