On bell, Beyonce’, and Bullshit

Out of respect for elders, I haven’t been pressed to weigh in on why the venerable bell hooks might find it reasonable to refer to Beyoncé as a terrorist.

Yet, I felt compelled to respond this morning, after reading this piece from Rev. Osagyefo Sekou at Truth-Out.org, that indicts an entire generation of Black intellectuals for apparently “believ[ing] that the system is a good system that only needs to provide greater access to the historically othered.” Who exactly are these people who believe this liberal claptrap?

 Because of this alleged belief in the “goodness” of our current racist, capitalist, patriarchal effed up system, we supposedly “rush to defend the black embodiments of neoliberalism Obama and Beyoncé.” This generation of Black intellectuals apparently  directs its fever-pitched critique at the blatant racist and sexist actions of individuals while it is unable to articulate the ways in which Beyoncé and Obama undermine the very possibility of anti-neoliberal discourse.”

 

First, the critique of structural racism is incredibly strong among young Black intellectuals. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mychal Denzel Smith, Kirsten West Savali, anybody? Second, does Beyonce’ even know what neoliberalism is?

 

Now Rev. Sekou makes  a number of important claims, a few of which I agree with, the vast majority of which I think are bullshit.

 

And my calling bullshit ain’t about disrespecting elders, but rather about saying that elders, especially elders as astute and insightful as bell hooks, don’t get a pass for making whack-ass arguments. I grew up in the Southern Black Baptist Church, my daddy is a preacher and I still address senior scholars as Doctor even though I also have a Ph.D. That Southern sensibility peppers how I do my work, but as much as my mama and grandmother taught me to respect my elders they also taught me never to sit around and stand for no bullshit. And I won’t do that shit in the name of either civility or academic respectability, because if Black women are out here terrorizing people, then we ain’t got no time to be polite with each other.

 

So let us be clear: Beyoncé  is not a terrorist. She isn’t systematically doing violence to any group of people, rolling up and taking folks land, creating a context of fear in which people must live, or usurping folks right to self-determination, raping women as a tool of war, or turning children into soldiers.

 

President Obama on the other hand…might be doing some of that.

 

As far as Bey goes, it looks like she’s committed to anti-violence, at least in her intimate contexts. And when Black women can manage to rise above the violence happening right in front of their faces in their intimate spaces, there is something liberatory and radical about that posture.

 

But apparently who black women are when the cameras aren’t looking (or when they don’t know the cameras are looking) doesn’t matter in taking down the neoliberal project.

 

Btw, I’m so drove with all these intellectuals who think defending bell hooks and Cornel West makes them radical.

 

Calling Beyoncé a terrorist in a moment when 300 Black girls from Nigeria are being raped and otherwise terrorized daily and can’t nobody seem to come up with a strategy to get them back is not only intellectually and politically irresponsible – it’s ill. bell hooks knows Beyonce isn’t a terrorist.

 

She was being provocative. And I imagine that the provocation has to do with asking us to think about what kind of work or harm Beyonce’s image does under a neoliberal system. And if that was the question, then ask that question. But conflating the potential discursive and psychic violence that Beyonce’s image does with Beyonce herself is irresponsible feminist theorizing.

 

Yes, the Time cover shows a light-skinned, bleached blonde Beyonce, and to the extent that she has control over the image, it certainly doesn’t disrupt white beauty standards.

But I also read it as her playing with the possibility and plasticity of her image.

Maybe that means she’s complicit with whiteness, but it could also mean that like many of us, she is interested in all the ways she can be visually rendered. But when light-skinned women revel in their light-skinnedness, it triggers deep shit for Black women who struggle with colorism. And that’s tough because while it might be reasonable to demand that Beyonce show some empathy for this cultural Black girl struggle, the reality is that she is as we say in the south “bright-skinned.” And she has the right to love her skin and revel in its possibilities, too.

Regardless of whether you agree with my reading of the image or not, what we should be able to agree on is that how one chooses to appear on the cover of a magazine does not a terrorist one make.

And calling a black woman a terrorist when nothing could be farther from the truth is an act of discursive violence.

It is not mere hyperbole. It is not metaphor. It is an act of violence. And what we can’t have going down in Black feminism is Black women being violent with other Black women in the name of being radical.

That’s that bullshit, and we should call it what it is, even if it means we have to implicate our elders. Elders ain’t gods to me.

Sekou’s conflation of Barack Obama, a politician twice elected to lead the American Empire, with Beyonce’ a self-made entertainer is intellectually untenable.

President Obama can and does use drones on people. President Obama can and does sanction military action. President Obama can and does deport Brown people in startling numbers. President Obama can and does reason with people on the right far too often when he should be bulldozing their shit. President Obama does what he was elected to do, which is to run this American empire. And as someone who voted for him, I’m complicit in what that means. I’m also glad that my unemployed CF who needed to go to the doctor this week was able to because of Obamacare.

So there’s that. Anyway.

President Obama’s actions materially impact the lives not just of the U.S. millions but of billions around the globe.

Beyonce’ is an entertainer, who sings good songs and choreographs routines, so that we can dance and feel good and fuck well and talk shit with our friends or partners as we navigate our lives in this neoliberal, capitalist machine. She might be a bigger cog in the wheel than most of us, but she certainly ain’t driving the bike.

And it is precisely this kind of untenable conflation of her with the denizens of empire that emboldens the Beygency.

Now I’m not part of the Beygency, but where Sekou accuses my generation of intellectuals with having outsized outrage at the wrong shit, I want to call him out for the same. Conflating Beyonce’ with Obama is outsized outrage at the wrong target if I ever saw it.

What I’m not going to do here is re-litigate the Cornel West-Barack Obama debate that Sekou attempts to bootstrap, unfairly I think,  to the Bey and bell conversation.

So let me untie these two critiques for the reasons listed above. bell hooks was being provocative about pop culture; Cornel West at least tries to bring some righteousness to his critiques of imperialism, even though his approach works my nerves. And now let us return to the claims that Sekou makes.

Sekou writes:

 Race, sexuality and gender are critical aspects of their work, yet there [is] an outright refusal to say neoliberalism and capitalism are bad….Contemporary black intellectuals strive for a non-sexist, non-homo and -trans-phobic, and non-racist seat at the table versus a construction of a new table….”

 

He returns to this point again later, saying: “Again, the dominant intellectual disposition of contemporary black intellectuals is neoliberal. Their anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-transphobic and anti-homophobic sentiments are easily incorporated into the neoliberal project without critiquing neoliberalism.”

 

To be clear, I think capitalism is a fundamentally fucked up system, that magnifies a hundred-fold the effects of racism and sexism. I think Sekou is right that an endless focus on anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-transphobic, and anti-homophobic discourse does make the work of contemporary young radicals co-optable. I do think a more explicit critique of neoliberalism in our work is warranted. I do think we have to recognize that fluidity and mobility are not the same thing. In an article I’m working on, I talk about how discussions of performance and fluidity have come to stand in for real discussions about whether people themselves have  actual mobility, or options to move around in the social structure. I do think we have to remember that intersectionality was never put forth as an account of identity but rather an account of power. That we have taken up intersectionality as a way primarily to speak about ourselves and endless categories of identity is unfortunate, especially since it often means that we can’t think productively about how racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and yes, neoliberalism, interact as social systems to disadvantage people multiply placed along these axes.

 

 

But I don’t think any of this makes Beyonce a terrorist. Nor does the defense of her by those of us who think the girl should not be verbally assaulted by fellow feminists make us uniquely complicit with the neoliberal, imperial project.

 

And for those of you who want to know what neoliberalism is, here is a great short video from the Barnard Center for Research on Women.

 

But seriously though – Beyonce is in the tradition of mega superstar entertainers like Madonna, Tina Turner, and Janet Jackson, not Barack Obama (and Bill Clinton, and the Bushes, and Ronald Reagan.)

 

Why is there such hateration for Bey, even though to my knowledge hooks has never called Janet Jackson a terrorist, even at the height of both their careers in the 1990s? There would be no Bey without Janet.  I mean, as my friend Tamura Lomax, founder of The Feminist Wire reminded me, shouldn’t we be talking about the neoliberal implications of Dr. Dre reportedly selling Beats By Dre to Apple for $3.2 billion dollars?  Or is it only capitalist Black women who are cause for concern? Brother Sekou, why no outrage against the brother?

 

I work from the assumption that Beyoncé is a human being , not just an image or an icon. That is why her feminism doesn’t offend me. I see her adoption of the term as the work of a powerful woman in a very traditional relationship, looking for language to understand the power dynamics she encounters. I see the contradictory gender propositions in her catalogue of music as evidence of both struggle and process. But that is what granting her humanity allows for. If however, she’s just the image on the cover of Time, then it becomes easy to call her a terrorist.

 

I guess.

 

BUT if Bey is a terrorist, then how do you justify gleefully dancing to “Drunk In Love” shortly after saying such a thing about her? Are you dancing on the graves of those whom she has supposedly slain with all her terroristic fierceness?

 

I mean, what the entire fuck?

 

 

Neoliberalism has apparently caused Sekou (and hooks) to forget that Beyoncé isn’t only what she sells, never merely commodity or product. Surely, Black feminism is the one place where we begin from the proposition that Black women are not reducible to their capitalistic capacity. Making #TerroristBeyonce the monstrous feminist Frankenstein straw-woman of our movement, upon whom we heap all our anxieties (and bad arguments) about the momentous generational shifts of this moment, is literally an anti-feminist act that denies her humanity. Calling Beyonce a terrorist is also designed to silence a generation of younger feminists who identify with her work and find something liberatory and productive about it.

 

 

Listen: we always navigate questions of power and pleasure within the space of these bedraggled systems not of our own making. Those of us who ride for Bey ride for her because she offers us a language of pleasure, a permission to seek pleasure, in the midst of both struggling to make it and struggling for a different world to come into fruition. An ascetic radicalism that is averse to pleasure is neither just nor healthy. It may embolden us to create a new world, but that world won’t be sustainable, and it may become more violent than the one we left.

 

 

I have a critique of capitalism. I also have an ugly student loan tab, bills that need to be paid every month, and habits I want to indulge. What Sekou understands as an abdication of responsibility to critique capitalism, I understand differently. I understand our generation of feminists to be, as Joan Morgan called for, “fucking with the grays”  seriously, while calling bullshit on those who are so revolutionary-minded that they manage to do no real good.

 

That critique does not apply to bell hooks or Cornel West. They both make our work possible. But if the rhetoric continues, the two of them may also become a cautionary tale in what it means for revolutionaries not to age well.

 

(Yeah, I said it.)

 

And with regard to their speaker’s fees, “I ain’t sayin they golddiggers, but…” (And check it: I think they should make their paper, because I don’t believe revolutionaries should live in poverty.)

 

Anyway, we are all just trying to find our way here. My generation of intellectuals definitely could benefit from a more radical edge to our critique.

 

But if the argument is that we have to violently mow down our icons, leaving a trail of their blood on the way to this new “radicalism,” then you can keep it. Because something about that sounds alarmingly like the patriarchal, black male-centered, radical Black radicalism of old.

 

And a “radical” critique that goes as hard at Beyonce as it does at President Obama tells me all I need to know about the effed up gender politics that will govern the space of the new world those folks are trying to create. Beyonce’ ain’t Condoleeza Rice, ya dig? And we can’t even conceive a world where Black women have a level of political clout and power like Obama has. So then folks make wrongheaded comparisons like Sekou does, and conclude that they are cut from the same cloth.

 

That’s that bullshit.

 

 

And time’s out for bullshit.

 

crunktastic

87 thoughts on “On bell, Beyonce’, and Bullshit

  1. Thanks for this . . . I think you stated some really thoughtful arguments about why that glib, and somewhat throw-away remark from hooks was irresponsible shorthand in the context on what perhaps is her larger point about Beyonce’s image and what it means in our capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist society. If people were present (or watched the video archive), they would know that the comment wasn’t even that big of a focus during the talk. Maybe hooks didn’t realize just how profoundly influential Beyonce is for all women, although she seems to hold a particular fascination for Black women — good or bad, but we’re not totally indifferent to her at all. I think I would have liked to focus more on that instead — like: what is it about this brown woman (who once she dropped her DC group girls and got famous suddenly became “light skinned” in the public eye) whose image is so carefully controlled that some people think she might be a robot because she Never Goes Off Script. Ever. What does our collective fascination/love/admiration verging on worship of a woman who works so hard to conform to dominant culture norms say about the trauma — terrorism — we are trying to work out of our bones . . . ?

  2. baby, you lost. all those words and I still feel like all I received was bullshit. Stop stanning so hard for Beyonce’! She is NOT beyond critique. I am so disappointed in you defending her for lightening her skin. Your remarks COMPLETELY ignored the fact that she allows publications to make her look LIGHTER than what she is and her natural skin tone has changed a bit over the years as well. So, it’s not just that she is “bright-skinned” but she allows her image to be manipulated to fit a more profitable/popular Eurocentric standard. Now, that’s foul and ain’t nothing about it empowering to me as a black woman. Also, somewhat psychologically terroristic, you know telling brown skin girls that you need to look a certain way to be successful… ummhmm

    • This is the most on point response to this because I am so tired of hearing women defend Beyonce like she is an icon for Black Women and arguing the point like it’s valid. Beyonce is not an icon, she’s a figure head popularized by Eurocentric Society and too many women and young girls are buying into the idea that they should be like her. Beyonce is the modern day Saartjie Baartman being hypersexualized and put on display for the world to look at and think of Black Women in a purely sexual manner, this is not empowering or liberating for Black Women; it is disrespectful.

      • We all read things differently, I know. To me, this is clearly not some defense of/”stanning for” Beyonce in the same vein as some impulsive, reactionary commentary by a dedicated Beyonce fan. Dr. Cooper is a black feminist and is clearly responding to the reduction of Beyonce to an image, the negation of her humanity–what we as black feminists are called to do. I also hear her detailing why the casual invocation of the term terrorist is wrong and problematic–on literal and figurative levels. She does not once say there is no room for critique of Beyonce, but calling her a terrorist, the constant debate on her “feminist creds,” the unrealistic equation of her position(ality) with that of figures like Barack Obama NEEDS to be examined. So do our ideas about what makes a “revolutionary” and the reality that so many of us are simultaneously critical of, but sometimes vested and participatory in, oppressive systems.

        (As a fellow southerner, I also appreciate her discussion on how being taught to respect our elders shapes how and who and what we challenge.)

      • Beyonce is just as in control of her sexuality as Madonna is/was. Both are clearly in control and neither is disrespectful to her race by promoting a sexual image, and promoting beauty. Beyonce, unlike Madonna is a rare amazingly beautiful woman. She’s got it and dan right, she is showing it off. Musicians of both genders been doing that forever

    • she didn’t stand for beyonce at all. did you read the article. she replied to a 2 critiques.

    • Beyonce has been the same color for years. Look at her pictures as a child , then as a teenager and then look at her now. She has always been the SAME bright-skinned woman. I think people get confused that she sometimes wear heavy make-up but even with the heavy make-up she is not lighter or bleached. She was never dark-skinned or brown. She’s ALWAYS been VERY LIGHT.

      • It may be the fact that Beyoncé has lightened and straightened her hair that gives the impression that she has lightened her skin, because in some way she is definitely promoting Eurocentric beauty standards, which is a kind of psychological terrorism against brown-skinned, dark-haired, curly-haired girls. Society tells these girls “Change everything you can about yourself to distance yourself from your African ancestry or you will not be valued, you will not be accepted, you will not be hired, you will not be loved, you will die.” And Beyoncé is complicit in promoting this message. That is a kind of terrorism.

    • Ma’am. You need more people. As a “bright-skinned” woman, I can tell you I change colors at least 3 times a year, every year. If you put pictures of me at these different times side by side, you’d think I was changing my skin color too I guess. See, there’s this season called summer, when my skin is exposed to direct sunlight and I get some tint to my usually light-brown-with-cool-yellow-undertones skin. Then, there’s fall, when the tint fades, and I’m less brown….then there’s winter when I’m really pale, borderline high yellow. Beyonce is not lightening her skin, and if you wish to continue stating this as fact, I need you to produce receipts.

      Also, Beyonce living in her GOD GIVEN SKIN is NOT telling brown skin girls that you need to look a certain way to be successful. Why does this woman have to shrink herself because her skin is a certain color?!?! Why does she have to allow YOUR judgement of what’s “rightfully” deemed a beautiful Black woman inform her choices? Why can’t people let Beyonce live? She works hella hard, THAT’S why she’s successful. She has an unparallelled work ethic, a monetizable talent, and had the right people behind her from day one. Hell, you see Blue Cantrell’s ass ain’t winning just because “she light.” Jee. Zus. CHRIST. Get out of here and work on your own issues as to why you don’t feel empowered. That ain’t Beyonce’s fault, baby, that’s some shit you need to work on in yourself. SMH

  3. Pingback: We Stan for Nothing | La Toubab Noire

  4. Brittney Cooper takes me to the woodshed. She is one of the most important public intellectuals of her generation. While acknowledging the moral bankruptcy of neoliberalism and capitalism, she highlights the shortcomings in my Truthout essay. If black male intellectuals do not sufficiently engage the radical black feminist traditions and contemporaries, we are reproducing the patriarchy of late capitalism. To her critique and body of work, I concede. I love and appreciate this dear sister. Thank you.

    • I was very pleased with the positions of this article, and am even more pleased to see the Rev. has taken kindly to the critique, and concedes! Now that we can stand together, let us hold hands and begin to take the next steps forward. Ontowards –viva la revolución!

      • But based on many of the comments, it is not clear why or should Rev O had conceded anything. What both demonstrated is that we can engage in principle struggle without our differences being translated into an inability to struggle collectively. But the issues raised in the exchanges needed to be surfaced but the unacknowledged hegemony of a liberal feminist perspective that has infiltrated the consciousness of a number of men and women who are struggling to practice radical feminist politics has not been adequately resolved. And of course this exchange can’t resolve those issues but Rev O’s comment in the spirit of revolutionary solidarity certainly does not end the discussion.

  5. Hmmm…what does everyone think of the messages Bey is sending here? She even dons a ski mask!

    • The message I get is that it is a film — make believe, acting. Lots of actors have been in films that do not reflect who they are. Check out the wild variety of Denzel Washington’s films.

  6. Preach! I knew something was wrong with what Bell Hooks said, but it seemed as if I was the only one noticing it/ didn’t agree with it. Thank you for this!

  7. Beyonce is worth $350 million, which is a lot of money. Mitt Romney is only worth $250 million. The difference between the two is about as much as the worth of the King of Nepal. How does one accumulate so much capital without violence? While the word terrorist sounds “wrong” or “bad,” hooks makes a good point…”What if Beyonce was a homeless woman?” I mean would it have been better for hooks to say, “Beyonce needs to check her privilege,” ? I’m not certain it would have been. As for dancing, people dance, but why does a role model have to be someone whose net worth is 4516 times the median US family net worth? I mean that’s just Beyonce, alone, but take her family’s net worth and compare it to the median, it would be 11613 times higher, as her and Jay-Z’s net worth is $900 million. Let’s not even talk about individual net worth.

    • Meant to reply to you but ended up posting a reply to the whole post.
      Nepal hasn’t had a King in almost a decade, just FYI.
      Great article though.

    • The very thing that we love about bell hooks is the thing that today’s so called feminist are afraid of. She makes people uncomfortable when she disrupts the taken for granted unquestioned ways that black womanhood is being shaped by hegemonic structures. I am so glad that the voices of our foremothers are coming out. Hip hop has a way of playing on age, just like the teenager who tells their the parent “you don’t know nothing about this,” using hip hop language is to often a shield. Bey and so many other knock offs continue to perpetuate violence in a multitude of ways. We are all smart enough to know that comparing Beyonce to boko haram in a literal sense is not what hooks was going for. Being a fan of Beyonce doesn’t mean that her image and ways of promoting herself shouldn’t be problematized. It should be 360 degrees. hooks was on point, and we need to be very uncomfortable with what beyonce continuously forwards. Just like Harry Belafonte, hooks is on point. She forwards a brand of feminism that is far too simplistic and easy for girls in the hood to become victim to.

      • Thank you, for bringing the scars to light, to not challenge a musician is crazy,I care about the state of black people, we are in a terror zone, the community is under siege, music has its place and can heal ,but we must always support brilliant sisters like BELL HOOKS!!!..they are the oracles and Muses, they help illuminate this darkness we are living in,Ms’ B’is not a feminist, Sonya Sanchez , Sunni Patterson ,Angela Davis,all in the tradition of ELLA BAKER,..I want to see article on Anglique kudo…not bulls**t,, anyone who thinks ,these media video/white boy wetdreams are really speaking for black women ,please read ASANTA SHAKUR” analysis of mental terrorism in depth black conscious analysis of why black women have colludde in their own self negation.
        Halima from north philly

  8. As far as I’m concerned, you nailed it with this article. and to some of the commenters, Bey is not a role model unless someone allows her to be! The major female role model in my home is me. Period. I wanted to be just like Angela Davis when I was growing up. But I’m not. I’m so much more like my mother, and not regrettably so.. Often choosing role models is a rebellious phase that boys and girls go through as they negotiate the defining/building of self. It is a phase that most of them grow out of. And if you think that dark skinned entertainers and models don’t work with lights and makeup to enhance their skin tones you know little about the worlds of photography, film making, and advertising, as well as what happens wen these worlds collide. That’s why I bailed out on a budding career as a makeup and wardrobe stylist! I don’t particularly care for Bey’s music, but she is not a terrorist. As stated, she is a major capitalist. Critique that and leave the rest alone. Take back the power we have given the Beys and the Oprah’s of the world. In fact, turn off the damn T.V. Teach your daughters to “find themselves” in a book.

  9. Way to self absorbed. Check yourself for racist tendencies. “Does Beyoncé even know what neoliberalism is?” Sounds like somebody from Fox News.

    • she is a black women. she can’t be racist. most folks don’t know what neoliberalism is because it’s an academic term. GTFOH

  10. Can someone explain this section to me?

    “…calling a black woman a terrorist when nothing could be farther from the truth is an act of discursive violence.
    It is not mere hyperbole. It is not metaphor. It is an act of violence. And what we can’t have going down in Black feminism is Black women being violent with other Black women in the name of being radical.”

    How is it wrong when bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist, but it is ok to call bell hooks’ words violent? How is it unfair of hooks to hold Beyonce responsible for the violence caused by her actions, but it is totally fair to hold hooks accountable for the violence of hers?
    What is with this double standard? Isn’t this some kind of basic logic fail?

    • I guess I don’t see how the two phrases are similar. Violence can exist at multiple levels and doesn’t necessarily imply any particular intent. Terrorism on the other hand implies a certain consciousness and the existence of some type of empowered political project. I think that’s why she explains at the beginning of the article “[Beyonce] isn’t systematically doing violence to any group of people, rolling up and taking folks land, . . .” (At first I had written some explanation of her use of the phrase “act of violence”, but may be someone else can give a better explanation than me.)

  11. I just can’t subscribe to this. It’s too long and at points it repetitive. hooks called Beyoncé a terrorist and it’s her prerogative to do so. I think anyone who knows hooks’s work knows she’s metaphorically calling Bey a cultural terrorist who has a platform and a mic who lacks a certain emotional and intellectual capacity to use it as an emancipatory instrument for feminist/womanist change.

  12. Beyonce is not an individual. She is an idea. She is an ideology. She represents everything that has always been oppressive to black women. I’m sure she’s a very lovely woman with, quite obviously, an incredible amount of work ethic and personal values as a wife and mother. But I don’t know why these intellectuals are confusing Beyonce the woman with Beyonce the idea. She is a millionaire. She comes from what appears to be a long line of Creole women–mulatto, if you will, quadroon, octoroon. (If you know anything about the history of these women in the South, than there’s much to be said about Tina Knowles’ contribution to raising and training a beauty queen. But I digress. That’s Beyonce the individual.) She wears her hair blondish, but she married a black man from the hood. She’s a little bit gangstress, a little bit whore, and a whole lot of classy. She is a package, a brand. And nothing about this brand dismantles colorism, hairism, virgin/whorism. Beyonceism affirms and upholds the very root of capitalism. She is selling us a product that includes calling herself a feminist. “Sex sells” is quite cliche. But we bought it. Has anyone walked into a middle school classroom lately and taken a good look at our girls’ hair? Why is an 11-year-old wearing an ombre weave? The teen girl who walk around brushing their weave every hour on the hour. I teach in high school. Regardless of how far we’ve come in the natural hair movement, there’s still a bunch of us grappling with letting our hair grow out of our head they way it was intended. That is a PATHOLOGY. Ivory tower intellectualism has no idea how the self-image of our daughters AND sons is constantly assaulted by images in the media. Self-love is the ultimate political act against this onslaught. These girls look at Beyonce with stars in their eyes. “She soooo pretty,” I heard one of them say. They want everything she has–the hair, the body, the skin, the husband, the daughter, the talent. They fantasize about what it would be like to live her life. And yes, when she says Bow Down Bitches she is talking to that brown baby girl who can hardly get her poor little damaged hair into a ponytail and has posters of Beyonce all over her room. And this, of course, is not Beyonce’s fault. Although, she is born out of this pathology, she bathes in it, she reeks of it. Anybody can dance to Beyonce, but I personally do it with caution. I have daughters. They are brown. They have short kinky hair. Beyonce and Beyonceism is not for them. Sure, they can dance to “Girls,” but that’s as far is it will go. She is not a role model for them, by far. Beyonce is not the only poster child for black women’s work ethic. There’s no substance to Beyonceism, there’s no call for social change, no solidarity with anything. She and it are bubble gum, pizza on a Friday night. They’re fun, you enjoy, and then back to reality. The truly wise ones are rolling their eyes at any mention of Beyonce. She’s just a cog in the wheel. And why such profanity at someone who has invested years in doing the work? Don’t they teach the value of PERSPECTIVE in Ivory Tower school? Different points of view? Someone who has spent decades writing books, and dismantling ideology versus a Jane-come-lately? There is enough brain power and internet juice in the world to affirm all perspectives.

    • As a “elder,” grandfather of 13 young girls, I know exactly what you are referring to. As a man who has struggled with trying to become and live a black, feminist informed life and political practice, I must admit that I am finding it harder and harder to recognize what is being projected as feminist by some our younger sisters. But I will continue to struggle to try to understand how Beyonce’s image and brand can in anyway be understood as having any radical social value.

    • In response to ‘B.Z’- Thank you…sincerely, profusely, eternally.

    • Well said! “There’s no substance to Beyonceism, there’s no call for social change, no solidarity with anything. She and it are bubble gum, pizza on a Friday night. They’re fun, you enjoy, and then back to reality.”

  13. bell hooks is right on this and I’m glad she isn’t afraid to say a truth that unfortunately so many Black feminists have avoided. It appears that many have chosen to ignore the cultural consequences of the imagery and lack of focus that comes with the Beyonce and Sheryl Sandberg style of feminism in favor of fandom. I completely agree with B.Z. there is no call to action, no real initiative. bell hooks has done the work and though she has admitted to at times enjoying Beyonce, she’s not mesmerized to point where she avoids addressing what’s really happening. The legacy of Black feminism and all those years of hard work are now being hijacked in the name of co-signing. Are we that desperate as Black feminists? bell hooks busted this bubble and I’m glad for it.

  14. I have nothing to add to this discussion, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this and I think it’s a really fantastic critique. I love bell hooks, but even the people I love are not above critique to me, so thank you for covering this so thoroughly and thoughtfully.

  15. This was a lot more words against an essay that contained the phrase “President Barack Obama is the blackface of the American empire” than I think it could ever have deserved, but damn if it wasn’t on-point.

  16. What troubles me about arguments concerning feminism, black feminism, neoliberalism, and the advancement of peaceful social coexistence in the post-modern world when people [men] discuss said world’s female entertainers is the disregard for two things: 1.) the blatant application of classic Victorian-era misogyny scantily clad as slightly chauvinist intellectualism 2.) the actual WORK it takes to be a major, mainstream artist.

    Sorry, did that just hurt some people’s sense of industrialism? Good.

    As a classically trained, independent Pop Music artist & an Out man of color who has worked in & outside of the music industry, I think that many people who watch Beyoncé far too often disregard what she does – or what any artist does – as disposable, something they could probably do themselves “if they wanted to,” or something that doesn’t take alot of time/training/effort/failure/blood/sweat/tears/rejection/controversy/determination…et cetera ad infinitum.

    She makes it look fun and easy, so, of course, it’s nothing that serious, “just entertainment.”

    And because it’s “just entertainment,” when she steps out into other arenas, or becomes too large of a force in her own, intellectuals and social radicals love nothing more than to put up their hand and yell, “HOLD THE FUCK ON.”

    While I may not be cut from the same cloth as Mrs. Knowles-Carter re: current net worth and curriculum vitae, I will happily speak on her behalf + on behalf of anyone who has respect for the work that goes on to create & maintain a successful music career…and call TOTAL bullshit on every BIT of that LIE. That LIE that says that music artists, particularly female artists (particularly female artists of color) “have it easy” when it comes to making it happen for themselves in a major way.

    The only thing I see when folks use Beyoncé and artists like her as their crash-test dummy for their Express buses on their way to some lofty, erudite point about the importance of intellectual aesthetics in their music, or lack thereof, is #Ignorance.

    I hash tagged it because it’s that important. Har har.

    At present, Beyoncé is the easy target because her brand has crossed cultures and she continues to press the buttons of many who feel she is misrepresentative of our preconceived definitions of who & what she is. What folks continually fail to do is show some respect for (or at least take into account) what it is SHE desires to glean from the work that she does. And because she does create art in the form of music & performance, she is fully within her aesthetic, creative, and artistic license to create/present her work, however the fuck she wants.

    Allow me to reiterate? how. ever. the. fuck. she. wants.

    Nevermind the creative freedom & control she’s allowed herself after extracting her brand from the lower-middle levels of signed label artistry. Nevermind that she’s been able to basically present her product to the public with little to no professional advertising or marketing and sell millions of copies of that product. As a singer, as an artist, as a musician, as an entertainer, as a woman, Beyoncé had the right to be whatever kind of artist she wanted from the day she knew she wanted it, and the work that has gone in to propel her to the level of success & stardom at which she finds herself, while evidently laden with controversy and tribulation, is only a representation of her own desires, which, while certainly up for criticism by the Court of Public Opinion, should hardly be presented as fodder for the Educated Crabs In A Bucket who wish for her to be something that she’s not.

    By forcing our prejudiced ideas of what KIND of a woman, or what KIND of an artist, or what KIND of a businessperson/entertainer we want Beyoncé to be, we are committing intellectual suicide and opting for social coercion of a woman who clearly needs no help from any of us. And since she’s probably unbothered by any of what we’re saying (or has no idea we’re saying it), all we’re doing to ourselves at the end of the day is perpetuating masturbatorial discourse on auxiliary information.

    In other words, going after Bey isn’t doing anything for any of us but provide a really good, very wet mind-fuck. Loose, and wet.

    • Thank you. Do you create music as well as you write? It was a pleasure to read and I agree with you entirely.

    • It’s well known (and mentioned here) how hard B has worked and works. No one is disputing that or unaware of it. That’s just not what people are concerned with, it’s completely irrelevant. Donald Trump has worked hard too, all sorts of people have. What’s at issue is what have they brought to the collective cultural table that we are now being force fed (for eg having to see her professionally advertised image everywhere….).

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  18. who the hell is beyonce now?…:)The artists that are products themselves and also create and participate in corporations that use their name as way to sell are as responsible as every CEO and every ionvesting vulture on the planet and should be taken as such.
    it is no a friend it is the enemy.it is the way the enemy is getting them when they are still young,promoting lifestyle that leads into slaving for the few in orderto achieve the dream they sell you .which by he way is out of reach ,and only an illusion.
    So no i do not agree with this whitewshing beyonce…she is not your average street musician trying to eran a living and offering his soul in exchange,here we are talking big production planning,composers,tens of people behind every note and every word and every move on stage/video.And all in a context of a society for the few,where we dont care how goods are produced as long as they have a name tag on that we recognise,and they are dirt cheap…democracy ?freedom?who cares!!!!money is what everyone is talking about.the only real treasure for some/many.i prefer music art and nature….but i am crazy,dont worry keep slaving.you might become beyonce

  19. I understand people’s need to defend Beyonce but don’t criticize President Obama especially when he’s responsible for America not Nigeria. If people feel so strongly against Obama, then leave this country. He’s handling business everyday in a country that was on the brink of a downfall when he was elected.

    • You are really just kidding right? “leave this country.”? You mean you are in support of authentic decolonization and we should turn this place back over to indigenous people, if so I am with you. For some of us, Obama is a criminal, the U.S. state is an ongoing criminal enterprise and capitalism, in which Beyonce is just a commodified symbol of its most backward cultural expressions, is a morally bankrupt system responsible for immense suffering of millions of people across the planet. I mean folks, is this where the “new” political discourse has landed, where black folks are talking about “love it or leave it?

    • I’m not sure why she threw the Chibok girls into the discussion like…..what? Obama is not responsible for solving this extremely complex problem in Nigeria. this article was not up to typical B.Cooper standards for me.

    • The very fact that people feel the need to defend Beyoncé by insulting Obama itself shows a degree of disrespect that he’s been subjected to that no white US president has ever suffered. Or did I miss the dissertations about how Barbara Streisand was a far greater stateswoman than President Clinton? It’s ironic how so many people who complain that Obama is disrespected by the right wing because of his skin colour fail to recognise the same behaviour in themselves. What has Obama to do with this? And what has Nigeria to do with this discussion either?

  20. Great article, but you forgot to mention that Beyoncé has publicly supported Obama, sang at his inauguration, goes to his events, etc etc

  21. “Sekou’s conflation of Barack Obama, a politician twice elected to lead the American Empire, with Beyonce’ a self-made entertainer is intellectually untenable.”

    i’d just like to add a little something, not to take away from anything else, but i would think that an understanding of how the industrial-capitalist-pop-culture machine operates would make the statement that Beyonce is a “self-made entertainer” to be in itself an intellectually untenable statement, and an actual example of what Sekou is criticizing in his article when he says “black people are seduced by the Horatio Alger narrative of meritocratic individualism.”

  22. Back in the early 90s I was at a conference session with bell hooks talking about the same thing – and she referred to Whitney Houston as a hooker because of the character from The Bodyguard. hooks just makes me tired – like West, it’s all about shock and awe.

  23. Why do you use the phrase “effed up” (which is a really stupid phrase) when you use the word “fuck” anyways? And why do you use redneck language like “ain’t” and “folks” when you’re a well-educated and obviously articulate woman?

  24. I agree, in so much of this discussion black feminists are failing to make a distinction between a grown woman and young impressionable girls consuming beyonce’s image. I can appreciate her bc I’m educated and old enough discern what she is doing. Alot of young women are not mature enough to do that and thats where we need to critique. So much of this messy article (and I think its very messy) is saying “I love Beyonce and this is what she means to me” yeah thats great as an educated adult woman, more power to you. I think what bell was clearly saying is that certain ASPECTS of her image are terrorizing young girls, that is a totally different discussion that feminists are ignoring. I can love Beyonce and agree with bell on this one.

  25. Nepal hasn’t had a King in almost a decade, just FYI.
    Great article though.

  26. “I work from the assumption that Beyoncé is a human being , not just an image or an icon. That is why her feminism doesn’t offend me. I see her adoption of the term as the work of a powerful woman in a very traditional relationship, looking for language to understand the power dynamics she encounters. I see the contradictory gender propositions in her catalogue of music as evidence of both struggle and process. But that is what granting her humanity allows for.”<<<<realtalk.

    also thanks for the What's Neoliberalism? <<<a great topic to hear/listen to, by those.

    ….and yes, thanks for this post.

  27. This is one of a few responses to bell hooks’s critique of Beyoncé that make reference to hooks’s age. This one is more covert than others in suggesting that hooks’s engagement in this discussion is somehow compromised by her number of years on the planet. Another essay more blatantly argued that hooks was just too old to understand the way that Beyoncé influences her apparently younger-than-bell-hooks audience. The writer here almost cleverly conceals the same type of attack-via-ageism within the disingenuous claim of respect for “elders,” but then goes on to demonstrate just how little respect for hooks she really has. She calls hooks’s critique “irresponsible” (a word one might use to describe elderly people continuing to drive with poor eyesight) calling into general question hooks’s ability to think rationally and responsibly and express intentional and carefully constructed opinions. She claims, “I work from the assumption that Beyoncé is a human being, not just an image or an icon,” as a snide suggestion that hooks is slipping into senility and doesn’t herself realize that Beyoncé is a human being. (How can Beyoncé be “complicit in her own enslavement,” “a terrorist” if she is not a human being?)

    The statement “I see the contradictory gender propositions in her catalogue of music as evidence of both struggle and process” is very telling. If you have to bend yourself into a pretzel trying to rationalize how Beyoncé could be a “feminist” while she actively chooses to present and profit from the sell of a product/image that is poisonous to women/girls and especially women/girls of color, you need to reconsider bell hooks’s message.

    • I agree. The tortured ‘pretzel logic’ is quite thin. bell is just strong and wise enough to call a thing a thing. There is simply no way that an unnaturally blond weaved, bleached skinned, rhinoplastied, sex symbol is positive for the esteem of young black women.

      She has used the master’s tools to build herself a fine mansion. Good for her. But don’t dare try to convince us that it’s good for black women.

    • TRUTH!!
      I’ve also seen a few feminists bending themselves into a “logic pretzel” in order to excuse the “eat the cake” line, an aspect of her image the author conveniently ignores here. Due to the simple fact that black women suffer from higher rates of sexual assault and relationship violence, that line equates to terrorism of young black girls in my book. Beyonce happily nods along….

  28. can i just add the ever brilliant imani perry to the list of young black intellectuals who critique structural racism? thanks :-)

  29. “So let us be clear: Beyoncé is not a terrorist. She isn’t systematically doing violence to any group of people, rolling up and taking folks land, creating a context of fear in which people must live, or usurping folks right to self-determination, raping women as a tool of war, or turning children into soldiers.”

  30. The Act known as Beyonce is one of the tools of our terrorist oligarchy. Bell Hooks got it; you don’t sadly.

  31. You fail to distinguish between “the act known as Beyonce” and the woman behind this act. The act is clearly cleverly orchestrated to continue the oppression of Black girls by using a “black woman: in white face to undermine “true liberation” for some co-opted mockery version of liberation. Bell Hooks is liberated, you and most of us are not. The tragedy is that you are now standing up for this mind control music industry which is the very root of the oppression of Black girls and all people–all people– and is leading to the destruction of society. Your mind and thoughts are so controlled by Pepsi mind control industry that you cannot distinguish that Boku Haram: is too a manipulation of this mind control. Check out Orwell’s books to get a deeper understanding of the power and role of the music/entertainment industry in the oppression of all humans.
    .

  32. Sadly the response above fails to get Bell Hook’s profound point that the the Act known as Beyonce is one of the mind manipulation a nd control tools of the oligarchy that rules us; this is what makes the act known as Beyonce a “terrorist.” It is a highly crafted act, part of the many that come from the oligarchy controlled music (mind control) industry which sinisterly undermines the liberation of particularly young Black girls around the world. The people’s liberation, including the liberation of Black girls in particular, one of the most oppressed groups of people in the world, is the number one threat to the continued control of this local to global oligarchy (oligarchies). Once we the people see the lies that are perpetuated by our music and “entertainment” industries and the truth and beauty of their own selves and real art, this oligarchy will be overthrown and sadly as we are human, replaced by another. Perhaps as we long to be free, we also fear that freedom.

    yet this oligarchy has almost absolute power at this moment, such that this author don;t get Bell Hook’s profound point.

    However, give the artist Beyonce and her family time and like all the other victims of this music and entertainment industry and their children, she will start to show the signs of the huge personal cost her participation (aware or not) has cost–mental and nervous breakdowns a la Michael Jackson, Lindsey Lohan and the whole host of others. This oligarchy will seek to hide it from us, but for sure it will be there. The act known as Beyonce is an antithesis to human liberation. Sadly this music mind control industry is so successful that few of us know the difference between true human liberation and the false “liberation” (wealth, exploitation) portrayed and co-opted by the music industry and other institutions of the oligarchy. Without such awareness I see little hope for mass liberation but am everyday reaffirmed by the individual acts of human liberation on our streets by those most oppressed which are not yet controlled and coopted by the music/entertainment/moind control industry which is a critical component of keeping us “enslaved.” Thanks to Bell Hooks for her honesty, sensitivity, integrity and forthrightness. Sadly the author above is so trapped in the mind control, he cannot see the falseness and grand manipualtion of the Act known as Beyonce.

  33. If young and other people (particularly young Black Women but really all people) want to use the work (music) of the Act known as Beyonce and make it “their own” while maintaining their own liberation, kudos to them. I have seen this done, where young Black lesbian, feminist, revolutionary women in Cuba have used Cuba’s highly misogynistic, racist, classist, reggae ton music and made it their own. Very clear about their own sexuality and beauty, these women danced, bumped and grinded the night away in a beautiful exposition of true human liberation and lifting up of true human and true human sexual liberation. This was one of my most powerful experiences in my life. It was very clear that the eroticism of reggaeton was being enjoyed while not buying into the messages and that these women had a powerful sense of their own liberation and their own sexual liberation, I cannot help but think of Audre Lourde’s essay on the power of the erotic. Thes black lesbian women in Cuba had tapped into the power of eroticism without commercializing or otherwise co-opting it for the goal of controling the minds of and dominating others. However, liberation is never perfect.

    If women here and others are saying that they are able to tap into the eroticism of the act known as Beyonce’s music without selling completely out then I get it.

    I myself cannot stomach to see this highly crafted music and artificiality of it or the main protaganist, Beyonce herself without getting sick.

    Back in the earlier days when Beyonce Knowles used to bump and grind in videos with her girls I really enjoyed our culture and the bump and grind and our sexuality. However, what comes out now is so highly crafted to manipulate and exploit and I also get the feeling that the act known as Beyonce is no longer even identifying herself as Black; she is transcending race–but in a bad way–to identify with and lift up white and western and the supremacy of a way of life which is destroying humanity and our humanity.

    However, I get “it” if women a nd men are able to take something from his act and make it their own.

    However, please beloveds, look for and try to discern the real. Know that this media is constructed to manipulate and disemepower you and that we are lost and on the road to ruin. Our future as a species is not bright and unless we free ourselves from the lies and get on another path we are not going to survive. But as Audre Lourde said, We were never meant to survive! (Thanks to John Treat for sharing this article and Audre Lourde’s work.

  34. Great piece! Thank you so much for this, when I was watching the panel where bell hooks said that I was just waiting for someone to call her on it :D I do love bell hooks, but even intellectual icons make mistakes, frankly, and it’s a little scary that a lot of people don’t even question that.

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  37. It is so okay for Black folk to have more than one opinion on a subject. It’s also okay to agree with someone on one thing but not another. It’s okay.

    People can talk about the self esteem of dark complexioned girls coming from parents all they want but there are people who are paid BIG BUCKS to engineer imagery to effect children’s as well as adults’ feelings about EVERYTHING. Don’t get it twisted for one minute. Black women, especially dark complexioned ones, are “terrorized” daily by imagery that says they are not beautiful. Dark complexioned Black men are terrorized into a cognitive dissidence that says a woman of his own complexion is not a step up and he in turn engages in a terroristic rejection of women that look like him. If we don’t limit the term “terrorist” to the “sand niggas” with “funny names” then yes, it can be appropriately applied in many instances. Some cities have 50% Black male unemployment. If that’s not terroristic I don’t know what is.

    As far a role models and representations : I was recently in Botswana with a group of teenage – 60s AA ladies. A group of young ladies in Botswana were saying how they expected us to be like the women on HWOA. No one in our group actually watches Housewives in Atlanta but that didn’t protect us from that imagery being exported across the world. BTW – Black girls in Africa are bleaching and blonding according to the standards of the west as well.

    There’s a group of people, who are a global minority, working very hard to influence the global majority into thinking they (the minority) should be the standard- certainly in the looks/attraction/mating field.

  38. WOW!!! After U finished bowing reverently to you, I shoved my fist up in the air. This was just POWERFUL! This is what “truth to power” looks like. I’d never understood that statement, but now I do.

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  40. This was excellent. I’ve always respected bell hooks and her gracelessness shocked and disappointed me. Deeply.

  41. Thanks for this great thought provoking article and for everyone’s comments too – a rich engaged discussion-. I’m even more interested in the topic you mentioned for your next article, “how discussions of performance and fluidity have come to stand in for real discussions about whether people themselves have actual mobility, or options to move around in the social structure.” Sounds important and I’m sure the comments here will add insights too. Keep up the writing!

  42. But Bey is a human being. She can grow and evolve as well. She’s not perfect, and nobody is saying she’s beyond criticism. But she’s also not a terrorist.

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