Queen B(ey): The “B” is not for “black”

While the internet went crazy over Beyonce’s lip-syncing non-scandal  (hello we live in post-Britney Spears, Rihanna, Ke$ha, KAty Perry world), the media and internet machines seem to be dead silent on Bey’s latest move:

oh and this:
and this:

instead of critique what we are getting is a lot of: “YAS! God!” and “Royalty Realness” and sites like Perez Hilton, Just Jared, That Grape Juice, and the hufingtonpost just either mentioning the tour or gushing over the pics.  My reaction was something similar to Son of Baldwin’s co-opting of Squeak’s “who dis here [white] woman?”

Actually here is the real time feed of my my twitter thoughts:

3 FebM. LucasM. Lucas ‏@MLukas82wait Bey’s tour is called the “Mrs. Carter Show”; hangs head, walks away, and just chants to myself “resentment”

M. Lucas ‏@MLukas82I am not one of those people who think it is all cute when a girl plays off her man’s name and her status as married.

3 FebM. LucasM. Lucas ‏@MLukas82like move past the 1950s, if you are going to claim feminism be feminist. women playing into patriarchy is tired and dangerous.

M. Lucas ‏@MLukas82I am feeling so many different things about these Mrs carter show ads

AND here is a comment I posted on instagram 

  1. See the thing is this:

Playing with colorism and embracing whiteness is not new when it comes to Bey:

Remember Loreal? And Bey’s radio silence?

Destiny’s Rehab did a piece on Bey and her numerous color controversies. The thing is that Beyonce herself never really responds to these things partially because she doesn’t have to. Currently, one cannot say anything about Beyonce without being accused of being a hater, without people dismissing you, or without risking you life because the her stans are in a league of their own when it comes to their utter devotion.  And while one can’t say anything critiquing Bey, her stans, the Beyhive (and yes I am speaking in a broad general sense),  refuse to look at her critically. So the result is a woman who is powerful and can affect, perhaps more than almost any other woman of color performer/artist, our perceptions of art, beauty, and performance but still is content to sit back and collect checks, that she doesn’t need, by trading on whiteness, colonialism, and outdated gendered ideas.

This is not about being catty and saying that the Marie Antoinette schtick is tired and old (it is both  Madonna and  Xtina have done it), it is about asking why in 2013 must the references women of color pull from always be the whitest ones? Bey has referenced almost every white girl in the game from Marilyn to Betty Page to now (signs that the title queen is certainly gone to her head) Marie Antoinette (or Elizabeth the First?) but her black visual references for large marketing campaigns have been few and far between. To date the only one I can thing of is a Josephine Baker reference when she performed for the Victoria Secret fashion show
sigh it is just tired and sad. And it is not just Bey, where are other black female artists overtly and visually referencing Whitney, Dorothy, Billie, Janet, Diana, Eartha, Ella? Where? Where is the media critiquing this?

Also, beyond the obvious skin lightening issues and the references to whiteness, what about the overt reference to colonial power? Does Bey not get that the power and wealth that France and Britain and other European powers she wishes to emulate came upon Black backs? That colonialism only recently allegedly ended? I get it, some will say that she is “subverting” the image. That she is claiming space for black women in this idea of beuty and power but I would counter and say, why do we want that type of power? Why do we never seem to learn what Audre Lorde so simply said:

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

I guess subversion is just not really working for me anymore. And one more thing: WHY OH WHY must it be “The Mrs. Carter Show”? Beyonce is a grown woman who is extremely successful and who professes to be feminist and embrace aspects of feminism but yet she still plays on the notion that it is so cute that she is married and trades on this status.

It makes you step back and think about Beyonce the woman; this is a woman who has went from being strongly attached to her dad to now being strongly attached to her husband. When I think about it, despite all of Beyonce’s claims of being an independent woman, I cannot think of time when she was not, has not, been defined in relation to a man.

So perhaps, in reality this is more of the same? I mean she did (unofficially) give us her personal anthem a few years ago right?:

I just spoke to a friend on instagram and they were telling me about how they have a problem critiquing Bey because they are such a fan and because she (my friend) is not a Black woman and Black women’s choices are always heavily scrutinized and critiqued. I agree with her. Black women are critiqued, torn apart, and scrutinized in this culture and I do approach these conversations with a certain amount of trepidation. But, then I think to myself, what about the bigger picture, what about the black women I love whose images are not exalted as beautiful  And this woman who is already light makes herself lighter to be what, more appealing? I think to myself about black women I know who had to learn to embrace their hair—pause and let that sink in, they had to learn to embrace their own hair!—and then she dyes her hair blonder and blonder and what happens, people eat it up and few critique it. I think about my future child who may possibly be black and female and I think to myself, I would rather her reference Margaret Garner or Harriet Tubman or what she imagines the queens of Kush to have looked like over the too numerous images of white women and white queens. I think of this and then it becomes clear, something must be said and we must critique.
Black women referencing black women and black excellence now that is power.

 

UPDATE: The strikeout is because, as a reader via their professor confirmed for me, Beyonce is NOT referencing Marie Antoinette but indeed is referencing Queen Elizabeth I. Note, this not only means the colonial critique can still apply but that it may perhaps be more appropriate as hers is the reign that is often (perhaps somewhat incorrectly) looked at as the start of the British (Colonial) Empire. 

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17 thoughts on “Queen B(ey): The “B” is not for “black”

  1. Let’s ask a larger question. Do entertainers have a responsibility to the public beyond their artistry? Is Beyonce required to wear daishikis and wear her hair naturally? Would that make her “more” a black woman? Who is the arbiter of blackness here?

  2. NS. says:

    While I think some of your points are arguable, I take issue with the fact that it seems you have take it upon yourself as a queer black man to be the spokesperson for black women. At the end of the day, Beyonce Knowles is in charge of how she represents herself and that she has actually demonstrates feminist ideals simply by virtue of the fact that she decides how she wants to present herself and her brand. Beyonce’s notoriety does not take away from the fact that there are a plethora of beautiful black women amongst us. Beyonce is not the end all, be all. At all.

    • mauricelukas says:

      I would say that 1) I did address my feelings about being a queer black male critiquing Beyonce and why I still felt invested. 2) I never claimed that she is the Be all and end all but I did also state why I felt she was important (her rather unique position of power) 3) I never claimed to be a spokesperson for black women. I never would. I said I thought about the women I love (these are women who do not speak b/c they are often busy doing other things or they don’t do things like blog) and how because of my investment in them I wrote a piece. 4) I would push back at the idea that because a woman decides how to brand herself she is therefore feminist.

    • mauricelukas says:

      I also want to say thank you for reading and replying though. Dialogue is what I most want from this space so thank you for taking the time.
      Love,
      M.

  3. Merc80 says:

    *slow clap* Bravo, my friend. Bravo. This is excellent.
    Also, while the lip syncing was a non issue to most, it was a bit of an issue to me, as a musician and lover of music. Hope you take a moment to give it a read when ya can: http://merc80.com/2013/01/31/beyonce-the-perfectionist/

    • I saw this “MP3s already have diminished sound quality compared to the older vinyl formats”, and realized that the only argument you had was an argument from nostalgia. That is unequivocally incorrect. It’s actually the other way around. Unless of course the loss of the little imperfections in analog recordings are what you are talking about, which brings us right back to nostalgia. That’s a very instagram opinion.

  4. Ayana says:

    This is crazy. Beyonce is a famous black woman but that doesn’t mean that she has to constantly remind the world of it. This was a waste of time.

  5. Effua says:

    I am always happy to read critique of our current culture and personally I happen to think of Beyonce as the female Michael Jackson…exceptional performers (both of whom I LOVE) but plagued by the need to be a part of the macro-culture not for financial reasons because they are/were crazy rich but for acceptance…period. Acceptance something everyone desires but in the case of entertainers like these two, Lil Kim and soooo many others, the price of acceptance is well…u can see what it is. It’s just sad because the best type of acceptance is self-acceptance, chasing after others for acceptance always ends badly.

  6. kbrann says:

    As for her playing off her husband name. So, you’re saying she can’t celebrate her marriage… because it’s patriarchy? That’s ridiculous. Our community needs to see more marriages and family. I find the name of the tour absolutely liberating!

  7. This is a very great article and I am a huge Beyonce fan! But the fact remains the same, as African-Americans, we willingly except the European culture without excepting our own first. And foremost, people like Beyonce, who is an idol and a leader, are the main figures that the younger black generation looks up to; that’s who they want to be like. I am young (and a female) and I know how i feel when I look at Beyonce. I am still battling with whether or not that awesome blonde hair she has is hers, partially hers, or none of hers. lol.
    However, despite my age, after researching, I can recall a time when the European culture was trying to mimic Afros. And still, until this day they try to modify themselves to have the curves of a black woman, which sadly is the only thing i seem to think we’re proud of.
    I think this movement the African-American culture is having, pertaining to “getting back to our roots”, is a wonderful thing. But, its catching on so slowly when it should spread like wildfire through our culture and I think that’s mainly because we’re missing the Erykah Badus and Jill Scott’s now, who at the time empowered black people, not only with their lyrics but with their actions. It’s because people like Beyonce aren’t putting their incite out there to remind their followers that they only put on the makeup and the show for the doe, but at the end of the day they’re black and proud! And yes, Beyonce does not owe us an explanation and she is within her rights to do as she pleases, but she still has an influence on our lives just like MJ and any other major artist.
    I could run all day on that topic, but I’d like to emphasize that the fact that I love her does not mean everything she does is perfect to me. Its just because i admire her artistry and YES, i look up to her because she handles her business. That’s why i call her Queen B. On the other hand, i feel that because of her position she could lead the way for many black people to understand that we (for lack of better words) have a superior culture and we need to start likening that to “power”, “ambition”, and “greatness”. Because, whether you think so or not, America has manipulated us(black people) into associating strong and successful characteristics with the European culture.
    As for her “hypocrisy” with the feminist movement, I semi-agree. She’s always been an independent woman because she got her’s, whether that be through dad or Jay. Man or woman, at the end of the day, you become successful because you used someone to get you there. So i’m not going to knock her. And as far as i’m concerned if she’s trying to represent her new last name then i think she should flaunt on. It heading her world tour i’m not so sure would be the best approach in dealing with the audience she performs for. But then again, most independent women still want to settle down with a husband and kids one day. I think she’s a perfect example, showing women that you can still be independent and be a wife because we all know she could live quite lavishly and without any cares despite Jay’s presence.

  8. kalynbanks says:

    With all due respect for this well written blog, I do believe that deciding whether or not someone is black enough or woman enough is NEVER okay. It doesn’t matter who the artist is or what the artist does. That is not our place or your place ever. You cannot tear someone down because of their actions and then tack a race or gender to them saying they aren’t “acting” a certain way. That is absolutely ridiculous. That is pure hegemony in the aspect that your thoughts and opinions of what is “black” and what is “woman” are greater than the mindset of the individual. It also adds to the conundrum in our culture of the line our OWN people are making to divide us by skin-tone and also by gender preference. If someone wants to title their tour “Mrs.Carter” then by all means do so. That has nothing to do with her not being “feminist” enough. Drop the radical feminism ploy and go through all of the feminist critical theories that are readily available in scholarly sources at your local university. There is NOT a rule book to being BLACK or being a WOMAN. There is also not a RULE book to being a “perfect feminist” feminism is built and will always be built on the idea of equal rights for ALL people..women included.

    • mauricelukas says:

      I would counter that while there is not a rulebook for the perfect feminist, and I never asked for perfection, there are ideas of what is and is not feminist. And, I was asserting that for me this is not really feminist. Also I never said she wasn’t “black enough”; having been accused of that myself I don’t tend to operate within that logic; I did say and imply that she capitulates to whiteness and I think there is a nuanced difference between these two ideas.
      Thank you for reading and responding though, I hope you poke around at the other articles as well.

      Love,
      Maurice

  9. kalynbanks says:

    I will definitely look into your other blogs. I forwarded this to my professor this morning and we are discussing the concepts you spoke of in class today. Keep blogging!

  10. kalynbanks says:

    My professor wanted me to relay to you that Beyonce’ was channeling Queen Elizabeth not Marie Antoinette. But she enjoyed your blog as well.

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