Following her Grammy speech and performance, superstar Beyonce garnered abundant praise. Beyonce’s grammy performance portrayed Queen Bey in a manner that proved as royal as her title. Beyonce’s look seemed reminiscent of the queens of our indigenous homeland— a connection that did not go unnoticed by spectators. However, Beyonce garnered the most praise for something fans are not used to associating with Beyonce—loss.
Beyonce lost to Adele in the “Album of the Year” category. To most, this loss was inevitable due to a racially aware stance accompanying some tracks in her latest studio album Lemonade. Lemonade presented the contemporary world with all that has come to associate with Beyonce while intertwining a “woke” perspective not commonly aligned with the singer. The visual album featured the mothers of slain teens Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and songs like “Freedom” that sought to paint Beyonce as an ally to the black collective in our time of turbulence. For these reasons, many regard Beyonce’s loss as a win. This is certainly the stance of Myles E. Johnson, author of popular New York Times article “What Beyonce Won Was Bigger than a Grammy.” The article referenced the price blacks who dare to exist outside the parameters of white conventionality pay as being overlooked if not ignored in terms of acknowledgment. For this assertion, Johnson is completely correct. However, does a few tracks on an album largely about relationships, infidelity, and love, place Beyonce in the same category of black activists like Assata Shakur, Angela Davis or singer-activists Nina Simone who unapologetically dedicated themselves to the plight of blackness in America?
Of course not.
The praise following Beyonce’s long overdue “consciousness” demonstrates that the bar for black allies is impossibly low. Beyonce as a black activist demonstrates that one or two acts fulfill the necessary requirements to deem someone a black leader. The black collective witnessed this behavior with former President Obama who would often place a single stream of consciousness in his speeches, a consciousness that he would counter with the following sentence. Yet, the allegiance he had for five seconds, overshadowed lesser deeds carried out in the majority of his actions and behaviors. Beyonce’s praise functions in a similar manner, as her seemingly “overnight” enlightenment supersedes past behavior that aimed to present Beyonce, the black woman as a crossover artist.
Forgiveness is a virtue seemingly exclusive to the black collective. I say this because, despite the depth of systemic oppression, many blacks remain dedicated to looking past this truth in favor of an optimism that borders oblivion. While beautiful and reflective of a humble spirit—forgiveness has proved much more harmful than helpful. I also can’t help but wonder if this behavior is forgiveness at all, or just a desperate attempt to believe something we wish to be true.
Black women want to believe in Beyonce. And to our defense, she does deserve some praise. Superstar Rihanna has yet to say anything pertaining to the contemporary manifestations that mirror traditional treatment of black bodies. This is not accidental, as Rihanna, although a black woman, seems to appeal more to those outside the black diaspora. Beyonce has always led a strong black female following, the same black females who have lost their sons, brothers, and fathers in the fire of white male supremacy. Thus, her contribution, while small, works strategically. The Grammy’s illustrates Beyonce as losing the battle but winning the war. Losing to Adele depicts Beyonce as bearing the necessary sacrifice to not only maintain her fan base but to award her racial credibility and thereby deepen fan affinity for her.
Beyonce, a black woman who gained fame and international stardom for her fair skin, blonde weave, and jezebel-like performances, personifies the height of white male imagination. She embodies what many black women wish they were, conventionally beautiful with full features, fair skin, a curvy yet slim body, an accent that is slight enough to suggest a humble sweetness but a work persona that screams boss. She’s a wife, a mother, businesswoman and all-around superwoman. But she is a fantasy.
While some blacks praise a God who looks like their former slave masters, other praise Beyonce, a woman who while black, portrayals European aesthetics as the height of black female beauty. Many seem to have forgotten that not long ago Beyonce referenced racism as “in her father’s time,” as if it is not racism that fuels her success let alone existence in a still predominately white male industry. It is easy to praise Beyonce for her loss, despite her ability to perform and prove victorious in smaller categories. If we praise Beyonce for her loss, it is easy to overlook that a more dynamic and culturally aware performer would not be afforded Beyonce’s platform, because their authenticity would inspire in a way that Beyonce never could.
Beyonce exists as a means to control the black female demographic. For example, I can not help but notice that weaves became a more versatile and a more prominent tool in black female hair styling as Beyonce’s popularity grew. The desire for long, full, hair personifies what I like to call the “Beyonce effect,” an effect mirrored in every popular black female image from reality stars to singers. Beyonce’s power manifests in her ability to generate styles and standards of beauty, and in her losses and wins.
I feel compelled to mention that I reference Beyonce as a brand and not an individual, as the chief component of Beyonce’s popularity is that she encompasses a larger than life figure– a human canvass of desirability curated by white male imagination. Beyonce becomes a figure of influence due to a black female collective that largely exists vicariously through their blonde-haired heroine. Beyonce personifies what many black females think black female perfection is. As a physical manifestation of black female thought, Beyonce acts as a pawn to dictate what we do. Carter B. Woodson conveyed the following excerpt from The Miseducation of the Negro:
If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.