Beyonce and Forms of Blackness

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Personally, I can go either way on Beyoncé.

I can critique the commodification of blackness by a middle class, privileged, light-skinned woman that wears fake blonde hair, shakes her ass professionally, calls herself a feminist whilst continually defining herself in relationship to her husband (“Let me hear you say ‘Hey, Mrs. Carter!'”), and is unwilling to make explicit statements about her political beliefs.

Or I can appreciate a pop singer with a record-breaking level of fame laying claim to her blackness and making references to the crises in her community and its history when she’s not obligated and stands to lose at least a modicum of the cross-over appeal that made her so ridiculously famous by doing so.

I see her both ways, and I get when people see her either way.

But here’s the thing:

When Beyoncé does something like turning out the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, and black people start arguing about whether that was a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, we’re not really arguing about Beyoncé’s performance.

I mean, yes, some people love her singing and dancing, and others don’t, but that’s not really the root of the conversation, I don’t think.

I think what we’re really arguing about is how we want to see blackness represented in the media. And underneath that I think we’re arguing about what we really think black people need to be doing with themselves and doing about our collective “situation.”

And of course I have thoughts about both.

Wanna hear ’em? Here they go.

When it comes to representations of blackness in the media, you have black occurrences and black performances.

Black occurrences are things like the tape of the murder of Eric Garner. A record of an organic incident that presents some devastating truth about what it means to be black in America and contains some serendipitous aspect that can be commodified (Mr. Garner’s last words “I can’t breathe.”)

Black performances are things like Beyoncé’s “Formation” video. A piece of art that presents aspects of black life aesthetically, either to make a point about the truth of what it means to be black in America; to make a point about the artist’s individual experience of being black in America; to entertain an audience using points of reference that come from the black American experience; to sell a product using points of reference that come from the black American experience; or all four.

When it comes to consumers of representations of blackness in the media, you have purists and enthusiasts.

Purists want to see black occurrences; they prefer them. Because they are usually political (polemical) in nature. Because they can mobilize activism. Because they are serious and real. Because they signify struggle and necessitate fighting. And that’s what they think black people in America should be doing. Fighting. Period. Point-blank.

Enthusiasts like black performances, too. Because they’re black. And that’s a big part of what they think black people in America should be doing. Just being black. Just asserting their plain old blackness in a world of #OSCARSSOWHITE and so many other forms of racial exclusion. They don’t need the blackness to be political, respectable, appropriate, feminist, or “authentic.” They just need it to be black and not bleeding to death in the street.

Again, I see both sides of it, and I get when people occupy either side.

I do think it’s important that black occurrences be broadcast all over the fucking world so people can see and understand what America is doing, but I also can’t help but snicker at a troupe of black dancers in afro wigs, berets, and black turtleneck leotards storming the fucking Super Bowl.

I’m a black feminist, but I’m also a black girl and black artist. I see the worth in fucking with the aesthetic. I also get a kick out of seeing black people in places where they “don’t belong,” doing things that they “shouldn’t” do.

And so–I’m here for Beyoncé and “Formation.”

Not because I think it’s the perfect black feminist statement. Not because I think her video is a paragon of black representation. Not because I think she’s a revolutionary or “Formation” will change the country or black community. But because I think that there are different forms of blackness, and there should be different forms of blackness.

Black activism is one thing. Black entertainment is another. Beyoncé is an entertainer, and she does her job amazingly well. I like that she’s injecting a little Black Panther, a little Nola, a little history in her imagery. But it’s not her job to save us. It’s her job to make us dance and sing along. I don’t think she’d say anything other than that. And I don’t think we should expect anything other than that from her.

We have black feminist activists. Scholars. Educators. Leaders. If we don’t know their names, then we can’t be lazy and look to a pop star to act as our stand-in. We need to learn their names. We need to read and follow their work. We need to give them the same amount of exposure and respect that we give the pop star. We need to put them on an adjacent pedestal, so kids recognize and follow them like they follow Mrs. Carter.

Too, I don’t think we should police people’s performances of blackness. Love it or hate it, but don’t dissect it for “rightness,” because what’s the “right way” to be black?

There are as many ways to be black–or do black–as there are black people in this country or on this Earth.

No one’s utterly or perfectly authentic in their blackness because blackness isn’t one measurable thing.

When we as black people deride each other for the way that we enact identity, we’re not getting any closer to solving our collective problems. We’re certainly not strengthening our collectivity. We’re being divisive, and hypocritical, because isn’t that what we’re always accusing white people of doing? Policing us?

Beyoncé is not my favorite singer, but she’s a hell-of-a performer, and I’d rather see her on the Super Bowl than fucking Taylor Swift or Katy Perry–the poster girls for pop feminist whiteness.

I’d rather see her nouveau aesthetic blackness on a music video than another clip of a male rapper posing in a sea of undulating multiracial breasts and hips.

But that’s me.

If Beyoncé’s “formation” of blackness doesn’t suit you, that’s cool. Stick to your own.

She’s not taking anything away from anybody, I don’t think.

And whether you like her or not, she gives some people absolute life.

 

 

 

 

 

138 thoughts on “Beyonce and Forms of Blackness

  1. Omg so relevant to the new project I began. I was discussing this the other day, with a friend.
    Please, if you would spare the time, take a look at my post: https://pardonmyblogs.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/black-enough/

    My recent project, ‘Black Enough’, highlights social injustices, and aims to tackle a few of life’s hardships with humorous fictional incidents and anecdotes in a light series of blog posts.

    I really do hope that you are inspired to read it, and would be great full if you were to share it with others.
    God bless

    Like

  2. Im not sure if ive said this but think Beyonce and her dancers statements via the artsitic medium they comminucate in were brilliant. I believe all artist have an obligation to enact positive change. especial artist who belong to oppressed religious ethnic or racial groups. Its our job wether we accept the task or not. We all can do our small or large part. We listen to “Im Black and Im Proud” by James Brown and its seems tame today but when he dropped it in 1968 he had far more white folk turning red than Mrs. Queen Bey does now. We as a people need a cultural revolution and our cultural icons ,ust be on the front line pushing this. I address it in part here in the begginings of my #hiphopmanifestio http://www.hughemc.com . i also give my take on Queen Bey’s dancers support of the #Justice4MarioWoods movement which Im a part of and the significance of her social stance
    https://hucipher.wordpress.com/2016/02/09/beyonce-the-super-bowl-and-black-power/
    I also agree we need not deride one anthers attempts to represent our culture…our Blackness as long as its done in a respectful manner and Beyonce’s performance was powerful and so is the imagery in her video. We must rally around her because the enemy is doing enough to tear down this sisters attempt to lift us up

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    1. Certainly, the mainstream media is trying to tear her down, and, no, she doesn’t deserve to be attacked. She has the right to make whatever statements she wants to make with her art. You’re absolutely right.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article. You’re absolutely right. There is no one right way to be black and we shouldn’t be policing each other’s representations.

    Unfortunately, when there isn’t enough of a diverse representation, we’re prone to be defensive about presenting the right collective image when we get to present any image at all.

    As an example, my Taiwanese bf feels forced to support Fresh Off the Boat even though he feels like they Panda Expressed his childhood. It’s not like there are a whole lot of options on TV.

    But you’re absolutely right that we’ve got to stop policing each other. We’ve got to let each other represent our blackness as authentically as we each feel able.

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    1. Yeah–I understand the fear that negative imagery will translate into negative perceptions and negative treatment, but I try really hard to resist the concept of a collective image. Like you said, the black race is not a monolith. So no one image can nor should represent “us.” Rather than fighting amongst each other, then, about the “right” way to represent “us,” I think we need to fight the powers that be to create more opportunities to represent ourselves and see ourselves represented in the media and entertainment. So then no one image receives the amount of pressure that we put on Beyoncé in the case of “Formation.” If that makes any sense.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You can judge singers based on whatever you like. You can also oversimplify the meaning of what I wrote to make it seem ridiculous or write sarcastic comments about it, too. Whatever you need to do. But it doesn’t negate the fact that the ideas that I touched on are important to some people. If they aren’t to you, then read someone else’s blog.

      Like

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