Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Beyoncé (With Shout-Outs To Tina Turner)

By Andrea Plaid

Beyonce Knowles-Carter. Via wallpapersbest.net

Beyonce Knowles-Carter. Via wallpapersbest.net

I find myself increasingly defending someone whom I otherwise wouldn’t look around at or wouldn’t listen to: Beyoncé.

I haven’t converted to listening to her discography: To me, she sounds like every other Black female soloist in a Black church choir, so her voice–her timbre and melisma–isn’t unicorn-unique to my ears. In fact, I find it gratingly common because I heard so many women with her voice every Sunday from the age of five to my late twenties; Beyoncé just has a better production team.

And, as I’ve said on the R, her female-empowerment messages aren’t my feminism:

[S]ome of folks who see Bey as “girl power” may have never heard of Valenti or may even want to be bothered with her writings or what they perceive to be “white feminism” that she embodies. Bey is their feminist text and their idea–and ideal. And whatnot…On the real though, Bey is not my sort of feminism–and that’s not blasphemous to say. Then again, neither were the Spice Girls…or the Riot Grrls, for that matter. And I remember folks tripped on each of those pop-cultural “generations” of feminist representations, too, trying to figure out their effects on younger people.

Feminism is rather malleable as each generation figures out what it means to them, even when we’re fighting the same old battles.  Or because of them.

And let’s not forget Beyoncé now-notorious photo layout in French Vogue, which she said was an homage to “African queens in the past” and “African rituals”:

Beyonce Blackface 5

And I was quite happy to leave Beyoncé to her ideas about race pride and “girl power” with a genuinely heartfelt “bless her heart”…until Harry Belafonte came along.

As some Racializens may remember, Belafonte accused the younger generations of celebrities like Beyoncé and her spouse Jay-Z of not doing their fair share of activism, meaning feet in the streets and speaking out on the pressing issues of the day. I defended her philanthropy, like her giving her paycheck from Cadillac Records to a drug rehab center and her working with FLOTUS Obama on the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, as her form of activism. As I said to the Huffington Post Live producers when they e-interviewed me about my take on the kerfuffle:

“Harry Belafonte is defining activism in a rather narrow way…for Belafonte to say Beyoncé is doing activism wrong because that’s not the way he does it is a bit off-putting. For people like Beyoncé, what they’re doing is activism; they are bringing awareness to an issue in their own way.”

And, as I had to remind a Black Baby Boomer who wanted to put forth the same argument as Belafonte’s on a Facebook thread regarding the Huffington Post Live debate, quite a few people many not have participated in the sit-in and other protests during the Civil Right Movement due the real material fear of losing their jobs, but they did their own activism by putting some extra money in the offering trays to serve as the protesters’ bail money. He promptly hushed.

Oh yeah…there was Beyoncé’s “faked” pregnancy. Some Black female performers I knew slagged that Beyoncé’s couldn’t possibly have been pregnant because she would’ve “gotten fat like her mother,” Tina Knowles. No, these women and other Beyoncé baby-bump conspiracy theorists opined, a surrogate mother carried Blue Ivy Knowles-Carter, and Beyoncé carried some contraption that made her look pregnant, which gave her an excuse to gain whatever weight she wanted. Not that a more likely possibility could have been that she was actually, factually pregnant and that, due to her probably being in top physical condition because she’s exercising via her dancing, could have had the theoretical “training effect” going on, which kept her baby weight to a certain poundage…or something like that. Nope, deflating pregnancy suits and surrogate moms. Well, the only remotely conspiratorial thing that happened with Blue Ivy’s birth was that the hospital that handled it received complaints from non-famous parents that organization placed the Knowles-Carters’ privacy above and beyond the other parents’ right to have access to their own newborns, some of whom were born premature. (Lenox Hospital dismissed the other parents’ claims.) The most unfortunate thing about this slaggy theory is that Beyoncé had her gestating and birthing experience marred by having to negate the rumors–which hews a little too closely to Black cis women’s reproductive decisions and life constantly and, more insidiously, publicly questioned, from the Moynihan Report to the questions-wrapped-up-in-a-stereotype of the Welfare Queen to the anti-abortion billboards accusing Black cis women of literally having unsafe wombs or killing a future president.

Of course, there was the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy of her faking her own performance at POTUS Obama’s second inaugural celebration. While Marine Corp Band officials waffled on confirming and denying what happened, music experts dissected the mechanics on the Beyoncé’s allegedly inauthentic singing, and some Republicans wanted to end the President’s new tenure over it, singing legend Aretha Franklin had to stack some facts: “But, when I heard the news this evening that she was pre-recorded I really laughed…I thought it was funny because the weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most singers that is just not good singing weather.” As my mom said about the whole thing: “It would be different if Beyoncé did something like Milli Vanilli. But she lip-synced. To. Her. Own. Voice. I don’t see the problem here.” Not only does the controversy play too neatly in the Black-folks-are-forever-lazy stereotype, but it’s also the twin okey-doke myths of a Black women simply won’t ever give her utmost for Black men and that a Black woman’s decision always brings down a Black man, in this case, one of the most powerful Black men in the world–and the US’ first Black president, at that. Glad folks moved on from this foolishness–and enough of them gave it some direct side-eye along the way.

What finally moved me to the edge of actually liking Beyoncé is that she made her married name a pop-cultural event–more accurately, the bullshit pushback about it moved me to that edge.

The "Mrs. Carter Show" Promo. Via thehonestyhour.com

The “Mrs. Carter Show” Promo. Via thehonestyhour.com

I asked Racialicious’ Senior Editor (and feminist co-conspirator) Tami Winfrey Harris about the tour’s name. She replied:

Normally, I find the whole “Mrs. X” cuteness annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I support a woman’s right to call herself whatever the hell ever, but, let’s face it, married women giving up their names is a vestige of patriarchy. We choose our choices, but not in a vacuum.

That said…

I got no beef with Bey and The Mrs. Carter Tour. Again, most of the people all het up about it are not taking into account sexism as it relates to black women and images of family as they relate to the black community.

Bey ain’t giving in to any patriarchal view on marriage; the patriarchy is pretty insistent that black women are unmarriageable, unloving and unloved. And no way you can argue that Beyonce has given up her identity for Jay-Z’s. She’s Bey-fucking-once. No one forgets that. And it’s interesting that, at the same time folks are complaining about the endangered black family and off-the-chain single, black women, they also want to come for a black woman who “did it right” by Judeo-Christian, middle-class, heteronormative, white standards, and is celebrating her love for her husband and child.

Example eleventybillion that as black women we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

And feminist homegurl Morgane Richardson had this to say:

The debate about the tour is ridiculous. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have understood a year ago, but having a loving partner whom I am married to and wanting to honor that family unit doesn’t mean that you dont have your own power, strength, determination, personality, etc. If she wants to identify as Mrs. Carter, then who are we to judge?

If some other feminists and other folks could be as cool as Tami and Morgane. Suffice to say, Beyoncé naming her upcoming tour “The Mrs. Carter Tour” apparently cause quite a few women in the opining class to clutch their pearls over such a–I’ll say it–traditional moniker. The women state, in various ways, that such a “feminist icon” like Beyoncé sets “The Feminist Movement” back to the days before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique by now claiming her husband’s name, which piles on the slut-shaming criticisms about her on-stage wardrobe, her sexy magazine covers, and her steamy videos. The Frisky’s Andrea Grimes did posit something of a racial analysis as to why Beyoncé would name her tour as such:

Beyoncé’s performance of “Mrs. Carter” is, of course, complicated by the politics of race and class, in addition to gender. One thing white feminists haven’t generally understood is how remarkable it is for a black woman, be it Michelle Obama or Beyonce Knowles-Carter, to live publicly as a feminine, motherly, wifely person. So I want to put the individual (and my kneejerk) criticism of Beyoncé aside, because I don’t think it’s as easy as saying, “There’s nothing feminist about Beyoncé going on tour as Mrs. Carter.”

And that’s where Grimes should have wrapped up her analysis…but she didn’t. She went on about how Beyoncé shouldn’t bless her tour with her married name because guys like her husband Jay-Z wouldn’t think to do such a public-y thing with his married name–the Google-able fact of Jay-Z legally changing his name to “Knowles-Carter” notwithstanding. So, to play with the cliche, if the goose ain’t doing it, the gander shouldn’t, either. And Grimes goes so far as to question the name change itself, stating that ” I don’t precisely see why Jay-Z had to take the name “Knowles” for the kids to get the name — apart from the fact that we continue to think that a kid without his dad’s name is somehow less legitimate than one with his mother’s name.” Such doubting of the Knowles-Carters’ decision in configuring their family as they see fit from a white woman reminds me of white feminist Jaclyn Friedman’s now-notorious (and since apologized-for) unsolicited advice to them: it’s the racialized position of white people outside of the Black familial unit perceiving themselves to know “better” than the Black parents who are handling the child-rearing  decisions. I call it The White Social Worker Syndrome.

And that syndrome dovetails into respectability politics–and the latter definitely showed itself when some people of color I know on Facebook started mom-shaming Beyoncé for wearing her Super Bowl costume, stating that “she’s a mother now!” and–like taking on her married name–she shouldn’t sport such an thing. On my own FB page I said:

And let’s not forget that the woman Beyonce admires, Tina Turner, wore some skimpy gear as a performer and she was a [working] mom. IIRC, she’s famous not only her brilliant voice but also her short skirts, tight pants, and high heels which show off her famous legs. And, hold up: didn’t Mama Turner–now a grandmother–wear said outfit in a duet with the younger singer?


Beyonce and Tina Turner TheGrammyAwards2008 by jpolledri

So, yeah, I’m on Team Beyoncé now. See what a lot of bullshit drives you to?

  • http://withlovefranklee.blogspot.com/ With_Love

    Thanks so much for a great post. It seems as if the part about Jay-Z changing his name is more rumor than fact, though: http://www.theroot.com/buzz/dont-get-too-excited-about-jay-taking-beys-name

  • Mia

    I hardly think this topic is even worthy of such a literary debate. Beyonce is a black woman who is living HER life as best she can while being under the scrutiny of a public who loves to tear down the very “celebrity” they create. It is ridiculous to judge her on whether or not her actions are in line with feministic ideals. She is a performer. She doesn’t identify herself as a feminist. She is, however a talented (and No her singing voice is not common in every church), record-breaking recording artist, who inspires other women. She has dared to call herself KingBey, demand that she is worthy of being a wife vs. wifey and flaunts her femininity with power. So if that doesn’t “fit” into some image of feminism, thats fine. She’s not trying to do that. Debate the scholars who do identify themselves as feminists. Let her live and stop exemplifying this “crabs-in-the-bucket” mentality with back-handed compliments and contradictory criticism. Most of all it’s insulting to see black “feminists” down rate another black woman for being happily married, a proud mother and being unashamed of her body (a body-type that has historically been shamed by the majority.)
    We have got to do better.

  • Cid

    I have vowed to never click on a certain heteronormative blog (or shrine) that has scraped its knees over this women. I really do not want to leave another blog too. I just don’t understand the appeal and allegiance over this women. Musicality and feminist politics–both problematic. It was disturbing to hear the POTUS declare her a role model and not someone who well…does not have to show the underbelly of a breast for appeal and then is awarded a journalism award. I have to fight with my nieces constantly about the importance of education and not skin or fashion over this women and plenty of others. Why are we venerating this women? How is she creating progress? In what forms?

    • AndreaPlaid

      Cid–I need you to re-read my post. I never said I liked Beyonce’s singing, and I state why in the *second* paragraph:

      “she sounds like every other Black female soloist in a Black church choir, so her voice–her timbre and melisma–isn’t unicorn-unique to my ears. In fact, I find it gratingly common because I heard so many women with her voice every Sunday from the age of five to my late twenties; Beyoncé just has a better production team.”

      Nor do I say that I think she’s a feminist in my book:

      “On the real though…Bey isn’t my sort of feminism–and that’s not blasphemous to say.”

      In fact, I encourage you to read the link from which I pulled that quote: Latoya, Arturo, and I have a long discussion about why we *don’t* think Beyonce is a feminist.

      However, I do think that, for her not appealing to my ears or my feminism–and having some rather questionable colorist politics in her French Vogue photoshoot–I find myself thinking that she’s all right in the scheme of Black women to like *in my book* because she goes through similarly ugly questioning that quite a few of us Black women go through about how her Black body moves through this society, from how she chooses to be an activist to her wanting to celebrate her married life in the form of her tour name to her reproductive, sexual, and parenting decisions.

      Now, I think that, if I were you, I wouldn’t fight Beyonce, but use her as a teaching moment for your nieces. My approach would be something like, “The questions about how and where to show your body and what you want to do with it will be something you will face your whole life–Beyonce, being a grown woman, is making hers. And she may change over time. I feel that she is one of *many,* from Mae Jemison to Viola Davis to Raven Symone to Keke Palmer. But I want you to know that, most importantly, you have time to make those decisions. During that time…let’s look at the many options of Black woman you can be.”

      • Cid

        Thanks for the thoughtful response back. I appreciate your candor and time. What I’m getting at is the surplus of articles about this women around this similar idea/theme of reconciling her womanhood and blackness (even though she denounces it occasionally depending on what audience). There is so much problematic fodder writers or commenters have to discount or forewarn before the actual defense.

        My concern is accountability and standards. Blogs allocated towards the discussion of race or feminism appear to post more articles supporting Beyonce than really critiquing her actions. I understand that fully in context. She is a woman of color under the eyes of -isms; however, she is also supporting these -isms. Her agency and this relationship with womanism is hardly explored (more as a precursor, hardly the meat of the article). I have always been confused surrounding the discussion about her because she is so manufactured–which is nothing nuanced in pop.

        Now that she has a tour, I’m well aware I will not be able to escape her presence in the media. However, the diversity of topics and discussions sure could help.

        • AndreaPlaid

          But it’s also the way that she “moves” in these very real ways even as she is very manufactured–that contradiction–that I think makes Beyonce an interesting person, and perhaps the reason why people dedicate so much space to her. I mean, as I mentioned in the post, there are folks who think she faked a pregnancy because they perceive Beyonce to be so manufactured and not even interrogate how that idea gets into the rather womanist/Black feminist conversations about how Black women are always publicly questioned about our reproductive choices and lives. (I don’t really recall anyone spinning fake-pregnancy theories about, say, Madonna, Britney Spears, or Jessica Simpson. They, unlike Beyonce, received the benefit of the doubt about their actually being pregnant, and they’re manufactured pop stars, too.)

          So, no, I don’t think that Beyonce is a paragon of womanism or feminism–and I’m not quite sure if I want her to be or even if I need to hold her to a “standard” of womanism or feminism, though I understand the desire to not to have to fight so hard against what seems to play into stereotypical presentation(s) of Black womanhood that quite a few of us couldn’t get away with outside of the bubble of entertainment, let alone having to dissuade younger women from emulating such presentations. I think that’s why I advised showing your nieces various presentations of Black womanhood, from Beyonce to Eartha Kitt to Lena Horne to Tina Turner to Esperanza Spalding to Mae Jemison to Viola Davis to Raven Symone to Audre Lorde to Barbara Jordan to Kerry Washington to Gwen Ifill to Keke Palmer to Raven Symone to Monica Roberts to Janet Mock. Show your nieces the plethora, so they know there are choices–and combinations of choices–about how to be a Black woman in this world.

  • http://nakiahansen.com Nakia H.

    Was the inclusion of the New Yorker’s “Borowitz Report” link tongue-in-cheek or serious? Because that’s clearly a satire blog and it wasn’t clear from the context whether Andrea meant for it to be seen as such.

    • AndreaPlaid

      Nakia and Hannah–Thanks so much for pointing this out to me. However, my inclusion is meant to be tongue-in-cheek…though, considering how quite a few Republicans earnestly and seriously sound like The Onion to the point that folks do wonder…well, I’ll leave it at that.

  • SuperHyugaYoshichan

    I’m not the biggest Bey fan (tho I love her music) but she’s pretty badass. Let’s not forget her all-women band! They’re cool too! :D

  • http://twitter.com/MedeaCulpa Shakti Castro

    Love. This. I am one of those who is firmly in the “Beyonce is the queen of the universe” camp. Actually remarked to a friend that her blackness is a part of why I love her. This whole essay just explicates allllll the very many reasons I think she’s dope, you say it better than I ever could….and you do it as a not-quite-rabid fan. Dig it. Thanks for writing this. Especially love the commentary on how revolutionary it is for her to embody the role of black wife and mother AND performance artist AND businesswoman.