I read your article the other day, “Beware of the Pop Star as Activist (But Don’t Blame Beyonce).” Despite your article’s title, you do blame Beyonce and focus your article on her after acknowledging you are meant to “shut up” on the matter–a direction you fail to discuss before moving on.
I’m a young, working class, Brown and Proud woman, born and raised in East Vancouver. Not in the “white hipster” version of East Van, but in the ignored, immigrant-filled, drug and gang-affiliated, being pushed out of Vancouver by development and gentrification version of East Van. Oh! Did I mention I have a problem with your analysis on Beyonce?
The article you wrote is focused on capitalism and how Beyonce fits into this system as a celebrity who calls herself a feminist. What your article failed to do was acknowledge and support the powerful message that not only her song contains but also her music video and her courageous performance at the white audience-filled Super Bowl. I have decided to hold you accountable today because I believe you have not done your best work as an ally. While you consistently acknowledge the marginalization and multiple oppressions we as women of colour face, rather than promoting our work on your blog (one “woman of colour” doesn’t count), you more often use the words of a women of colour to back up your opinion when writing an article about racialized issues.
For many of us that are not white, Formation and Beyonce do not represent capitalism; actually, we’re not even focused on the capital aspect of her. We all know she’s rich, but we’re proud that she’s a rich, black woman making it in the white world. There are far more ways you could’ve directed your article to go; for example, you could’ve supported what Formation stood for rather than tearing it apart and denouncing any political platform it has. Often, women of colour want to overturn the power imbalance by taking what was never ours to begin with. Beyonce is not focusing on capitalism and the working class nor necessarily women’s issues. Beyonce wants the same power only white men have enjoyed for years and that for her is money. Her experience of growing up in the south and the continued racial injustice motivated her to rise to the top and her desire to “slay” ‘em (white folks).
Yes, her words and the imagery she produces is meant to unsettle and make you uncomfortable. It’s an affront to our existing power structures and a “fuck you” to the rich white men who ought to move over. For those who think she’s “angry”- yes, she is. She’s not trying to make amends to white women either. Moving on to her powerful Super Bowl performance, just look at the impact she’s had on society with paying homage to the Black Panther LIVE to Middle America. In your article, you stated that “Beyonce’s political message is all tied up in a capitalist one,” and implies throughout the whole article that Beyonce just doesn’t know any better, ignoring the reality that she’s being torn apart by white media for her performance AS IT IS.
We can’t expect celebrities to become activists the way we want them to be just because they’ve spoken up once or twice (and yes, I know Beyonce is a self-declared Feminist). Beyonce has not stated she’s an activist, but that does not mean that her work is not political. Her narration, lyrics, video and performance have all instigated necessary discussions surrounding the black female body, slavery, the continuation of racism, BlackLivesMatter, and the list continues. Most of which were dismissed in your article because you focused on her voice as a rich person. Sometimes we need a rich person to speak out artistically in order for movements to gain more attention, and in this case Beyonce spoke out and created celebration and that discussion that has obviously upset many white people. Some who call themselves our allies.
Please don’t take pride in the likes and comments your article has received. The majority of them are white people who either agree that Beyonce is not political or are glad another white person has finally spoken out about what they were thinking. Next time Meghan, we “women of colour” (yes I am speaking for all of us), would like to see white allies like you promoting more of our work on their blogs (all of your contributors are white and most of your guest writers are, too). I personally would like to see you critique an artist other than Beyonce… Why? Because when other celebrities, such as Emma Watson, are critiqued on your blog, their “politics” are not dismissed like Beyonce’s but rather there is an attempt to understand. “Emma Watson’s speech at the UN has made headlines worldwide. It wasn’t a bad speech. Like all women, Watson is doing the best she can with the information she has available to her.” This is exactly what Beyonce is doing, her best with the information available to her and her life experience as a black woman expressed through her art.
Just because someone isn’t working the front lines, or speaking out like Gloria Steinem or Andrea Dworkin, it doesn’t mean their voice doesn’t matter and it doesn’t mean that what they have to say isn’t political. Look at where Formation has taken us: to a discussion about white allies in the movement and the black female body, slavery, racism, and BlackLivesMatter. To be a white ally means you must be willing to take criticism from people of colour. You might not agree with me, but you cannot deny that “celebrities,” especially black female artists such as Beyonce, Queen Latifah, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, Lauryn Hill, Salt-N-Peppa, Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott, Janelle Monae, and the list goes on and on… have used music as a primary political tool to get their message across, to share their stories about racial injustice, sexism, poverty, and the black female body.
Music has always been and always will be a strong tool to connect people to a political message and we can see that from the origins of jazz and hip hop. Maxine Craig in her book, “Ain’t I a Beauty Queen?: Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race (2002),” writes that, “politically active, black, female folk singers, jazz musicians, and actresses were important figures who helped expand beauty standards to include the tight curls of African American hair.”She continued to state that “African Americans outside of the movement could adopt elements of that consciousness without ever participating in any action. Achieving that kind of borrowed transformation increasingly became the goal of spokespersons for black pride. A belief in the power of symbols of black consciousness grew.”
This is the power of symbols in the 1960’s during the civil rights movement, and these are the very same symbols and more that are important in today’s revolution that is being projected everyday into people’s lives and the lives of young black, asian, and brown girls watching women like Beyonce and seeing those symbols through her music. Slay!