Black Relationship Politics: “Do You Believe Beyonce?”


Perhaps it is because I finally listened to Watch the Throne. Or perhaps it is because I have been writing about Beyonce on this blog for what, three years now. Perhaps it is because I am smack dab in the middle of researching Black women’s sexuality. Perhaps it is because I hear Janelle Harris in the back of my head saying that being married with a baby is the way to go because doing it alone alone is too much work.

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t believe Beyonce.

I think it is the gap between how patriarchal “If you like it you should have put a ring on it” is, and the lack of public intimacy that I have been thinking about this week.

Now here is the thing with writing about pop culture. I know that in taking on people’s beloved artists there is a possibility that they will shut down, cover their ears, and sing lalalalalalalalalalalalaal like a four year old. If you go that route, keep your comments to your self. This is grown shit we are speaking on.

Yes, Beyonce is attractive, talented, hard working, focused and driven. She can perform her ass off. I get that.

But what I also know is that the ways in which she normalizes patriarchy for Black girls need to be interrogated. When I say patriarchy I mean idea that men/masculine people have the right and the power do dominate women and children. For example, patriarchy normalizes lots of janky things like the right for men make more than women for the same work; the right for men take up more space on the train; the right for men to  stand on the sidewalk and not move when they see us coming; the right to not clean up shit in the house because it’s women’s work; the right to seek and desire pleasure without being called a failed man; the right for men to be active and women to be passive.

A Black woman who seeks and desires pleasure is called spoiled. Spoiled food is ruined, inedible. It will make you sick.

Being a Black woman with a healthy dating life, I realized that the reason why I don’t believe Beyonce, is that I have never seen her hug her #husbear in public. No hug, no kiss, no face grab.

No passion.

Now on That’s My Bitch, which is song on Jay-Z’s and Kanye’s  new album Watch the Throne Jay-Z raps about her, with out “really” rapping about her saying,

Go harder than a nigga for a nigga, gofigure
Told me keep my own money if we ever did split up
How could someone so gangsta be so pretty in pictures
Ripped jeans and a blazer and some Louboutin slippers
Picasso was alive he woulda made her
That’s right nigga, Mona Lisa can’t fade her
I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice
But why all the pretty icons always all-white?
Put some colored girls in the MOMA
Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Wylona
Don’t make me bring Thelma in it
Bring Halle, Bring Penelope and Selma in it
Back to my Beyoncés, you deserve three stacks word to Andre
Call Larry Gagosian
You belong in museums, you belong in vintage clothes crushing the whole building
You belong with niggas who used to be known for dope dealin’
You too dope for any of those civilians
Now shoo children, stop lookin’ at her t*ts
Get your own dog, ya heard
That’s my b**ch

So, if I have this correct, she is his Bitch, well kinda. She belongs to niggas known for dope dealing?

According to her, if he liked it, then he would have put a ring on it.

But I ain’t never seen you kiss this man. Evar. Grab his face. Smack his ass. Something Gina.

I don’t believe you.

Now, @cervantes left a comment questioning my evidence and he has a point. Both Beyonce and Jay have referred to each other publicly. He is correct in that Jay Z has mention her, and she him, publicly. And I will acknowledge this corrective in my post because this is in fact important and significant. However, isn’t there something to be said about the distinction between a public mention, and public affection when you make your bread saying that “You are a success if he gives you a ring”.  Why is success measured by having a marriage contract?

I think the post on Clutch by Janelle Harris has influenced me as well. Harris states that while folks living together may be great for some people, for her, she understands the importance of getting married before you have children having had a child 12 years ago and another nine months ago. Harris believes that,

So now, after besting 12 years of single motherhood and nine more months on top of that of being a baby mama, I see now that there is a reason why you should wait to be married before you have little ones. This ish ain’t easy solo. Not that having a husband makes life a cakewalk, but if you’ve picked the right dude, you’ve got a partner to help shoulder and share the responsibilities that come with being a parent, a homeowner—heck, an adult in general.

To them and others who just don’t think it’s that deep, first comes love, second comes marriage, then comes the lady with the baby carriage is a rhyme that didn’t mean much more beyond the playground in elementary school. But to me, it’s the natural order of things, the way the good Lord intended them to be, the modus operandi that makes the most logical sense.

The way God intended? Girrrl, God intended me to be free and to be of service.

Waaaay back in November 2010, my fellow Crunkfeminist @Moyazb stated in response to the No Wedding No Womb meme and the Eddie Long church and sexual violence allegations that,

Perhaps black folks’ ambivalence about marriage signals problems with the institution itself and not with black people.

We are not taught think about how there may be an issue with the institution of marriage rather than with Black people.We are not thinking about other ways to think about family BECAUSE raising children is hella work because doing it alone can lead to a nervous breakdown.

So, if Beyonce is going to be Black women’s ambassador for heterosexual marriage, then ya’ll need to go back to the drawing board.

Can we believe a Love that can’t and won’t be claimed publicly? Especially when the “Love” is constantly referred to, implicitly, in songs.

For GLBTQ folks, claiming your Love publicly can get your assed fired, get you beat on the street, get you kicked out of your biological family. Talk about relationship politics.

Or perhaps their marriage is crude and public example of what marriage in the United States, an economic, legal and property arrangement.

This is why I also believe that folks had such a hard time with the Kim Kardashian’s divorce. Her marriage and divorce exemplified just how much market forces, how much money plays a role in marriage in 2011.

Many of us romantics have a hard time accepting this. But it’s real. As real as that $3.15 latte I just bought. As real as the 35 million people in this country who are on food stamps.

Money matters in our sexual relationships. If you don’t believe me, ask a sex worker or a stripper. Ask the wife of a man who is a millionaire.

I do agree with Janelle on one thing. She states that,

Celebrities wield such heavy influence over what so many folks do, say and believe—including adults, so let’s not front—that Mrs. Carter’s decision to do it the right way (yep, I intentionally left the quotation marks off) just might spark a positive trend.

It is for this reason that I write this piece.

Do you believe Beyonce?

If you refer to your relationship in songs, and if your songs are patriarchal, do you then need to visibly affectionate in order to be believable?

Perhaps patriarchy closes off the space to be affectionate?

Is it meaningful that he put a ring on it but I/we ain’t never seen him kiss her?

#I just wrote my ass off. #Drops mic.

Making Connections between Odd Future x Jay Z x Beyonce

In my head I have been trying to make sense of Beyonce, Jay-Z and Odd Future and how audiences have received, accepted and criticized their work.

I have written about Beyonce here and here. Jay-Z here. I add Odd Future because I have yet to see a feminist analysis of them and I am theorizing that there is a connection between how audiences see them and how audiences see Jay and Beyonce.

Jay and Beyonce

Many of my friends get incredibly irritated when I say that I want Beyonce to sing about her husband. To talk about how he likes his eggs. Does he like cheese on them, hot sauce, cracked black pepper, scrambled hard.  I am not interested in how the man likes his eggs per se. I am using it as a way to open up a conversation about how audience desire shapes what artists talk about. I contended that Jay Z does not talk about loving his wife because honestly white and black audiences, and multiracial audiences are not interested in hearing about him talk about her.

“Take em out the Hood, Keep ‘Em Looking Good, But I don’t Fucking Feed ‘Em. – Jay Z, Big Pimpin‘.

In fact in this post Britini Danielle @ Clutch Magazine discusses Wiz Khalifa claiming Amber Rose publicly and the proliferation of the “we don’t Love them ho’s comments on blogs.

I am interested in Black people being rendered as human being in pop culture and in there day to day lives at work, on the train and in the grocery store. Why? I want all people in general and Black folks in particualr to be rendered as human beings. Singing about how your lover likes his or her eggs is incredibly humanizing. Talking about how much you love them is humanizing as well.

Honestly, I prolly wouldn’t care how Jay-Z liked his eggs if Black men and women controlled how their stories were created, told, distributed.

1. If they could greenlight their own films and Hollywood and control how they were distributed.

2. If there wasn’t a need for documentaries exploring the “lack” of women in hip hop.

3. If there was a space for Black women in pop culture who don’t fit the “Long haired thick red bone” aesthetic. Peace to Jennifer Hudson.

Does pop culture have to be humanizing for Black folks? If no, what is at stake if it doesn’t humanize us. If yes, what does that look like?

Odd Future

The first time I heard a DJ spin Tyler’s Yonkers, I was like who the hell is this? The beat sounded bare like early Clipse work. As a blogger, I read about what music bloggers are writing about, often before or whenI listen to the music. In fact conversations tend to percolate in my twitter timeline before writer #Natureofthebeast.

Here is Odd Future at a show performing Kill People, Burn Shit, Fuck School. @1:42. 109,664 youtube views.

Here is Tyler the Creator’s Yonkers. 14 million + youtube views.

There as been a ton written about Odd Futures popularity on the Black and White blogosphere and with multiracial audiences.

In the Chicago Sun-Times profile by Thomas Conner, Odd Future members contend that,

Odd Future’s lyrics, they maintain, are preposterous artistic expressions rather than reportage or incitement to action.“Nothing is really serious,” Hodgy Beats told the Sun-Times this week from a tour stop in London. “It’s just like all the things in our music. It’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the world, and it’s in our lyrics. … I think it’s funny that people flip out about s— like that.”

In an article titled “Odd Future and the Middle Class White Music Geeks that Love Them” the author writes,

It’s the general consensus of music writers everywhere (almost all of them white) that Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All can do no wrong.  The 11-piece L.A. collective, consisting of singers, rappers, producers, and visual artists between the ages of 16 and 23, has been praised as the next Wu-Tang Clan, the future of rap, the ultimate 21st century hip-hop group, etc., etc.  Their confrontational lyrics and gritty No Wave approach to hip-hop seem to attract more people than they scare off.  However, almost all of this praise has come from middle-class white critics and fans with interests in underground music. A photo of one of Odd Future’s notoriously raucous gigs shows a sharp contrast between the black, teenage group members onstage and the pale, white, twentysomething audience.

What does it mean that the most laudatory voices for Odd Future are White Male “music geeks”?

Should Odd Future be able to make the music that they desire, for largely White audiences given the history of Black images in this country?

Beyonce x Jay Z x Odd Future

Earlier in the post I stated that there is a connection between how audiences see them. However, we can’t really have a conversation about Black people and images without looking at the history of Black images.

Dave Chappell walked away for a reason ya’ll.

So, what is the history of images of Black people in the US? Whitney Peoples in the article “Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip-Hop  Feminism and Exploring Bridges between Black Second-Wave and Hip-Hop Feminism” gives a thorough explanation. She writes,

Much of mainstream rap music has been reduced to a never-ending obsession with monetary gain, appropriation of patriarchal notions of power, material possession, partying, women, and sex, all of which are secured and protected through the hyper masculine threat of violence. Mainstream rap music is most easily commodified because it represents ideas of blackness that are in line with dominant racist and sexist ideologies; it has economic potential only because it works hand-in-hand with long established ideas about the sexual, social, and moral nature of black people.
In other words, the images of black male violence and aggression that dominate mainstream rap music are highly marketable in America because of already existing ideologies of racism that long ago named the black male as supreme aggressor and physical and sexual threat. Similarly, the images of sexually available black women that pervade rap music are marketable because of already existing ideologies that designated black women as hypersexual and morally obtuse.
Peoples is essentially saying that mainstream rap and I would extend that to say Odd Future (they are clearly underground but beloved by “White music geeks”) is popular and earns corporations money because they affirm already existing ideas around black men being homophobic, violent and hypersexual.

Having written this, I am left with a few questions.
Does Odd Future get a pass because “White music geeks” have the power to legitimize rappers with a sizeable fan base who think that rapping about rape, murder and homophobia isn’t really that serious?

Does Beyonce need to write about how her husband likes his eggs?  What does it mean that a middle class woman, who earned $80M in ’07-08 , spent a significant portion of her career writing about men soldiers, men who hustle, etc?


Is it legitimate for Jay to have continued to rap about crackwhen he was a millionaire? Is this selling a fantasy of a certain kind of Blackness to young people of all races? Can the man who wrote about Big Pimpin’ write about his wife?

Arielle Loren Asks “Is Beyonce the Face of Contemporary Feminism?” My Response

We need to be clear about who we are trying to be equal to.

In her blog post Arielle Loren asserts that most women do not identify as being feminists even if they share its core ideologies, that there has been a shift in the contemporary agenda for women’s equality and that women are tired of rhetoric of hardcore oppression and patriarchy. She goes on to say that “frankly, all of the traditional feminist criticism of her “Who Runs The World (Girls)” video is just another example of the disconnect between intellectual theory and real life.” Beyonce is the face of contemporary feminism because women feel empowered listening to Beyonce’s music, so consequently, they take this “power” with them as they go on about their day to day lives.

Interesting.

Let me lay out my assumptions.

Feminism is not about being equal to men. All men are not equal. A black man  from 135th street with a Harvard MBA does not have the same social capital as a Black man from 135th street who just got out of Rikers. Full stop.

Next.

We need to be clear about who we want to be equal to. In fact, we need to ask do we want to be equal or do we want to be free?

Second assumption.

Black feminists are rooted in Love.

Black Feminists are interested in creating spaces for men to feel because men who don’t feel do not know how to Love. Black feminists are interested in holding themselves, and others accountable when they say racist, homopobic ‘ish, because thats how we roll. Black feminists will get up in that behind when a rapper tries to make jokes and bets about non consensual choking of women during sex. Peace to Jay Electronica. The Black feminist I know are rooted in Love. Being rooted in Love means that you understand that you will not be able to have meaningful emotionally invested relationships with another adult until you have forgiven you one OR both of your parents for abandoning you. Peace to all my homies who are in therapy. We grown.

Black Feminist Love is hella grown.

We are so grown that we understand like Arielle Loren does, the importance of Black women being able to be sexual, complicated, whole human beings. We understand that is is particularly important for Black women who are rendered 50 million ho’s on the regular in pop culture. The mission statement for the Black Feminist blog  Betta Come Correct states that:

BECAUSE BLACK FEMINIST SEX IS THE BEST SEX EVER…THIS IS ALSO A WAKE UP CALL TO ANYONE WHO INSISTS ON INTIMACY WITHOUT ACCOUNTABILITY, CONDONES VIOLENCE AGAINST BLACK WOMEN, OR REFUSES TO BE TRANSFORMED BY THE ECSTATIC MIRACLE THAT BLACK WOMEN EXIST. YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISSING OUT.

So Black women having space to be multidimensional and whole is a part of the contemporary Black feminist agenda.

Back to Beyonce.

As you many of you know I have done a lot of writing about Beyonce, because I am concerned about how the messages that she conveys shapes expectations within Black heterosexual relationships. Given the fact that she made 80 million dollars in 2007-2008 and that earning that kind of money is extremely rare for people in general Black women in particular, Beyonce’s messages influence society and they shape how Black women look at themselves and their partners. Black women are not allowed to earn nearly 100 million dollars unless they are beautiful, talented, non-threatening to White men and they convey historical stereotypes about Black men and women. Dave Chappelle walked away for a reason ya’ll.

Because I care about Black women, I pay close attention to what Beyonce says.

It is dangerous to make open statements that women run the world, because there is so much evidence women get the shit end of the stick in the world.

Black, Latina and Asian women are sex trafficked in the Bronx, East Oakland and Las Vegas.

Eastern European women are sex trafficked globally.

An estimated nearly 100 Million female fetuses and girl children have been aborted or neglected in China and India over the last thirty years.

Women are 50.7% of the US Population. Yet, women are only 16.4% of Congress. They are 17 of the 100 members of the Senate. They are 73 of the 435 member of the House of Representatives.

Women are routinely paid less for the same jobs that men do and this is broken down by race.In fact when I told my students two weeks ago that they could graduate from college and be offered less money, just because of what was between their legs, they looked depressed.

They couldn’t believe how profoundly unfair it was. When I said that “Women are cheap labor” they looked mortified. I explained to them that shutting down was not going to create a more just and equitable world. That they cannot change a system if they do not understand it. And now that they do know that women are offered less money to do the work that men can do, they are expected to go out into the world and change it. Peace to the Equal Pay Act.

Poverty is feminized in this country, meaning that a main predictor of poverty is having a baby because children are expensive (childcare, healthcare, food, clothes, shelter) and there is very little support such as state/federal child care, paid federal family medical leave, support for families who work full time as parents.

We need to be honest about who we are tying to be equal to.

Women do not run the world. The world shits on women. Ask Ester Baxter. Ask Susan Giffords. Ask the woman who claims that she was assaulted and raped by the former President of the IMF. Ask Shaniya Davis’s family.  Ask Ayianna Jones’s family. Ask Sakia Gunn’s family. Ask. Ask. Ask.

Now if we want to celebrate the catchiness of a Beyonce song, or honor her athletic ability, her fierceness as a dancer, that is perfectly legititmate. But to call her the face of modern day feminism is ahistorical and a slap in the face to Black, White, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American women and men who have been working to change our world so that being born with a vagina does not automatically mean being raised to be someones wife, street harassment material, nanny, slave or prostitute, but a fully developed human being.

For more readings on the history of Black Women and Feminism read:
Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement and the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920 by Evelyn Brooks Higgenbotham
Living for the Revolution by Kimberly Springer
Radical Sisters: Second Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington in DC by Ann Valk.

For more readings on Black, White and Chicana Feminisms:
Separate Roads to Feminism by Benita Roth

For more readings on Third Wave Feminism
To Be Real, Ed by, Rebecca Walker
“Under Construction: Identifying Foundations of Hip Hop Feminism…” by Whitney Peoples
On Being Feminism’s Ms. Nigga by Latoya Peterson <<<And I still have issues with the title.
Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, Ed. Jessica Yee.

My post on R. Kelly and Julian Assange mentions some good books on feminism as well.

Thoughts. I know you have them.

Is positing Beyonce as “contemporary feminism” a move to come up?

What is your definition of feminism?

Music as feminist empowerment?