Who’s Family? A Black Perspective on Jay-Z’s Family Feud Video

Two common ingredients in contemporary media that aims for modernity are:

  1. overwhelming presence of the female body from various racial and ethnic  background, and
  2. talk of unity

Jay Z’s most recent music video for the song “Family Feud” contains both.jay-z-family-feud-zoom

The video– a theatrical (and costly) representation of a divided family seeking unity through external faith, intertwines skits of a grown Blue Ivy (Susan Kelechi Watson) leading a table of women discussing the “new” world, and a disgruntled man (Michael B. Jordan) upset by the sexual prowess of  woman (Thandie Newton). While it is always nice to see blacks work for other blacks, these images seduce the superficial gaze into a state of fictive enlightenment. Namely, the video serves as shallow feminist activism to those desiring change in name not actuality.  Yet, the fatal flaw of the video is not its superficiality, but its inclusiveness.

blue-ivy-makes-her-acting-debut-in-jay-z_s-e28098family-feud_-video-amp_-fans-are-freaking-ftrSpecifically, a Blue Ivy, whose sweet face and adorable Afro-puff is easily the sole redeeming quality of the video,  references America as a “family.”  Thus, the family that Jay-Z references in the song quickly becomes far larger than his own party of five. Expanding the individual for the collective is normally an admirable act–but in this case strips Jay-Z and his family of their status as black–deeming them Americans instead.

The articulation of the first black family of hip hop as “American” is a means to consummate a pseudo unity.  As white-designated representatives of the “black experience,” the Carters function as a means to both illustrate and orchestrate the black sentiment. This video in particular tells the black collective that “America is a family.” Furthermore, this video is most violent in seeking to mentally induce a pacified state of unity in the black collective that strips them of their blackness.

beyonceThe issue with this unity is of course that it does not exist, but also that for blacks to seek to evolve beyond blackness is to induce the erasure for black people and pave a path for the racially ambiguous and trans-racial whites to assume the space where blackness once was.

For blacks, whose labor and dehumanization enabled the white family structure  while systemic racism dismantled the black family, this video proves an oversimplified effort to  hold hands with those who benefit from our past and present subjugation. In short, the video ignores crucial components that constitute blackness for a pseudo revolutionary image that combats Trump an individual, not a symbol of white supremacy.  America is indeed a family, but blacks do not attend the reunion as guests, but as entertainment, or the help. Blacks are still not treated as Americans in 2018, so forget not being a part of family we aren’t even Americans. As proven by the 13th Amendment,  black humanity is “renewable liberty.”

How can blacks be family, if legality deems our humanity conditional? To this, some will H6PCz3ZO.jpgassert that humanity does not have much bearing on the concept of family. Well let us humor this claim and consider the non-humans  that are “like family.”  Although humans, blacks are not even “like the dog” as no white would murder a dog they way they murdered Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown or any of the other black bodies killed in a deliberate exercise of white dominance. No dog could die under the mysterious circumstances of Sandra Bland without igniting upset in the white community. The conscious community can never forget the outpour of support for Harambe in contrast to the victim-blaming that always followed the murders of black children, parents, siblings, friends, and loved ones.

To believe that blacks are family is to believe in the myth of the present as far removed from the past. I suppose money, or position will make folk believe that racism is an inconvenience of the poor or an ugliness of the unmotivated. Money, position, and  material will have the mentally enslaved believe that they are in the house with whites, where they are really on the field singing and dancing while picking cotton.

Family-Feud-Video-tableThe video also suggests, with a table of ethnically  diverse women, that a dissolvement of white male patriarchy, or usurping the Trump-like figure, is a gateway to change. The irony in this portrayal is that every woman at that table from Mindy Kaling to Rashida Jones and Niece Nash, are  seeking to consummate a journey to whiteness. Thus, the table does not mark a usurping of white male tyranny. No, this image symbolizes a replacement of white male tyranny with a female supremacy personified by white and non-white female bodies consummating a symbolic whiteness in acquiring the “woman” title. What’s perhaps most interesting about this depiction of non-whites having a “seat” at the table, is Janet Mock, a trans woman, as seated at said table–as the women she sits beside are also trans-patriarchs. As a female, this depiction begs the question:

What good is a “seat at the table” is everyone sitting at the table is a slave to the same system?

The video functions to illustrate black youth as fed proper nutrients to blossom into Fmaily-Feud-700x525.pngintellectual giants–this is false. Blue will undoubtedly occupy a position at the head of a table, but not because of proper brain food, but because of her parents, and her predisposition to the veiled subjection of the black celebrity. The table, although undoubtedly featured as a form of empowerment, depicts the stagnancy of nepotism, and the social reproduction of the same ideologies that plague our present state.  Perhaps what makes this image particularly disturbing is its illustration of a seat as the table as victorious to the next generation. In projecting success as a seat at a table one occupied by white men (the video captures women re-writing the constitution),  is to offset a journey where the black body seeks to dominate spaces established in the exclusion and torment of their ancestors. To encourage employment and not ownership, and to discourage a creation of new spaces, titles, and documents by black people in the best interest of their own people.

Nevertheless, many who consume the poison of popular culture like water will praise this BeyonceBlueIvyJayZvideo as “wake” work, our collective sleepwalks into a new year, indirectly working to “make America great again” by coddling white supremacy in wishing to take the place of the white man, rather than take him (and her) out of the place they maintain above the black collective.

 

“Nobody Wins when the family feuds”–Jay-Z 

So while the phrase “nobody wins when the family feuds” anchors the short film, the video illustrates that blacks cannot think of themselves as family or even a friend to those who eat us for breakfast, and seek to mentally dehydrate the black collective with popular features such as this one. In reality, blacks can not win when they fail to feud over what the white family continues to do to the black body.

In closing, Jay-Z’s videoFamily Feud,” features an abundance of black clothing and melanated people, yet blackness is a happenstance in a visual upholding the same values that deem (in traditional and contemporary settings) blacks property. Bluntly, there can and will be no advancement if this video functions as “wake” work

Black Power <3.

 

 

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Why Beyonce Had to Have Twins: Black Female Hyper-Sexuality, Hyper-Fertility, and Sexual Objectification

Black female hyper sexuality, a product of global racial conception, remains at the forefront of black female identity.

From the welfare mother whose sexuality births what the world labels bastards– babies derived from the hyper sexual loins of black male and female lust, to the black pop star oozing with a hyper sexuality that drips dollars for her white oppressors, sexuality follows the presumed “black magic” of the black female body believed to induce the detriment that befalls her.

Fertility remains one of the most central means to illustrate black female sexuality—although seldom articulated as problematic. The black female celebrity who functions to represent a portrait or symbol of black female sexuality, illustrates black female hyper- fertility in later-in-life pregnancies and multiple births.

The Diva, Othering, and Multiple Births  3D8B59CE00000578-4272442-What_we_re_used_to_Normally_the_47_year_old_has_sunkissed_gams_H-m-28_1488393568728

Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, and now Beyonce– three of the world’s top-selling and most esteemed pop stars– share long prominent careers, lightened tresses, African ancestry, and multiple births. These births aid the contemporary diva in maintaining relevance, but also to consummate a hyper- sexuality that anchors their careers.

mariah-carey-600x600Admittedly, Lopez and Carey are hardly black women, but both have distant African origins as descendants from the slaves harbored in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. So while they are not black women, Carey and Lopez still fall under the “other” labeling, a labeling reflected in their sexualized images. Namely, Carey and Lopez mirror their hyper sexualized ancestors sampled by European men on slave voyages, and thus join Beyonce in assembling an essential portrait of “othered” sexuality  to a global racist gaze.

Collaboratively, the three women assemble this portrait through birthing fraternal twins, as a testament to the racist caricature of black female sexuality.

Unlike Beyonce, Carey and Lopez, have been affiliated with numerous men in a series of high profile relationships over the years. The many men of Lopez and Carey fuel the hyper sexual image portrayed in their revealing and form-fitting clothing. Thus their multiple births function to consummate their labeling at “other,” despite seemingly achieving their woman label in worldwide exposure and monumental wealth. mariah-carey-2000

A pillar of black female identity, Beyonce Knowles possesses an ethereal image of the intersectional woman emerged in the glamour of wealth and a feminine beauty– attributes typically separated from black female identity. Beyonce’s full lips, full hips, honey blonde locks, and round backside, usurped Lopez as the blonde-haired, round booty “other,” and has yet to relinquish the throne. Despite bearing the gift of singing, dancing, and stage presence, Beyonce’s career is rooted in her carefully constructed sexuality. Beyonce’s voluptuous figure, suggestive dance moves, revealing costumes, long full mane, and soulful sound culminates her sexuality, painting her as possessing unearthly talent, conventional beauty, while exuding the assumed sexuality of an African woman. Beyonce, like the late Saartje Baartman, is a black female body granted visibility to entertain the white gaze with a portrait of other. Esteemed scholar bell hooks discusses this “otherness” with the following: Venus Hottentot

She is there to entertain guests with the naked image of Otherness. They are not to look at her as a whole human being. They are to notice only certain parts. Objectified in a manner similar to that of black female slaves who stood on auction blocks while owners and overseers describe their important, salable parts, the black women whose naked bodies were displayed for whites at social functions had no presence. They were reduced to mere spectacle. Little is known of their lives or motivations. Their body parts were offered as evidence to support racist notions that black people were more akin to animals. (page 62)

Baartman is the historical equivalent of the contemporary black female pop icon— objectified and dismembered by an intrusive gaze. Baartman’s sexuality, substantiated her systemic objectification and ultimate death, just as the primal connotation of black female sexuality validates perceiving and treating black women like animals. Not given the chance to breed in a life cut short, Baartman reproduced in the physical organs and limbs that remained above ground long after her death to prove her inhumane status. The hyper-fertility of the black female celebrity functions similarly, seemingly providing evidence for her presumed inferiority during and after her life. In other words, hyper- fertility functions to depict the black female as possessing a sexuality that causes her to breed in multiples like animals.

Beyonce: Barren or “Black Magic”  article-2031269-0D9D13CF00000578-79_468x683

The news of Beyonce’s first pregnancy—despite the announcement occurring in a dramatic and news-making way, caused many to speculate Knowles’ ability to carry a child. Many felt as if her stomach was prosthetic and that the she and husband— rapper, and entrepreneur, Jay- Z hired a surrogate to have their child. I suppose the time between Knowles’ marriage and conception was far too long for most. While these speculations may seem menial, rumors of infertility stain the hyper sexual image of the black female body. The hyper sexual body, caricatured by the white gaze,  must breed in order to solidify the value of her stock. Thus, whispers of Beyonce’s infertility threatened the western ideology of the black woman, essential in composing the binary opposite of white womanhood.

In verbalizing her fertility struggles, Knowles surfaces as an everywoman. In her emergence from these struggles, however, Beyonce surfaces as hyper fertile– a superwoman bearing the fertility wish of countless women throughout the globe—twins.

151831-beyonce-knowlesFertility troubles aligned Knowles with the seasoned white women ever-present on adoption sites and adoption lists around the globe, seeking to obtain what they are unable to attain naturally— a child. This is not to say that black women do not struggle with fertility, but that the maintain myths of black female hyper-sexuality this page is one torn out of a fictive black female narrative. Thus, Beyonce’s emergence from these struggles resumes the narrative of the hyper-sexual black female and places her in line with the presumed “black magic” hyper-sexuality of her indigenous origins.

The same black magic that catapulted Beyonce into the global superstardom, is the same black magic white men and women historically labeled lethal to their conjugal sanctity. It is this same hyper sexual imaging that functions to depict the hyper sexual woman of African ancestry as a sexual beast who breeds like an animal. Yes there are famous white actresses such as Sarah Jessica Parker and Angelina Jolie, who have twins. Their births however have been linked to, or following surrogacy. Parker had twins via surrogate, and Jolie gave birth to twins after adopting three children and therefore serving as their surrogate mother. Also, much of Jolie’s allure comes from her full lips, which historically bore correspondence to the fullness of the African woman and her able womb, encased in a fertility exaggerated in a global racist gaze. Thus, Jolie’s proximity to blackness via physical attributes works to substantiate an innate and animalistic black female hyper- sexuality depicted through hyper-fertility.

While  a testament to their remarkability, the hyper fertile woman of African ancestry does not exist to bolster positive imaging to blacks, but to further the “othering” of the dark race in a subversive manner. bell hooks argues,

“Certainly from the standpoint of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy the hope is that desires for the “primitive” or fantasies about the Other can be continually exploited, and that such exploitation will occur in a manner that rein scribes and maintains the status quo.” (22)

The narrative of the black woman as hyper sexual is a direct reflection of her enslaved role, where black female worth was rooted in her ability to reproduce. Similarly, a central component to the sexualized popular stone cast along the Hollywood plantation is the black woman’s ability to prove the black magic fictively aligned with her African genitals.

The Later in Life Pregnancy

The hyper-sexual black female image is also festered in the later-in-life pregnancies of Janet Jackson and F:PHOTOMediaFactory ActionsRequests DropBox46495#sunshine sachsDSC_5366v2-2.jpgHalle Berry. Jackson, a global icon and the youngest Jackson child, is a testament to black female hyper fertility as the tenth (ninth living) child of a black woman. As one of the top-selling and most revered black female artists of all time with a career spanning three decades—Jackson’s hyper-sexuality is not typically displayed in her dance moves, which are more orchestrated than sensual, but in her lyrics and explicit performances. Namely, Jackson is known for strapping a male concert goer to a moving board where she sexually teases him for the entire three minutes of a song. She’s racy, unapologetically sexy, and possesses a soft feminine voice even well into her middle aged years—but up until last year, Ms. Jackson was not a mother.

Although there are rumors that Jackson abandoned her daughter with her ex husband James DeBarge, this was never confirmed, so to the world Jackson, the object of global admiration for years was childless. Beginning motherhood when the average woman has  sent her children off to college, and begins to prepare for retirement, portrays the black woman as a hyper-fertile and capable of fertility magic. Actress and beauty icon Halle Berry depicted a similar image when she became pregnant Halle Berry takes daughter Nahla for her passport photo in Beverly Hills, CAwith her son Maceo at the age of forty-seven.

The hyper- fertile black woman, while bearing the gift of reproduction also corresponds to profit garnered in her objectification. The fertile black female body  meant more field hands and concubines, which meant more babies and ultimately more money and power for white consumption. Similarly, the extensive media afforded to later- in-life pregnancies or multiple births of celebrities bearing black blood, garnered increased funds for white media outlets.

The black female, who is collectively objectified through the black, or black “ish” celebrity, is often an eager participant in the veiled objectification and dismemberment of black female identity. Most don’t see that to objectify the genitals of celebrity equivalents is to objectify their collective selves.

This disconnect is rooted in the failure of most to view pregnancy as a form of objectification. Yet, considering the  awphistorical trajectory that accompanies the black female body, cognizance of systemized objectification in all its forms is prevalent not only for advancement, but collective survival. Celebrating the multiple or later-in-life pregnancies of already sexualized figures is yet another means to reduce black women to their genitals—a systemic objectification that strips the black female body of mortal status and instead casts her as an object, a body, solely for global depletion.

Beyonce at the height of her fame, is no longer a person to the global gaze. Instead she is an entity placed in the panopticon of popular culture to be placed, prodded, and exploited as deemed necessary by her oppressors. So in celebrating her latest performance– birthing twins, the masses cast another stone in stripping the collective black female demographic of their humanness.

A subjugated and  inhumane entity, violence cast against the black female body is corroborated and deemed self defense from her primal sexuality. This violence, be it systemic like poverty, or direct like murder or rape, occurs harmoniously with the pervasiveness of black female hyper sexuality.

In summary, Beyonce, as a figure of black femininity to the global gaze, had to have twins. Bearing twins was not only a means for the Knowles-Carter dynasty to expand, but for the world to portray the fictive hyper-sexuality of the  black female body as fact.

Black female objectification is as American as apple pie, and as globally overlooked and ignored as slavery, so it is without wonder that the black female celebrity bare the height of exploited black female identity veiled by riches and fame. While the masses are slowly acknowledging the pattern of hyper-sexuality in its overt display on social media, scripted sitcoms, and reality television, it is essential that this portrayal is exposed as ubiquitous—so that the black female—through her systemic subjugation is not an accidental participant in her own defilement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beyoncé Wax Figure: White-Washing and the Blind Gaze

A wax figure of global star Beyoncé made headlines this week for its supposed white– washing of the talented star. The figure– fair-skinned with a pinkish undertones, small features and the star’s famous long blonde locks, offended many who believed the stature resembled an unknown white woman and not the beloved pop star. The outrage resulting from what many deem a “white-washed” image of the talented star unveils the greater portion of the black collective as blissfully oblivious to the acts of racial terrorism cast onto our community in past and present popular culture.

beyonce-wax-figure
The now infamous wax figure.

Simply put, the outrage regarding Beyonce’s wax figure is a delayed reaction. The image does not resemble Beyonce simply because the black collective has been nurtured to see her as black, whereas her cross over appeal lies in her ability to not be too much of anything. In short, this wax figure depicts how Beyonce functions in a world that makes her visible to enslave not inspire the black woman.

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Beyonce wax figure at Hard Rock Cafe

Let me state that I am a Beyonce fan. I’ve been to many of her shows and enjoyed each one. She is beautiful, talented, and humble. She is also a tool used to lure black women towards whiteness.

Yes, Beyonce is obviously a black woman. Her “blackness” however, is easily deemed beautiful because her image–a skin complexion, which has grown lighter and lighter over the years, in addition to her always blonde locks, acquiesce to standards of conventional beauty. Also, in a world where a size two is plus size, Beyonce is “voluptuous.” But compared to the average woman, Beyonce is noticeably smaller. She functions as an image of perfection for black women—bearing what contemporary media tells us is the best of both worlds: fine symmetrical features, long hair, longer legs, with big hips, a curvy derriere and full lips.

Beyonce demonstrates the danger of beauty to the black collective. Systemically compartmentalized as ugly for centuries, the black female collective desperately seeks to grasp conventional beauty —to possess it in a manner deemed impossible by western ideology. Beyonce is a means for many black women to encompass this beauty, to prove to us that beauty is compatible with the intersectionality of blackness and femininity.

Prior to a few years ago, there was no black princess. This is likely due to the fact that Walt Disney was indeed a racist, a fact obvious to anyone who has revisited Disney as an adult and witnessed the racial undertones overlooked as children. Beyonce is this black princess and the queen as adoringly referred to as “Queen Bey” by fans. Queen Bey functions symbolically,  seducing the black female psyche into believing that they are a leading lady in a western fairy tale.

The magic black women associate with Beyonce is what many black women fail to see in themselves. She is the Jesus-like figure to those seeking someone, anyone, to believe in but themselves. The wax figure shows the black woman who she has been singing along too and secretly wishing she was all these years. This wax figure does not resemble the mothers, aunts, grandmothers and cousins of the Beyonce fanbase, but neither does Beyonce. The wax figure, in the horror it prompts from fans provokes an outrage the black collective should have had when the white media handed us a fair-skinned, blonde haired “black” woman and not only labeled her beautiful but as the apex of black female beyonce-glitter-dress-21k-billboard-1548beauty and achievement.

But Beyonce, despite her talent and southern charm is far from an ally to black women. In fact, Beyonce for all intensive purposes is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Namely, she functions to promote white aesthetics through a black body.

Beyonce is also an integral tool in bolstering the image of the hyper sexual black female, illustrating that despite beauty and talent, the black woman must shake her derrière in barely-there costumes to achieve conventional success. gallery-1483030564-elle-beyonce-index

To the conscious gaze, perhaps what is most off-putting about the wax figure is how masculinized a tokenized figure of femininity becomes under an uncensored white gaze. This illustrates that while the masses argue over whether the wax figure is black enough, the true query remains whether or not the black female body is human enough to be woman. This androgynous representation, illustrates the black woman as obtaining a proximity to whiteness in hair and figure but issued the genderless state of her ancestors  with a face that suggests a thwarted transition to “womanhood” negated by her African ancestry.

So, the issue is not the statue itself, or Beyonce as an individual. Beyonce is a gorgeous and talented woman. Her functionality however, is noxious to black female identity.  The issue is that it took a grotesque representation of the starlet, to see what Beyonce’s been all along. Beyonce is popular because she is what so many black women wish they were, fair-skinned with long light hair, light eyes, slender but slightly curvy and unbelievably wealthy. She is the ambition, the aspiration and the dream of the unconscious black woman who sleepwalks her way right into arms of white supremacy to the beat of a Beyonce song.

I personally hope the wax figure left unmodified,  as this is seemingly what it takes to awake the unconscious.

Beyonce-A Win For White Supremacy

Following her Grammy speech and performance, superstar Beyonce garnered abundant praise.  Beyonce’s grammy performance portrayed Queen Bey in a manner that proved as royal as her title. Beyonce’s look seemed reminiscent of the queens of our indigenous homeland— a connection that did not go unnoticed by spectators. However, Beyonce garnered the most praise for something fans are not used to associating with Beyonce—loss.

Beyonce lost to Adele in the “Album of the Year” category. To most, this loss was inevitable due to a racially aware stance accompanying some tracks in her latest studio album Lemonade. Lemonade presented the contemporary world with all that has come to associate with Beyonce while intertwining a “woke” perspective not commonly aligned with the singer. The visual album featured the mothers of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and songs like “Freedom” that sought to paint Beyonce as an ally to the black collective in our time of turbulence. For these reasons, many regard Beyonce’s loss as a win. This is certainly the stance of Myles E. Johnson, author of popular New York Times article “What Beyonce Won Was Bigger than a Grammy.” The article referenced the price blacks who dare to exist outside the parameters of white conventionality pay as being overlooked if not ignored in terms of acknowledgment. For this assertion, Johnson is completely correct. However, does a few tracks on an album largely about relationships, infidelity, and love, place Beyonce in the same category of black activists like Assata Shakur, Angela Davis or singer-activists Nina Simone who unapologetically dedicated themselves to the plight of blackness in America?

Of course not.

The praise following Beyonce’s long overdue “consciousness” demonstrates that the bar for black allies is impossibly low. Beyonce as a black activist demonstrates that one or two acts fulfill the necessary requirements to deem someone a black leader. The black collective witnessed this behavior with former President Obama who would often place a single stream of consciousness in his speeches, a consciousness that he would counter with the following sentence. Yet, the allegiance he had for five seconds, overshadowed lesser deeds carried out in the majority of his actions and behaviors. Beyonce’s praise functions in a similar manner, as her seemingly “overnight” enlightenment supersedes past behavior that aimed to present Beyonce, the black woman as a crossover artist.

Forgiveness is a virtue seemingly exclusive to the black collective. I say this because, despite the depth of systemic oppression, many blacks remain dedicated to looking past this truth in favor of an optimism that borders oblivion.  While beautiful and reflective of a humble spirit—forgiveness has proved much more harmful than helpful. I also can’t help but wonder if this behavior is forgiveness at all, or just a desperate attempt to believe something we wish to be true.

Black women want to believe in Beyonce. And to our defense, she does deserve some praise. Superstar Rihanna has yet to say anything pertaining to the contemporary manifestations that mirror traditional treatment of black bodies. This is not accidental, as Rihanna, although a black woman, seems to appeal more to those outside the black diaspora. Beyonce has always led a strong black female following, the same black females who have lost their sons, brothers, and fathers in the fire of white male supremacy. Thus, her contribution, while small, works strategically. The Grammy’s illustrates Beyonce as losing the battle but winning the war. Losing to Adele depicts Beyonce as bearing the necessary sacrifice to not only maintain her fan base but to award her racial credibility and thereby deepen fan affinity.

Beyonce, a black woman who gained fame and international stardom for her fair skin, blonde weave, and jezebel-like performances, personifies the height of white male imagination. She embodies what many black women wish they were, conventionally beautiful with full features, fair skin, a curvy yet slim body, an accent that is slight enough to suggest a humble sweetness but a work persona that screams boss. She’s a wife, a mother, businesswoman and all-around superwoman. But she is a fantasy.

While some blacks praise a God who looks like their former slave masters, other praise Beyonce, a woman who while black, portrayals European aesthetics as the height of black female beauty. Many seem to have forgotten that not long ago Beyonce referenced racism as “in her father’s time,” as if it is not racism that fuels her success let alone existence in a still predominately white male industry. It is easy to praise Beyonce for her loss, despite her ability to perform and prove victorious in smaller categories. If we praise Beyonce for her loss, it is easy to overlook that a more dynamic and culturally aware performer would not be afforded Beyonce’s platform, because their authenticity would inspire in a way that Beyonce never could.

Beyonce exists as a means to control the black female demographic. For example, I can not help but notice that weaves became a more versatile and a more prominent tool in black female hair styling as Beyonce’s popularity grew. The desire for long, full, hair personifies what I like to call the “Beyonce effect,” an effect mirrored in every popular black female image from reality stars to singers. Beyonce’s power manifests in her ability to generate styles and standards of beauty, and in her losses and wins.

I feel compelled to mention that I reference Beyonce as a brand and not an individual, as the chief component of Beyonce’s popularity is that she encompasses a larger than life figure– a human canvass of desirability curated by white male imagination. Beyonce becomes a figure of influence due to a black female collective that largely exists vicariously through their blonde-haired heroine. Beyonce personifies what many black females think black female perfection is. As a physical manifestation of black female thought, Beyonce acts as a pawn to dictate what we do. Carter B. Woodson conveyed the following excerpt from The Miseducation of the Negro:

If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.

Thus, Beyonce is not an activist or conscious member of the black collective. Beyonce is the literal and figurative back door of which the black female collective enters into a white male gaze. She is a prevalent form of contemporary inferiority veiled as black excellence. Furthermore, Beyonce functions as an on-going win for white supremacy, functioning as a string that puppeteers the black female psyche by veiling the poisons of white supremacy with pseudo black femininity.

Beyonce’s Lemonade-More Sour than Sweet

Perhaps it was obvious to some as a twenty-two year old Beyoncé Knowles, then the lead singer of girl group Destiny’s Child, sang her first solo song “Work it Out” with big blonde hair and shapely legs, that she’d be the larger-than-life star she is today. Twelve years later, Beyoncé remains one of the most influential figures of black femininity.    beyonce

I first realized the totality of Beyonce’s influence almost ten years ago, upon consulting with the man who would design my prom dress (a friend of my brother). I had the portrait of my dream dress in my mind, but my peers all brought in assorted photographs of one woman- Beyoncé. Still high off Dangerously in Love, a medley of R&B and Pop, anticipating the-then pending release of BDAY, Beyoncé was the goal of many if not most young black girls. With long silky hair, a svelte yet shapely figure, small yet prominent features and a meek persona intertwined with a dominating stage presence later named “Sasha Fierce,” Beyoncé herself bears an identity as contradictory as her latest project Lemonade.lemonade-beyonce-film-1108x0-c-default

A medley of pop, reggae and soulful ballads, Lemonade captures the bitter sweetness of being a black woman. From daddy issues to cultural and relationship struggles and triumphs, Lemonade encompasses black female intersectionality. The album’s visual component features the sensuality of romance contrasted with the temperate titling “Sandcastles,” an acrimonious lover drawn to violence in “Hold Up,” and a touching tribute to the mourning black mothers of slain black youths like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin in “Forward.” trayvon

The album also features up-tempo tunes like “Sorry” which expresses the unbothered persona, that dominates contemporary emotional goals. “Sorry” contains the now viral lyric:

“He better call Becky With the good hair”

bearing perhaps the album’s biggest contradiction.  A contemporary version of Erykah Badu’s famous lyric

“He betta call Tyrone,”

“he betta call Becky with the good hair” begs a much more troublesome reference.  Hair remains a persistent line of demarcation between blacks and other races. Although the black power movement of the 1970s and the contemporary natural movement declare kinks and curls a crown of glory, these very attributes operate as a key depiction of black inferiority. The context of this now viral lyric projects these very ideals and when juxtaposed with the visual of black mothers and their slain sons— Beyonce’s initial strong and touching message contradicts itself. It is traits like hair, color and facial features that rendered victims like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (amongst countless others) worthless. So to playfully generate what is sure to be as contagious as previous phrases “If you like it put a ring on it” and “I woke up like this,” “Becky with the good hair” shields an ignorant comment with the facade of entertainment–rendering blacks pawns in their own oppression. As pawns, fans overlook this problematic phrasing, and instead focus on unveiling Becky’s identity.  In prompting listeners to place a face to the phrase rather than question its relevance, the toxic phrase “good hair” endures celebration rather than the scrutiny it deserves.

o-BEYONCE-facebookIt is also worth mentioning that Beyonce’s carefully crafted image is made to resemble a “Becky with the good hair,” inspiring a group of followers who strive for a similar aesthetic. Thus, I’m unsure if this batch of lemonade is any more bittersweet than the songstress herself. Beyoncé as a central figure in black femininity, challenges black female identity in both form and content. While undoubtedly a beautiful black women, Beyoncé, with blonde hair and light eyes elevates a Eurocentric image to a following of mostly black women. Simultaneously, the image of a beautiful and talented black women who consistently dons a hair texture and color that are the antithesis to her natural aesthetics, projects the required flawed esteem to warrant commercial success. This image is countered by a body that is far more common among black women, composing an oxymoron presence eerily similar to that of a centaur. Interestingly,  Beyoncé references duality in Lemonade with the lyric “You are just like my father. A magician. Able to exist in two places at the same time.” While this line references an unfaithful lover, Beyoncé too exists in two worlds. While not biracial, Beyoncé bears an appearance that is a hybrid of traditionally white and black attributes. This duality  appeals to a sea of black women who admire and emulate this ambivalence in blonde weaves and wigs contrasting their often curvy physiques and darker skin. This ambivalence subjects any advancement attributed to Beyoncé as consistently enduring  two steps backwards.

beyonce-lemonade-hbo-compressedAs the physical embodiment of Lemonade, Beyonce’s attempt to narrate the black female experience through the sweetness of harmonized vocals and catchy melodies, quickly turns sour. A closer listen to Lemonade reveals surfacely deep content as shallow, reflecting both the listeners and industry that fawn its success. This success, while appearing to elevate black femininity, deters black female plight for identity and understanding. As a falsely labeled masterpiece, Lemonade massacres the consciousness needed to dethrone Beyonce as a heroine, and reveal her true purpose. To see Beyonce as a hero is to ignore her role in inducing the necessary confusion needed to maintain racism.

To conclude a previous world tour Beyonce once said “I am yours.” This phrase, while simple, culminates her role as a public figure. Beyonce is ours- our tragedy, triumphs, confidence,insecurities, beauty and ugliness. Thus, Beyonce is the physical embodiment of taking the lemons of black female existence and producing lemonade. However, this lemonade and Beyonce herself embodies the facet of black female identity handed to us by white supremacy. Thus to render Beyonce a hero, or to frivolously drink this cultural lemonade without contemplation or query, is to surrender to an oversimplification of blackness reduced to a western articulation of black beauty, excellence and entertainment.

 

Beyonce as Black Conscious?

My consistent criticism of popular culture is its often indifference to contemporary conflict. Admittedly Hollywood offers starlets, singers and others of the same sort a view from the top that all too frequently distanbeyonce-new-video-435c5cd2-fb7b-4d27-9e8c-f921b8d2cdeaces them from reality. Reality, well specifically speaking- black reality observes a prominent presence in Superstar Beyonce’s latest video Formation. While the majority of Beyonce’s career has been of feminist motive, empowering women in gold sequenced attire-Queen Bey takes on a seemingly activist stance–embodying a formation that counters her previous “safe” positioning.

The video- set in modern New Orleans, features Beyonce in a number of striking poses in  ensembles ranging from victorian to contemporary athletic. The lyrics are raunchy. Her attire-couture. Blue Ivy-precious. While Beyonce’s proclamation of “Creole” heritage may be attributed to an attempt to dilute her blackness, and her shameless rendering of the “f” word attributed to an attempt to appear more “urban” than uppity- Formation embodies the extreme and exists to shock.  However, the most shocking of what is obviously an attempt to launch a new initiative exists in the singers diverse attempt to encompass conflicts central to blackness– from lyrics to backdrop.

I. Central Issue: Hair

“I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afro.”

Blue-Ivy-Beyonce-Formation-Music-Video-PicturesSince her birth, Blue Ivy has been the source of extensive criticism for her hair. Up until this video, Beyonce maintained a relatively quiet stance. This statement, accompanied by a cute cameo by Blue Ivy, makes a strong statement about black hair in it’s natural state; suggesting that underneath the blonde hair society has come to associate with Beyonce, lies  love for her “nappy” roots. Since hair has always been a source of humiliation and exploitation for black women, featuring Blue in her natural state is empowering not only the innocence of childhood but the innocence of black childhood-free from western influence and standards of beauty. It is also worth mentioning that the video generally omits the straight-haired aesthetics, as Beyonce and all black dancers don inauthentic hair (and colors)  but of ethnic texture. This is of course not a feat, but overtly asserts a more cultured initiative that the typical long, straight weaves that have intertwined with contemporary black femininity.

II. Central Issue: Negro Nose

“I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”

While the late great Michael Jackson endured a public struggle with his black aesthetics, this is a conflict all persons of the black diaspora face to various extents. Thus, to assert love for the source of the Sphinx’s shattered nose whose genetics and insecurity descended down to contemporary Africans in America and beyond– is nothing short of empowering.

III. Central Issue: Police Brutality

Formation also features a hooded black child breakdancing in front of a gang of shielded police officers. With the increasing number of contemporary lynchings carried out by the police, its acknowledgement by A-list stars has gone largely under discussed.  Bey breaks this silence as the dancing, hooded child- faceless in a sea of blue, seemingly signifies the unbreakable black spirit that no bullet or coward with a badge can sever.

IV. Eff the Police  beyonceformation

Perhaps the most resounding image of the video is the footage of Beyonce on a sinking police car. Immediately, I thought of 2005s act of racial genocide, known to most as Hurricane Katrina. It then occurred to me that much of the video appears to take place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The French Quarter went largely unscathed during Katrina due to its high levees absent from communities containing the darker- hued and less wealthy. While Beyonce’s placement on the wrong side of the levees implies a placement on the wrong side of history, the drowning cop car counters this misalignment in silently proclaiming ” F*ck the police.” This assertion encompasses the shared 90s frustration and tenacity of NWA, rendering a deserving epithet to a force of white supremacy designed to distress, destroy and divide the black community.

beyonce-formation-ddotomenTransformation through Formation? 

Beyonce resurrects from her two year hiatus as a negro (or creole) with an attitude in her own right. While Formation isn’t exactly angry, it encompasses the anger of a generation fed up with consistent injustice. Now, I am in now way asserting Beyonce as  a contemporary Assata Shakur. However, I do commend Beyonce for using the power of her platform to voice the concerns of those who supported her in her rise to fame- black people.

Popular culture, from the Superbowl to the Oscars works to distract blacks (and society) from the sole month dedicated to the richness of black legacy. Thus,  I can’t think of a better way for a black pop star to commemorate black history month that to redirect societal attention back to black.

Cheers to Beyonce for assuming a “formation” that aligns her where she belongs- with her people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyonce and Black Femininity: Personal V. Political

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.

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Beyonce: Personal 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reflection Blue-Ivy-VMAs
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?

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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.