Tomato, Potato

So, there is a body of feminist scholars that can’t get behind all this critiquing of bell hooks’s critique of Beyoncé and “Lemonade.”

They think that hooks’s critique is on point because feminism is about destroying the patriarchal power structure and its materialist products, institutions, and various other manifestations.

So, like, poverty–which women experience at disproportionately higher rates than men. Or violence–military, sexual, or otherwise–which women often experience is a way that is specific to gender (think military rape or rape as warfare or rape period).

These supporters of Ms. bell think that her point that Beyoncé is a capitalist, and so she cannot effectively help women get outside of patriarchal thinking and action, is the point.

Because they think that feminism, again, is about–and I’m going to quote my very intelligent, passionate Facebook Friend, Ms. Jessica Garraway, on this–“collective liberation of women and the dismantling of oppressive hierarchies.”

According to Ms. Jessica–and many other academics and activists I am reading around the Internet–black feminism has lost its foundational “anti-capitalist and anti colonial emphasis.”

She writes:

The shift in the focus is divorced from the original emphasis. It poses no threat to the power structure . . . That’s what feminism was[–]a movement to change material conditions . . . [The] politics are lacking and do not go far enough. They do not challenge the very foundations of what causes patriarchy and white supremacy in the first place. 

Feminism is suppose[d] to be about freedom but REAL freedom. Not the illusion of freedom presented within empire. The reason such a shift is even possible is because of the material gains made in the 70’s. What does feminsm [sic] offer now to women in poverty or stuck in a abusive relationship? How does it work to change their material conditions?

. . . feminism is suppose[d] to be about global solidarity with those oppressed by patriarchy. Women can’t just choose to not be bombed by drones if you are a feminist in Yemen[,] for example. Only collective action and solidarity can stop that. [To be honest,] I’m seeing a lot of similarities with black feminsm [sic] now and what we rightly call out as white feminism. The most marginalized are not centered. Because they are both neoliberal feminism[,] which is about individuals making it within oppressive institutions at the expense of others[,] not creating new ones.

To which I responded:

“If feminism is, by definition, a movement to tear down the power structure in the material world, then I am only marginally a feminist . . . Most of the work I do is on self-acceptance, self-motivation, and self-definition. Agency and autonomy. Along with . . . not exploiting and oppressing others.”

To which Ms. Jessica responded:

I think that is important work[,] too. I’m not saying it is not influenced by feminism/not feminism . . . [W]riting that is done with your focus is important and can be powerful . . . That work has led me to be an overall happier person and . . . act in movement spaces with confidence. I know my worth. If you do not have a feeling of efficacy[,] it’s hard to act in a way to build towards something larger than yourself because you don’t believe in your own power.

She is right, though, when she says: Women are also tethered in ways that [cannot] be fixed by internal work because it’s a matter of their material reality/there not being support networks for them to survive and escape physical violence. Women, particularly those in poverty[,] need a movement to break the chains.

I don’t know exactly how these chains can be broken, and, I have to be honest, activism is not my avocation.

I am a writer and thinker; I am a teacher and supporter. I don’t have a sacrificial enough nature to be a true freedom fighter.

I am more about the present and my own individual wellbeing, life, and livelihood than a truly revolutionary motherfucker can be.

Still, I do feel a pull, as I told Ms. Jessica, toward the work of helping black women and girls love and accept themselves and each other–cherish and enjoy themselves and each other–in the face and within the confines of a society and racial community that make them feel worthless and needless and, shit, unsafe.

After my exchange with Ms. Jessica, and reading all this dialogue about Ms. bell and Bey, I really am wondering whether I need a new title for that work–for the ethic by which I live (described here).

In my last post, I called my brand of feminism “femme feminism.” But maybe it isn’t feminism at all.

I am all about helping black women and girls, as Ms. Jessica says, “understand . . . that we as individuals exist and operate within the confines set for us.”

I am about helping them to negotiate more happily and healthily within and without those confines.

I want them to understand what is the truth and what is patriarchy and draw closer to the truth–that they are just as capable and valuable as any other type of woman or any man or boy on this planet.

That they deserve respect, fair treatment, safety, freedom, and a wide range of reaffirming choices for their lives.

Feminism, as it has been traditionally defined, is not this, or it’s not just this. It centers on ridding society of those confines, not operating within them.

So maybe I am not a feminist. Maybe I am something else.

The work that I try to do is conjunctive with feminism, as I see it. Which is why I’ve been using that title to describe it.

As Ms. Jessica said, you can’t break the patriarchy without first believing that you can.

You have to have a sense of yourself before you can act as a destroyer or builder of institutions out in the world.

The inside work helps facilitate the outside work, but I understand and agree that it doesn’t replace the outside work.

It doesn’t erase the need for the outside work. I get that. That makes perfect sense to me.

Still, the inside work–of building up black women and girls spiritually and emotionally–as individuals–is what I’m comfortable doing.

It’s what my particular gifts–writing and speaking–have led me to do, what they lend me to do, and it is what I enjoy doing with these gifts.

Because, as another very intelligent, very passionate–and she calls herself a “womanist”–black woman that I’ve read on the Coalition Zine tumblr pointed out:

I can deconstruct the things [black women and girls] enjoy and say and do . . . [T]here is always something there that can be deconstructed in a sterile academic sense. But . . . [t]here are ways to locate one another and meet people where they are without shutting them out and standing over them in the process. I find asking people why they love the things they love creates more community and proximity.

If true feminist work is tearing down power structures in the materialist–in the outer–the “real”–world, then, we have to be real about that:

It does shut out a lot of black women, and I do mean a lot.

Because we’re not all Harriet Tubmans. That’s just the way it is.

We’re not all revolutionaries and radicals. Just like we’re not all pop icons or iconic writers.

I can say honestly and without shame or regret–I am not willing to put my life or physical safety on the line to “deliver” people that are not blood relatives of mine.

I am too attached to my life and health, and I am too cynical to sacrifice them, to be a cog in a wheel (progress) that seems to be moving forward at an infinitesimally slow pace.

I don’t want to be oppressed, but I also don’t want to be killed.

I don’t want to be an agent of the patriarchy, but I don’t have the heart to be one of its saboteurs.

But I can ask questions and bring up points and share ideas and try to make them feel better.

So maybe I am a black feminist idealist instead of a black feminist activist.

Maybe I am a black feminist ideologue instead of a black feminist scholar.

Maybe I am a black feminist phenomenologist instead of a black feminist theorist.

Maybe I’m a black female idealist, ideologue, or phenomenologist and not a feminist of any kind.


I don’t have a problem with not being a feminist if I’m not a feminist. Just like I don’t have a problem calling myself a feminist if I am a feminist.

I just want to do the work that I want to do and have that work reach the people that need and want it.

I just want that work to do whatever healing and unifying and manifesting it can.

In the vein of a piece like “Lemonade.”

In the vein of a celebration like “Black Girls Rock!”

In the vein of a TV show like Issa Rae’s “Awkward.”

In the vein of Warsan Shire’s poetry.

People can call the ethic of these kinds of things whatever they need to or feel is appropriate, as far as I’m concerned–for the sake of clarity, acuity, reality, and authenticity.

They can call them “feminist,” or they can call them otherwise. I guess it’s up to them.

They can call me whatever, too. I don’t much care. As long as they don’t saddle me with names or titles that are disrespectful or dismissive.

As long as they don’t call me a mindless product or willing victim of the patriarchy or misogynoir.







5 thoughts on “Tomato, Potato

  1. This blog is on time and on point.

    It’s funny. I dated a very ardent feminist, once. She was very prideful about not shaving her armpits, treating her decision like this great protest to patriarchy. I figured, perhaps, and I believe I am almost certain, this gesture is a way to challenge the notion that shaven armpits are directly tied to femininity. I accepted that. Personally, I wish everyone would shave their armpits, men included, but that’s for another time. What I couldn’t stand was the constant policing of my words or opinions that betrayed her personal philosophies. I’m not opposed to political correctness, but I’m trying to go out to eat and catch a show, not bring in a revolution.

    What you’re doing and your personal goals are feminist acts. Maybe you’re not an activist, but does that make you any less of a feminist? No. Nurturing and working on personal well-being and self-care, especially for Black women, are revolutionary acts. Teaching and showing young girls to love themselves are revolutionary acts. Reading, writing and critically thinking about all the bullshit that affect us as women are revolutionary acts.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. Being told how to be a feminist by people who consider themselves feminists, looks a lot like the bullshit feminists are fighting to destroy.

    Sorry for the long response.


    1. No–thank you so much for the long response. I have said that at a few points–that feminists can judge other women just like patriarchs–but I also see what a lot of them are saying about the need to topple the power structure. I just know that’s not my “ministry,” to use my sister’s phrase. I am a writer. I am a teacher. Thank you for coming here and showing your appreciation of that. It means a lot to me.


  2. I read the bell hooks article and I didn’t find it to be scathing or inflammatory or unfair, just one person’s opinion about Beyonce’s work. It praised certain parts of Lemonade and questioned others. It seemed balanced to me and I don’t always understand this zero-tolerance for Beyonce critics. Beyonce is a highly stylized and sexualized performer and sometimes this seems to exist in contrast to her feminist message. As a fan of her music, I am ok with that. She’s an artist and her art is personal and deep and moving and human. Beyonce is amazing, talented, strong…and not above criticism. Why can we not question her? Why can we not have a balanced view of her? Why are we, as fans, asked to blindly consume everything she produces without ever analyzing it?


    1. I’m not quite sure why you’re making this comment because I don’t remember saying in this post or the previous post that people shouldn’t criticize or question Beyoncé. What I did take issue with–minimally–is the idea that a woman that IS stylish or sexual (sexy) can’t also be savvy, intelligent, or feminist and so taken seriously. I believe that there is a bit of this belief expressed in hooks’s critique and many others that I’ve read of “Lemonade.” As a femme, I have a problem with that belief. I don’t have a problem with people critically engaging with anyone’s art or scholarship or anything else, though. I think we should all be analytical about what we consume. At the same time that we are sensible, reasonable, and fair about its creator(s), origin(s), and purpose(s).


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