Personal v. Political
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons learned during my graduate career, is the difference between feeling politically or personally affected by something. As a black woman, much of the personal is in fact political, but this does not mean that you must refrain from liking something in order to be critical of it. I find this principle to be especially prevalent with regard to entertainment. While entertainment is present to entertain it is essential for the black community to not be so entertained that we overlook subliminal attempts to develop and maintain an enslaved mentality. Thus, blacks should not be so personally engaged in entertainment that we overlook its potentially detrimental politics.
The premise of this post is to capture the personal and political presence of my favorite entertainer. Because despite my adoration for this starlet on a personal level, I find her political depiction on black femininity quite troubling.
Beyoncé is undoubtedly the entertainer of our generation. In a world were popularity and scandals sculpt our entertainers, Beyoncé is in a category all her own. Sure, her good looks and enviable physique have afforded her the appeal of a superstar, but stripped from sequenced leotards and fan-blown hair, Beyoncé is sheer talent.
Off stage Beyonce shatters stereotypes that continue to hinder progressive imaging of the black woman. Bred from an upper class background, Knowles-Carter dispels the stereotype of poverty-stricken blacks as entertainers. Beyoncé also emerges from the nurture of a strong family unit. Her relationship with her father works to dismantle the mantra of fatherless black households.
While Beyoncé’s stage pretense certainly treads the line of sexy and provocative, her persona is the complete opposite. Displaying tradition and class, Beyoncé epitomizes the ideal duality of women. The contemporary lady is ideologically ladylike in public but possessing the ability to be provocative and sexy. As a composed public figure but a sassy Sasha Fierce on stage Beyonce renders enviable duality. Also, in a society where babies often precede nuptials, Beyonce concedes to traditional standards. Perhaps why Beyoncé is able to appeal to so many women around the world is because she showcases that women can have it all. This notion is especially prevalent for black woman, who tread an especially difficult path to having something much less having it all.
For all women who acquire a certain degree of success, the chances of finding a mate become slimmer with each degree, each advancement and each opportunity. For black women, finding a black mate who mirrors our acquired success is next to impossible. Thus, Beyoncé’s positioning next to a black man who mirrors her success is a powerful image and statement for the black community.
Beyonce: The Political
As a black woman, I enjoy Beyoncé’s showmanship and her epitomizing the black woman who has it all. However , despite my affection for Mrs. Carter I do not look at her and see myself, well from the next up I suppose. I, like many other black women, look at Beyoncé’s body and see an aspect of myself. While black women are generally thought to have larger bodies, Beyoncé depicts a body that doesn’t fit the fit the prototype of skinny or fat. Beyonce’s image showcases the black woman’s body as a medley of curves and muscle, epitomizing her duality of tradition and sexiness with a body that can be toned up or down depending on the occasion. Despite this similarity, it is Beyoncé’s blonde mane that separates her from myself, and the other raven haired sisters of the black community.
My comment is not to dispel the presence of lighter locks on women of the black community, but to say that this attribute is in fact of the minority. Blonde hair is a minority hair color in general, as even those of the majority and Euro-Latinos have natural blonde hair in low percentages. However, despite this fact, blonde hair remains the pinnacle of beauty for western woman. Thus, it is impossible to separate black women, who were originally excluded from womanhood and beauty, from the politics that come with their attachment to blonde hair.
Arguably, socialite Kim Kardashian is the woman of the majority whose beauty is most discussed. Kardashian has features consistent with most black women, dark hair, dark features and a fuller figure, which align her more so with blacks and latinas. Her look alienates her from those of the majority, because to believe in her beauty is to believe that all they’ve been taught to conceptualize as beautiful is a lie. Those of the majority fail to see themselves in Kim, which reveals an anxiety with embracing that which excludes them.Blacks on the other hand, have been conditioned to exist in a world that consistently excludes them. Thus, the idea that no image will encompass them in their entirety has permitted blacks to settle for what comes the closest.
Black women praising a blonde haired icon, is similar to blacks praying to a blonde hair and blue eyed Jesus. Praising something or someone that doesn’t mirror your majesty seemingly concedes to one’s internalized exclusion. Praising those who mirror yourself suggests a cognizance of your own value, whereas worshipping those who are your antithesis seemingly suggests a feeling of unworthiness with regard to praise. So while I credit Beyoncé for her hard work and for being an extraordinary performer, praising Beyoncé like a god makes the black community look simple, and to put to it colloquially, stupid. Thus, I encourage black women to contemplate what our admiration says about our self worth.
The Politics of the Black Entertainer
Blacks as entertainers and not as intellectuals have afforded folks of the majority with an inflated self worth. Blacks have been allowed to entertain before being allowed to enter through the front door. The role of the black entertainer is a traditional role of comfort for members of the majority, and blacks must learn to find fault in comforting their oppressors. As long as the black community strives towards wealth and fame, intellect and the true power of influence remain reserved for those of the majority.
As an entertainer, Beyoncé remains powerful as long as she’s profitable. Perhaps we should strive for the success of the next generation to be alleviated from the contingency of popularity- to be the profit that breeds the powerful. While Beyonce certainly consists of many admirable qualities, perhaps we teach our girls to strive to be more like Michelle Obama, or to use a microphone as a tool of change, and not as a phallic instrument to render suggestive lyrics. Personally, I would rather see the bodies of black women removed from sexual appeasement and regarded for their intelligence and ability to articulate their combat against a society that continually oppresses them.
So while I was very proud to see a black woman receive such a prestigious honor, my admiration for Beyonce is solely reserved for her as an entertainer. I was personally disappointed to see black females beam blindly, ignorantly blissful and complacent with any bone thrown to the black community. Could Beyonce have won if she looked more like childhood friend Kelly Rowland, or Dreamgirls cast mate Jennifer Hudson?
What does it mean for the most celebrated black female entertainer to have long blonde hair and fair skin? In what ways have the past controlling images of the jezebel and the tragic mulatto collaborated to create our contemporary heroine, who we have come to call Beyonce? Suddenly, what appears to be a progressive post-racial society begins to resemble the plantations of the past. In which ways does contemporary society mirror the plantation that we believe to be so distant from? As members of the black community, these are questions that we need to ask ourselves. Despite being personally entertained or uplifted, blacks need to contemplate whether they are being politically assaulted. As black women especially, we should ponder who society has established as our heroes, as what appears to he a halo can be yet another attempt to get us to look up and not within.