On Beyonce, Contradictions and Political Economics: Sex and Twerking are just extras

2016-02-10 15:18

There are plenty of criticisms about Beyoncé and her song 'Formation'. I have read some blogs and reports that critique her either positively or negatively. Most of the social commentators that criticize in the negative make valid points even though I have a problem with the conclusions i.e., Beyoncé is anti-women or anti-black women etc. Each time I read such I asked myself what exactly is this socially engineered concept, ‘woman’ and how do these critical agents conceptualize 'woman'? For the first question, I have found answers in the most interesting literary works by Prof. Oyewumi, Ms. Truth and many other feminist scholars. I won’t bother engaging about the theorization of 'woman' here on this non-academic platform. I choose not to, those keen should go read.

The blogger of interest here is L.A Moore aka Bougie Black Girl, is critical of Beyoncé. Her dispute was on the basis of the history of misogyny within the Black Panther movement and Beyoncé’s celebration of the Black Panthers during the super bowl half time show. Moore’s critique is highly welcomed and it illuminates the peripheral discourse about women, impunity and the violence suffered in political movements. Black revolutionary spaces have proven to be sexist and patriarchal; they are about liberation yet often deny women dignity, equal status, respect, justice among other things. The multiple forms of violence women suffer in these spaces are often, if not always, met with patriarchal arrogance and fraternal loyalty at the expense of women. It is for this reason, naming and shaming the leaders and men in these movements and their violent actions against black women ought to be celebrated, always.

Now, moving to Beyoncé and the sisters who danced along her at the super bowl, I think those sisters, in their black panther costumes, represented the many women in the Black Panther movement, women who toiled for black liberation and we ought not to deny them by erasing their impact within the movement, in as much as it was patriarchal and sexist. In fact, the girls-only dance group for ‘Formation’ symbolically excludes those shameful men within the panther movement. I know I am stretching it in this case but I am choosing to perceive the performance this way, that is my current truth and that’s it.

Image taken from The Source website

Moving right along, in this schizophrenic world, a world inherent with contradictions i.e., the panther's black power and anti-women elements, we find ourselves picking a side and being biased to advance whatever message we feel is helpful. For instance, we choose to remember the good deeds of the panthers which involve feeding schemes in destitute black communities and so forth. Political memories are always characterized by ‘rememberings’ that embrace exclusions and partial amnesia or silencing of the other darker side of events. I am in no way advocating for this, I am merely bringing to the fore the contradictory nature of black political spaces.

Consider how Winnie Mandela is a host of contradictions yet she is celebrated immensely by black radical feminists e.g. she IS radical pro-black yet retained the privilege of ANC association despite its so called anti-blackness. She stayed in Soweto but her house is a high walled, high gated 'othering' paradise, her position in society could be contested, located and linked to her sexual ties to Mandela because nationalist movements and liberation movements all over the world privilege men and women tend to easily access "power" in those arenas through 'gatekeeping' men.

Despite whatever radical characteristics she embodies, she was a woman in a nationalist movement. Nationalist movements were disturbingly turned into boys clubs with anti-'women' structures. They are highly gendered and sustain sexual roles through intersecting motherhood with nationalism. Our states are fashioned in this manner, even the nation of the free, existing in the land of fermenting milk and honey. The concept of the first family is carved in accordance with this patriarchal nuclear family unit with sex right at the core. The state is our daddy, one we have found great issues with. In South Africa, daddy shoots at the children with stun grenades and tear gas and sometimes live ammunition, yup, that’s our daddy, and he loves us.

Of course Winnie Mandela complicated this arrangement with her life through her sexuality, her raw criticism of the darling of the world, our nationalist patriarch, our father, uTata Mandela (pbuh, coz he needs it!). She also complicated it through her blunt criticisms of the ANC but she remained in it. It’s the same with feminists who seek to get married and observe lobola which is fundamentally an act of commodification and value exchange. Any exchange including valuation, mostly through use value, equates commodification (see Karl Marx and John Locke).

To be feminist and remain in a patriarchal relationship is a contradiction so is getting into a relationship you don’t want or need and cite reasons like "sometimes orgasms that come from hands free action are great... and they last longer because the minute the body goes into a spasm those thrusting fingers also lose functionality as all muscles get on deck with the short lived ethereal feeling.” Perhaps instead of quitting DIY, our sex education curriculum should entail technical skills on how to gain the kind of handy skill that is worthy of rewarding ourselves with “red lobster” (listen to Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ to get what I’m talking about here).

Going back to the original point of this post, Beyoncé is indeed a host of contradictions; even Formation’s lyrics entail contradictions to the overall message received. She speaks of Givenchy. I think wearing such speaks to the embodiment of whiteness, European aesthetics and white culture. France caused the worst form of violence to black minds (uphi uFanon?). Some French speaking African countries will shock you should you go there today. France remains heavily dependent on its former colonies and even the French president once admitted that should these "former colonies" stop feeding France, France would become a third world country in a second. This also feeds into the arguments that have recently been made pertaining to the illicit as well as licit financial flows that loot Africa through Foreign Direct Investment and trade arrangements that resemble nothing but absolute unfairness (see Patrick Bond, forthcoming).

However, for me to expect Beyoncé to know all of this would probably be too much, we all suffer knowledge blind spots that's why we need to work together and anchor one another. Let me highlight another contradiction, the subtle challenge to heterosexual patriarchy through the motion image of a black queer figure in her video versus putting Bill Gates at the pedestal as the epitome of ultimate black success. She also seems to hail wealth generated within a racist patriarchal and capitalist set up which is highly exclusionary, violent, misogynistic with exploitative relations and unequal power dynamics.

The concept of black Bill Gates reminds one of Biko and oh dear, it is a contradiction. We must grasp that Bill Gates as a concept, especially in the South African context represents the construct which is whiteness par excellence. Whiteness is a socio-economic construct which is dependant on the production and sustenance of blackness through racism. A white subject (is) because of the relative existence of a black being. White centralizes itself, elevates itself, renders itself superior through systematic marginalization and inferiorization of its counterpart. It subscribes to binaries and those who embody it have been trained from the philosophical foundations of their ideological configuration to think in binaries.

These binaries contrast, compete, and white, out of necessity for identity, must conquer the other/black. To be 'black' is to be perpetually conquered, to be a product of white creation, to be sub-human in fact, to be non-human. The Sparrow character by calling blacks monkeys goes back to this denial of humanity as done from the minute Europeans realized the economic resources natives all over the world possessed. Michael Bradley in his 'The Ice Man Inheritance', shows that at our first encounter with the Europeans, we were humans, the anthropological journal accounts highlight this but our humanity got stripped when natural resources became a factor. This was the beginning of us becoming monkeys, baboons, uncivilized and black. before the fight for resources, we were not black, we were human.

This construction of blackness aided in the justification of the exploitation of de-humanized beings and conquest of their wealth and heritage. Black is the margin, the non-human and to be Bill Gates,which is human, is a peculiar contradiction, it's basically to be a non-human human. To grapple with this peculiarity, you need to read Fanon who reminds us that no matter how much white you try to become, you remain black because whites gate keep white heaven. Moreover, that ideal state can never be really attained by a black person due to systematic barriers. Besides the problematic nature of whiteness should inspire us to seek to carve better alternative models of being. Moreover on the impossibility of white attainment, in the Eurocentric economic context, there is no way of becoming Bill Gates especially when considering how capital is evolving and in this process the 1% continue to be advantaged well ahead of everyone, perhaps feminist proposition of economic 'Degrowth' might help but I'm doubtful.

In order for you, a black person, to become an 'almost Bill Gates', you must, at least, try to play by the very same game and rules, you must employ the same strategies of wealth creation that whites did. You must also exploit labour and in South Africa majority of labour happens to be black, meaning you must reproduce the dehumanization of those existing in ontological non-existence. You may also have to emulate the Gupta family who have learned the rules of the game. The financing of the ruling party and the opposition at the same time is the application of the Hegelian Dialect, master it. Whatever you do, you must do it viciously and better, maybe even start wars to become a billionaire. By the way, I think the sustained attack on the Gupta family as opposed to the Oppenheimers or whichever white family, speaks to this perpetual subordinate status of the orient in a white supremacist context. No matter how wealthy you are, you will humble at the presence of white power because you are ultimately the Other.

To cease with deviation, let me go back to Beyonce and her Bill Gates, the standardization of white patriarchy and elitism is contradictory to black radical feminist thinking and endeavors although liberal feminists seek such. Moreover, Bill Gates represents the pathology of white power, white  capital and white nationalism with its incessant need for expansion which subsequently yields destruction and conquest (see Ani Marimba). Capitalist mode of production and neoliberalism enable a special form of conquest, monopolization and today's strand of capital which is finance capital is the most lethal, it knows no boundaries and it is devoid of ethics (see Ewa Charkiewicz).

Bill Gates has been accused of diversifying into the pharmaceutical industry to trade vaccination products and has been quoted as advocating the use of vaccines for population control. You don’t have to guess who the target market is. This highlights the ruthlessness of this system which Beyoncé asks us to embrace by asking us to "make that paper" as black Bill Gates in the making. We are asked to make money within a financialization context, the age where crisis will show you the brute nature of the so called democrats by slapping us with the shocking truth of who is more worthy of life and rescue in the life of market fundamentalism.

I think her request of us also comes from a position of seemingly lacking alternatives because without the ‘paper’, you are a typical resident of New Orleans or South Africa where you are susceptible to the fatal nature of systematic violence. If she doesn't amass wealth as she does, she becomes what many of us blacks seek to escape; again, I am not saying we should seek to become rich because richness involves relativism. You are rich, I am poor, or maybe I should put it bluntly and say it comes with parasitism as Julius Nyerere argued in his critique of a capitalist mode of production. Nonetheless, we can’t demonize her for her class privilege and endeavor to sustain and reproduce it.

To end this long post short, I am aware of these contradictions in Beyoncé’s song, including the imageries of her powerful music video, i.e. the blond hair but then again the blond hair being a contradiction is a result of social engineering, constructed perceptions of what normative blackness involves and looks like. It is prescriptive and honestly suffocating. It seeks to kill heterogeneity by forcing us to homogenize, it does what whiteness did, what whiteness does, what one Asian tiger is doing, destroying difference. Even our feminist critique of Beyoncé highlights our dictatorial state of what we arrogantly declare to be what "feminism" should be, as if we are gate keepers of feminism. I think anyone who seeks to deem themselves feminist should do so without creating marginalizing and exclusionary atmospheres that alienate people.

As for me personally, I will be twerking to 'Formation' and my beloved hotep brothers better best believe.

LET’S SLAY!

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