Black feminist discourse through and beyond Beyonce

One of the first things I read this morning was this blog about bell hooks calling Beyonce a terrorist by “Crunk Feminist Collective” founder and acclaimed black intellectual Dr. Brittany Cooper better known on the Crunk Feminist Collective site as “Crunktastic”. Dr. Cooper’s response was to this op ed piece by Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. While both are worthy pieces by worthy voices of black intellectual scholarship, I admit to reading Dr. Cooper’s piece and waiting for the punchline. I expected as I often do when reading a piece by a respected intellectual that the light would go off and I would if not agree at least my disagreement would be of the intellectual variety and not of the emotional “come the hell on” variety. No such luck this morning.

As a writer and occasional radio host, I do my best to avoid Beyonce, because I find it overdone and I maintain that there are often better and more relevant topics in feminism and most especially in black feminism and culture discussions. I think our media focuses too deeply on Beyonce, and the best way I know how to combat that is by not doing so, by not making her the end all be all of the conversations, be they about, race, class, success, feminism or beauty standards in our society. This admittedly can be difficult when she hits all those topics often and continuously in her work and in the broadcasting and handling of her personal life. Full disclosure: I think there are several problematic things about Beyonce and Beyonce’s brand and what that represents.

My issues with Dr. Cooper’s response fall along three main lines:

1. Just because you like something doesn’t make it feminist. (See this article relating to how feminists attempt to make things they like feminist things).

Along this vein of understanding the differences between our likes and feel goods and the hills it’s important to die on when discussing black feminist discourse. Clearly Dr. Cooper has not been shy about being a Beyonce fan (stan) and suggested that jealousy, hurt, and past scars were largely to blame for much of the black feminist discourse that dislikes Beyonce and points out many of the problematic themes she presents (see op ed here).

While there are personal and sociological scars that are plaguing black women individually and collectively, I think its a lazy shot to make this about jealously at Beyonce be it about her money, her light skin, her husband or her baby. I think it detracts from the very valid points about her role and the role of her image in the problems that are plaguing black women and girls.

2. While I don’t think that bell hooks is infallible, not by any stretch of the imagination, I think there is a fine line between disagreeing and dissenting with the opinion of an elder and losing site of the bigger picture. I firmly believe that there is something to say for dancing with who brought you to the dance and in every conceivable way bell hooks, has brought us to this dance. Her scholarship, lectures, books, and fearless ability to probe topics that are most sensitive to feminist and black discourse both separately and together are truly the legs we stand on when we open our laptops to speak freely online about these topics. No, that’s not me calling for anyone to kiss her ass or agree with her; that’s me saying that I don’t understand a piece of writing that will suggest that it is more reasonable for bell to be provocative than for Beyonce to be a terrorist.

Beyonce as an ideal and as a media structure IS a terrorist. As a black feminist from an urban area that was raised and nourished on hip hop and R&B I draw the distinction between understanding that certain lyrics, videos and representations do equate to acts of terror against the young, black and brown people who are their primary audiences; and our ability to enjoy said music and images.

I simply don’t understand why we wear these blinders in discourse about Beyonce but not Nicki Minaj who has spoken with candor about the differences in treatment between her and her male counterpart Lil Wayne. Nicki is also very in charge of her sexuality, and her image and yet nobody is running to the aide of that image under the guise of black feminism. Likewise I don’t recall much positive discourse about many of the other black female hip hop and R&B voices or bodies who have dared to claim their sexuality and equality with men.

Instead it is easier to ask how bell hooks can dance to Beyonce’s music after calling her a terrorist. My question is how is it that Dr. Cooper can dance to her music while knowingly down playing the serious problems with the great majority of what she stands for. There is indeed something to be said for stepping out and away from the feminists who have paved the way and developing your own ideas which is why it is important for people like me who have Dr. Cooper, Joan Morgan and Melissa Harris Perry, as well as bell hooks to thank for their outlook and critical thinking on our society, to point out the blindspots, the weak arguments and the self service and call it what I feel it is and the blog correctly calls it bullshit.

3. I flat out disagree with and deny that the voice of a younger generation of feminism is monolith, and likewise disagree with the assertion that bell silences us by “silencing” Beyonce. An incredibly important and yet under discussed  part of the problem with creating the argument that Beyonce is being silenced is to ignore the fact that her image and brand and likeness have been separated from black women in general. Beyonce is not a victim in this, she is very much complicit. Take for example the video for the new Beyonce and Jay Z movie trailer “On the Run” created to promote their upcoming concert tour. I have yet to see the gratuitous violence and sexuality, or glamorizing and romanticizing of crime being criticised in feminist circles. Would that same clip go without criticism if only a male artist created it or a female artist black or otherwise that is not de facto accepted as one of our own. I think the same video coming from Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim or some other marginalized black body that our movement is not so fast to adopt would be widely discussed as being problematic. Luckily we are not all Beyonce, nor bell hooks and I expect that young feminist voices black and otherwise will come harder than they currently are. I expect that more of us will take to the mediums accessible to us and blog, write, discuss and have discourse that both respects and challenges our shared feminist roots and seeks to forge new ground.

I expect that we will get away from the horrible habit us chocolate girls have of exalting one figure that looks like us by trashing another, whether its bell and Beyonce, Nicki and Lupita or some other women. I want us to learn how to disagree, honestly. As opposed to saying “bell knows Beyonce is not a terrorist” I challenge that we consider in what context bell suggested that terrorism is taking place. I expect us to consider if the way we treat each other in feminism over Beyonce, weather the person or the ideal and consider if that is terrorism. I want us to consider if we make black feminism a place that is safe for black feminists and all feminists of color to tell their stories and share their opinions if they don’t have expensive degrees or exclusive platforms to share them on. I want us to consider in our heavy lifting if we are losing sight of the daily experience of being black and female in society and if we are also committing acts of terrorism.

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