Is Beyonce a feminist icon?



It has been a while seen I last posted anything. I was beginning to have writing paralysis, over thinking what topic my next post should cover. In that respect, I should thank Ms Knowles-Carter for giving me the impetus to blog again. I’ll be the first to admit that releasing an album complete with videos without any press was a power move,that left her fellow pop princesses in her wake. However, I have been disappointed with certain black feminists declaring that Queen/King Bey is a feminist icon whom we should all ‘bow down’ before and download her cd. Worse still, they have gone on to insult anyone who questions this or critiques Mrs Carter’s feminist credentials.

Do I believe that Beyonce is a feminist icon? The short answer is no. Do I doubt that she is a feminist? For me, that is a moot point. Beyonce is free to self define herself as a feminist, that is entirely her business. Contrary to what many people believe, there isn’t a feminist code. We all have to forge our own path to make the world in which we live fairer to all of its inhabitants. The issue is whether she is a Black feminist icon. I fail to see how her singing songs about ‘getting it on’ with her husband is improving the lives of Black women worldwide. Her personal success does not empower me in any way. I am more inspired by the women in my family, my friends and by those who have made a difference to peoples’ lives not just their record collection. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would fixate on a celebrity’s life instead of their own.

Her fans also repeatedly go on about how she sings songs of female empowerment. This is not a new trend within popular rnb – see Aretha Franklin, Gloria Gaynor and countless others. Many female artists before her have been singing songs about getting rid of a no good man and standing on your own feet. Of her contemporaries, Janelle Monae is the real feminist deal. She has not compromised her art or herself just to get a record deal. Her robotic revolution is a perfect allegory for marginalised peoples including women, people of colour, gays and Black women in particular. I don’t understand why Ms Monae is not being championed in the same way by the fervent Beyonce fans.

Beyonce is a beautiful, talented and hard working entertainer. Her success is also due to the fact that she is probably the least threatening black female performer of all time. Her physical aesthetic is that of white woman with a tan and long blonde hair. She has a look which grants her mass appeal. For her album to be number 1 in US a lot of people of different races had to purchase it. That is just simple mathematics. She does not have to assert her beauty or sense of worth in the same way that Nina Simone had to. Nina’s dignity, views and poise were an act of defiance in a time where Black women were considered non entities. Beyonce does not critique the power structures; instead her music solely concentrates on safe topics such as love and now in her latest album sex, these are inclusive subject matters. Most people can relate to falling in love and sexual desire. Her latest album may not be child friendly but she is not calling for a revolution any time soon.

Jumping on the feminism bandwagon has been a master stroke for Beyonce. It provides her with a new narrative which gives her music and the artist a depth that I honestly doubt she possesses. This has nothing to do with ‘intelligence’ it has everything to do with a willingness to question what occurs in the world and what can we do to change it. Beyonce and her team are more concerned with making money as opposed to changing the world for the better. For example she uses, Terry Richardson who directed Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ video. Now this man has had many complaints of alleged sexual harassment made against him. Where is the sisterly solidarity in employing a man with a reputation for allegedly molesting women?

Then we have the problematic lyrics to ‘Bow Down Bitches’ here she tells other women who are envious of her to bow down before her. This song has been remixed on her album and is titled ‘Flawless’ featuring novelist and feminist, Chimammanda Ngozi Adichie. Beyonce uses a snippet from a Ted talk Adichie gave called ‘We should all be feminists’. Beyonce uses a portion where Adichie explains how girls are encouraged to focus on marriage but boys are not. However, in Chimammanda’s original speech she goes on to talk about the competition among women especially in getting attention from men. Again if you are asking women to ‘Bow Down’ before you where is the sisterly solidarity? Where is the encouragement to the move away from competition among women? I have heard a lot of apologist hogwash in trying to explain this behaviour. One excuse I read was that she was mimicking the grandstanding behaviour of rappers and thus ‘de-constructing’ it. I am of the belief that the truth has an undeniable simplicity whereas hogwash tends to be very complex as its aim is to confuse. The truth is that Beyonce is only concerned with her fame and record sales and not the everyday lives of women. The reason why everyone should be feminists is to make the world a fairer place, where everyone is raised up. We can only do this by creating new ways to interact with each other. It is not possible to use ways of old to create new outcomes.

(If you haven’t already seen it please have a look)

Over the last couple of days/weeks, I have seen the recurring theme of certain Black Beyonce supporters stating that White feminists were somehow upset over the success of her album. On reading the fantastic blog by ‘Blogmother’ on I too googled to see if these articles existed and lo and behold they do not!!! There are certain quarters within the White feminist movement who refuse to acknowledge their own privilege and complicity in the misogyny and racism that Black women face in society. That is a sad fact. However, I refuse to defend a multi millionaire in a made up fight with an imaginary foe. I want to focus on dealing with the issues that affect Black women and girls. Let’s put our energies into bringing the likes of R. Kelly to justice, let’s encourage our young women to be productive and happy members of society. Now that’s a fight I am interested in joining.

The main reason why I felt compelled to write this piece is not to insult Beyonce. I like some of her stuff. I just feel that there is a very dangerous trend of giving celebrities a gravitas that they have not earned or deserved. Being a Black feminist is not an easy path, you are often fighting people who share your gender and in many instances, your race. It is a marginalised position, fighting structures that have placed you at the bottom rung of society. Beyonce provides a very attractive potential poster girl for ‘the cause’ showing that Black women can be successful, beautiful, loved and happy. However, Ms Knowles Carter has done absolutely nothing to blaze a trail for others to follow or to challenge the power structures which binds us. In order to be a leader or an icon you have to create change. Therefore to label her an icon or to state that her album is a feminist manifesto is premature at best and foolish at worst. Beyonce is not going to change the status quo anytime soon, those looking for her to do so will be very disappointed.

I am also very disturbed by the politics of the exception. What I mean by that is that since the Civil Rights, Black people have always been sold on the idea of living vicariously through individuals. Martin Luther King winning the Nobel Peace Prize did not eradicate poverty for the Black poor. Now over 50 years later the gap in opportunity and income between the Black poor and everyone else has increased so much so that it seems that inter generational poverty is an inescapable destination for scores of the Black poor. The Oprahs, Baracks and Jay Zs do not change this fact and the odd Black millionaire should not make us feel that we have all reached the ‘promised land’. A similar PR job is being carried out in South Africa, where the focus on Nelson Mandela’s life and achievements is a desperate attempt by Black and White elites to distract the average South African from the sad fact that their lot has not improved post apartheid.

How does this relate to Beyonce? Mrs Carter’s individual success does not improve my quality of life. I am not prepared to live vicariously through one person. Creating sacred cows out of celebrities only distracts people from dealing with reality. There is a lot of work to be done and concerning ourselves with a rich entertainer to this extent is a waste of time. Irrespective of what you or I think of this album, it will not cross Beyonce’s mind for a second. Instead I will focus on improving my life and most importantly the lives of others. That is what real feminism looks like, its action not posturing or empty rhetoric.

Please let me know your thoughts


The post-racial myth


This week leading actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte was presented with yet another accolade for his various works promoting Civil Rights and social justice. Not just content to receive his award, he placed responsibility on the stars of today, claiming that the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z do little in highlighting the inequality in society for people of colour. Many have rushed to their defence stating all of the good works they do for various charities. However, the most powerful couple in music have been noticeably silent on this issue.

I do expect celebrities to have a social conscience. Carefully stage managed acts of charity are a good thing but not to be unexpected when you earn more than the Commonwealth combined. The Black community were the first to support their careers and start their ascent to superstardom so you would think that the support would be mutual. By way of comparison Bruce Springsteen has consistently championed the plight of working class Americans throughout his nearly 40 year career. On issues such as mass unemployment or the Trayvon Martin murder, the majority of Black celebrities are conspicuously silent. Many Black entertainers show two very worrying traits, apathy and selfishness. As long as the individual’s needs are being met, the rest of the poor masses can eat cake.

Whether they like it or not, celebrities are a massive influence our young people. This deliberate avoidance of any political thinking by Black celebrities has helped to create a critical thinking vacuum with our young people. Instead they are force fed the same message daily: ‘Get rich or die trying’. Concepts such as consequence, self esteem, racial pride and love are no where to be seen in mainstream hip hop and rnb. The results are startling and depressing. The rise of colourism within the Black community on both sides of the Atlantic is a pathetic backwards step. We now have Black people who insult other Black people who look exactly like them because they are Black. Where is this generation’s James Brown to say ‘I’m Black and I’m proud?’

I am not taken with the argument that Jay-Z (or any other multi platinum rapper) embodies the ‘American Dream’. This statement implies that there are equal opportunities for all. In the U.S. as of June 2012, unemployment for African American men is at 14.4% compared to the national average of 8.2% (source CNN) Jay-Z and his ilk cannot represent the American dream if only a select few can realise that dream. The inference that just because there are a few multi millionaire Black celebrities and a Black man in the White House that we live in a warm and fuzzy post racial age is hogwash. When Black men on both sides of the Atlantic are still several times more likely to be stopped by the police, unemployed or jailed we do not live in a post racial age.

Terms like post racism/post feminism are misleading because we do not live in a world without racism, misogyny or homophobia. It hoodwinks our youth into believing that this is as good as it gets, that there is nothing left to fight against. Racism has not disappeared, it has merely changed form. Black footballers no longer have bananas thrown at them as they did in the 70’s but in the last football season two high profile footballers Luis Suarez and former England captain John Terry were found guilty of using racist language against Black footballers. The lack of any real consequence, the apologist language of those seeking to defend their actions goes to show that racism is still a malignant force. The killing of Mark Duggan served as the catalyst for the London Riots of 2011. The police claimed that they killed him as he pointed a loaded gun at them. The police have been unable to prove that he was armed at all. Therefore, it would appear that his race was a determining factor in death.

We are not society free from racism or sexism. We cannot be swayed by the superficial. The odd Black millionaire or the acceptance of Black culture in mainstream music or fashion does not indicate that we now live in a harmonious utopia. The engine behind equality is power. Until all people of colour can influence legislation, access to wealth, are present on the boards of schools, businesses, media outlets and other institutions we will find ourselves in a state of racism continued.

I have also noticed that in tandem with this post racialism fallacy is the normalisation of Black ‘dysfunctionalism’. The video of the Black bus driver giving a female passenger an uppercut is a perfect example. I agree that the bus driver in a role of authority should have removed her from the bus and used excessive force. I also agree that the young woman was out of line and should not be acting in a violent manner and then be surprised to be assaulted herself. On reading comments about the video I am also very disheartened at the acceptance of violence against Black women within the Black community. I raise the video because once again it reinforces every negative stereotype and justifies why there are only a few Black success stories because the vast majority supposedly lack the discipline, finesse and talent to become one. This is really dangerous because it places the onus of responsibility on the disenfranchised and not on social inequality. Tragically, it also acts as proof for the growing amounts of Black people who do not believe that they should strive or expect more from life.

We do not live in a post racial age. I will freely admit that I have had more opportunities than the generation before but the fight for equal rights continues. Equal rights require equal power across various societal structures. Access to that power will not occur without the belief of various communities that that power is owed to them. We have to energise our youth so that they strive to have more not less opportunities than the current generation in charge. To do otherwise would be an abject failure in our responsibilities. We cannot continue to be content with individual success. The political silence by the majority of the Black famous elite reinforces that we are not in this all together. It is also very limiting that majority of Black millionaires are all within the entertainment sector. I am looking forward to a time when I see celebrated Black scientists, politicians, architects and law makers. Stagnation is not progress. If that does sadly come to pass, the blame does not just lie with any rapper or a punching bus driver – it will be a damning indictment of us all.

Please let me know your thoughts