I just read Brittney Cooper’s post, “On bell, Beyoncé, and Bullshit”. I generally love and appreciate Dr. Cooper’s work, but I am unconvinced by this latest post. Like me, and many others, I’m sure, she is frustrated with the “Is Beyoncé a good enough feminist?” conversation. No matter what your opinion on the matter, who isn’t frustrated? The discussion has been obnoxious, on all sides of the table.
Frustration is necessary among intellectuals, but frustration can also be dangerous if wielded inappropriately, and in my very humble opinion, Dr. Cooper is exacerbating, rather than ameliorating, the problem that led her to write her latest post.
Dr. Cooper is fed up (fed up, I say!) with judgmental oldheads and others (possibly folks like myself) who are very critical of Beyoncé, and folks who “think defending bell hooks and Cornel West makes them radical.”
She then defends Beyoncé, concluding categorically that Beyoncé is not, as bell hooks accused, a “terrorist”, and that Beyoncé is anti-violent. The last clause leads me to believe that Dr. Cooper may not have watched the Bey and Jay “RUN” trailer, which is filled with guns and gratuitous violence, and causes me to wonder if the folks who swear on all things holy that Beyoncé should and must be allowed to identify as a feminist just because she wants to (an idea that befuddles me…shall we also allow Sarah Palin to call herself a feminist if she so chooses, just because she so chooses? Should we allow Palin to refer to herself as a Democrat, assuming none of her political ideologies change?), would also now have us turn a blind eye to Beyoncé’s very clear participation in gun violence and declare her anti-violent.
Specifically, I find myself extremely frustrated by prominent intellectuals of superior intelligence (and I’m not referring to Dr. Cooper personally or singularly here) who want to basically bully folks, by threatening them with labels such as “judgmental” and “bullshit”, into believing and proclaiming that Beyoncé and other celebrities and dignitaries are progressive political activists (who should be immune from critique because of all the good they’re supposedly doing in the world) and apolitical entertainment figures (not responsible, of course, for social ills that their images perpetuate) at the same time.
It’s intellectually dishonest, and the arguments are, at times, so untenable that they can only be successfully delivered with conversation-ending rage.
What I yearn for, as we discuss Beyoncé’s feminist/radical activist credentials, and other topics, is a retreat from self-righteous screaming, and a return to civil, reasoned discourse. I yearn for honesty, some compassion, and some principle, too.
I’ll put my cards out on the table here: I’m not a Beyoncé fan. I would attend a Beyoncé concert, but then again, I never have and have no plans to do so in the near future. I do have plans to attend a number of other artists’ concerts, and most of these artists are much less well-known than Beyoncé. I do keep a Destiny’s Child cd (yes, I said “cd”. Move along.) in my car, and when I play it, I turn up the bass. But the Sasha Fierce thing? Weird to me. The dissolution of Destiny’s Child? A turn off.
(Wait, hold on a minute. Oh gosh, the Beygency is calling me. If I don’t survive, tell my mother I loved her.)
Stealing other artists’ music? Nah. Jay-Z? Nah. Solange? Love her! Beyoncé’s extremely cultivated image? Creepy. Her participation in and endorsement of the power of the male gaze? I’m adamantly against it. Her nods to patriarchy? A problem, and one that is not solved by her simultaneous calls for girlpower.
And the demands by her fans (intellectual and otherwise) that I never critique her work, even though she is so firmly, intentionally, and aggressively in the hyper-public sphere? Intolerable.
But this is not, at core, about Beyoncé. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is not thinking much about us, and if we are honest, we’re not actually worried about her, the human. We’re fighting over Beyoncé, the pop star. And Beyoncé, the superstar, is simply a site at which many culture wars are being fought–wars over the future and focus of feminism, colorism, gender dynamics in intimate relationships, who is and who is not a political figure, the intersections between celebrity and politics, classism, respectability politics, gender roles, and so on and so forth. And the same is true about bell hooks, and President Obama, and even good old Cornel West. We get emotional about these prominent figures, so much so that some of us find us defending or denigrating everything they say or do because of our own personal and political complexes. We become stans. Think of (mostly older) African-Americans who simply cannot bear to hear any criticism of President Obama whatsoever because OMGHESBLACKYOUUNCLETOM. Frustrating. Conservative. Dangerous. We cannot afford it. It, too, is violent.
Maybe if we can be honest about this, we won’t all get so personally offended when someone has one opinion or another regarding something Beyoncé said or did last week, or something that someone else says about Beyoncé. Perhaps, we can realize that even the most well-read, most respected among us will not get it right (Who determines what is right?) on every issue, all of the time, and so dismissing decades of work by bell hooks because she called Beyoncé a terrorist (ahem, “RUN” trailer…guns…Chicago…Trayvon…what are you doing, Yonce?), and beatifying the President, or labeling him a capitalistrightwingmurderer, or attempting to strip folks of their intellectual credentials because they do/don’t listen to Beyoncé or because they want to #BringBacktheGirls or because they haven’t tried to #BringBacktheGirls is not only useless, but harmful to the progressive community.
And maybe when we can get beyond hurt feelings over whether someone says mean things about Beyoncé, or bell hooks, or President Obama, we can actually get down to the business of hashing out these issues. Screaming “bullshit!” at each other when someone criticizes the first black President, or a prominent black feminist, or a major pop star when we are really simply frustrated about the fact that so many discussions are being held on-site at one singular human body that those discussions become unwieldy and tough to direct is, frankly, not helpful. And we need help, all the help we can get, from each other, all the time, because we are diverse and discrete, and unity is our great strength over here in the VeryLeftofCenter. If we are not careful, we will miss our opportunity to get real work done with each other, and our feverish rage will undermine our moral standing relative to the angry, frenzied, rabid mobs on the other side, who have at least remained focused and united as they preserve their oppressive dominance over the communities we would liberate.