“They love the way I walk…cause I walk with a vengeance….”
As summer starts in NYC and I’m enjoying my first totally independent summer of my life (turn up!). My playlist is loaded with the tunes that I hope will come to define a great moment of growth, celebration, and love. Songs that speak to me as a Black woman with politics, spirit, and drive. That speak to me as a Black woman with energy, conviction, passion and love among many other things.
One of those tunes is “Grown Woman” by Mrs. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.
Let me just say I live for every. single. thing. about this song. The choreography is amazing! The outfits for it (Kenzo) are fantastic. Timbaland is a genius. Les Twins are gorgeous. Like, honestly, if you can’t appreciate the song I really don’t know what to say to you.
Anyway, despite the life giving that is “Grown Woman”, along with the host of other songs she’s been releasing (is anyone else still rocking to Bow Down/I Been On?), the media blitz that is the Mrs. Carter Universe *ahem* Show has been coupled with an irritating firestorm from critics, naysayers, and downright haters. We’ve been getting everything from how Beyoncé isn’t a good performer and her music is anti-everything to how she is a horrible role model, overly sexy, a bad/non-feminist, and, even deeper, a betrayer of Black womanhood (really?!).
Where’s Kanye when you need him?
Most of these critiques have come from white feminists and that’s a post for another day so I’m not going to address them right now (your day will come if any of ya’ll are reading). However, much to my dismay is how much of this negative exposure is, as of late, coming from my fellow “radical” Black sisters. Throughout media, sisters are coming out of the woodwork it seems to say that not only does “Queen Bey” need to have a seat, but so does the individual, the woman, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and this is extremely problematic to me.
Now wait, before we get into it, let me make myself perfectly clear: I am a member of the Beyhive, yes, but this Bey isn’t blind. The Carters are not paying my tuition, feeding me, or even giving me tickets to their concerts. I do not condone -every- and -all- actions taken by Beyoncé or her husband Jay-Z and I am not saying that Beyoncé should never be critiqued. The skin lightening? The lack of politicizing? The hyper-participation in consumer capitalism? All fair game.
But seriously? I’ve been hearing everything from she’s too sexual, to she’s too arrogant, to she’s vapid coming from Black women with most of these critiques being couched in comparisons to “true artists” and “women” such as Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, India.Arie and even Lauryn Hill. It’s become apparent that these sisters of ours have turned their backs on Bey, the artist, which is fine. The personal is political and, as Black women, the choices we make about what to consume are important. However, it appears that people are also turning their backs on Bey the woman in search of specific artists and ideals that seem to center not just on sonics but around the aesthetic of radicalism and “New Afrikan” womanhood while rejecting what is assumed to be “mainstream” and thus empty representations of womanhood.
And this, ladies, is problematic.
As someone who ascribes to radical politics and is completely and totally in love with Blackness, I can’t help but feel that in turning our backs on individuals like Beyoncé, that we as Black women, Black feminists, and sisters are shooting ourselves in the foot. When we as women begin to tear down that which is an extension of us, it’s just reifying the systems of oppression that we should be fighting against. And while we live in a culture that places celebrities, especially those who have amassed large mainstream success, up to the public for total consumption of both art and personhood, we would be doing ourselves a supreme disservice if we did not acknowledge and resist the fact that women are always the first served on the menu with Black women usually being the apéritif.
This is not about “stan wars” as much as it is about recognizing another woman’s light and power and giving her her shine. More than who she is when she is on stage, Knowles-Carter is a fellow Black woman. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt. She is married to a Black man and raising a Black daughter. She is a woman with complexities and fears and vitality and accomplishment and in her, if we truly do ascribe the ideals that we seek, is a reflection of ourselves.
Artistically, no, singles like Ring the Alarm or Sweet Dreams do not place social justice on her mantle as explicitly as Q.U.E.E.N or Mystery of Inequity but that does not mean that she is not worth our respect. Knowles-Carter has followed her dream and showed the global world that women, specifically Black women, have voice. She has inspired a generation of artists and women (myself included) to dream and live and experience and be no holds barred. She is a “modern-day feminist” in that she IS! She exists as a Black woman who defied the odds and used her means to rise to peaks that only HER mind could imagine. She is a global businesswoman. She is an artist. She is a performer. She is a woman from Houston, TX, 3rd Ward. She is a mother, wife, daughter, and aunt. She is my sister. She is your sister. She is our sister.
There is much to be said about how Black woman artists perform, live, and develop. Beyoncé, Rihanna, Ciara, Kelly, Nicki, Janelle, India, Erykah and the host of others all have their own individual narratives that can be used to teach, learn from, and build upon. Yet, more than anything, it’s important to say that in this post- “Run the World” campaign of Black women killing everything, that now is the time to for us, the sisters on the ground, to enact the vision of love that all of us, be it liberal, conservative, or radical, seek to have shown. We have major work that needs to be done and it will take all of us, with our different views and backgrounds to support that vision. Be a Q.U.E.E.N, a Barbie, a member of the Navy, and/or a Bey. Turn up to Body Party by Ciara and let Lauryn take you back to when you fell in love with hip-hop and yourself. Let the beauty of ALL Black women wash over you and love them ALL as they each represent a piece of ourselves and our story. Embrace it, because if we can’t love all of ourselves, how in the hell can we run the world?
For amusing look at Bey’s career over the past ten years check out the link below.
*Shondrea Thornton is a junior in Columbia College at Columbia University in the City of New York and is double majoring in African-American Studies and Sociology. A Southern transplant (NC!) she loves New York City, pop culture, politics, fashion, and being young in the greatest city on the US.
Twitter: @DaDivatude (warning: I tweet like a college student/ratchet nonsense)