This post is part of the Gender and Domination Course in OOPS.
“As overly aggressive, unfeminine women, Black matriarchs allegedly emasculated their lovers and husbands. These men, understandably, either deserted their partners or refused to marry the mothers of their children. From the dominant group’s perspective, the matriarch represented a failed mammy, a negative stigma to be applied to African-American women who dared reject the image of the submissive, hardworking servant’” (Collins, 2000, p. 76).
Beyoncé’s second visual album, Lemonade, was released on April 24th, 2016. Exclusively available on Tidal and HBO, viewers tuned in to watch the hour-long disintegration of pop’s most prominent power couple. Beyoncé with the help of African American poet Warshan Shire, confessed to tales of her husband’s infidelity as well as her own insecurities and the desperation to reclaim her strength as a black woman in the face of overwhelming white supremacy and patriarchy. Immediately following the release of the film, rumors speculated around one track in particular, where Beyoncé referred to Jay-z’s mistress as “Becky with the good hair.” Who was Becky? Becky was of course, a white woman. The only kind of woman that could ever have more power than the Queen B herself.
However, if we are to sit and ruminate over the details of the inner workings of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage, we are to miss the overall message that Lemonade seeks to convey. Whether the concept of infidelity is autobiographical or not, its take-home message is still valid. Lemonade is a simulacrum for the black women who are taught to internalize white supremacy at the hands of black men who play into to white supremacy by viewing white woman as superior. Patricia Hill Collins in Black Feminist Thought quotes Barbara Christian: “The black woman is the definition for society’s ‘other” (Collins, 2000, p. 70), having been the most oppressed of all identities. Whereas the black man too, has a disadvantage, his intersecting manhood serves to privilege him. The black woman, on the other hand, may only exist within common liminalities of sexual and commercial objectification.
Beyoncé, for one, holds a compelling position in the fight for feminist recognition and capitalist gain. The more popular Beyoncé becomes, the more we find ourselves asking whether her capitalistic demeanor (sung about in songs or showcased in the public sphere) is truly revolutionary, or if it simply mimics that of the white patriarchs who come before her.
Collins in this respect may argue that Beyoncé as a pop icon has travelled far from the “mammy” image of the child bearer designated exclusively to the maternal sphere, yet the fact that Beyoncé is the common target for questioning is problematic in itself. Where she no longer fits into the category of the ‘mammy’ and is far too economically independent to reserve the ‘welfare queen stereotype’ Beyoncé may be persistently targeted because of white supremacist ideologies that ‘black [ladies] allegedly take jobs that should go to more worthy Whites, especially U.S. White men. [And] Given a political climate in the 1980s and 1990s that reinterpreted antidiscrimination and affirmative action programs as examples of an unfair “reverse racism,” no matter how highly educated or demonstrably competent Black ladies may be, their accomplishments remain questionable’ (Collins, 2000, p. 71).
Furthermore, the accomplishments of second wave feminism (commonly known as “white feminism”) may incidentally keep these prejudices in place by asserting that the woman be economically independent at all times, thus leaving women of color in their wake to occupy the caretaking occupations that white women no longer have the time to fulfill.
But why is it that in an album full to the brim with allusions to African-American heritage, we can only focus on the decay of a heterosexual stronghold? Track by track, Beyoncé nods to the likes of the Orishas of the Yoruba culture, Mami Wata and Malcolm X, and yet, the dominant message that seeps through mass media is whether or not Beyoncé the indestructible is being cheated on with a white mistress. Why do we strip the black woman of her humanity? Why must we sexually objectify and commodify her at the hands of white dominance?
According to Collins, the sexual commodification of the black woman “dates back to slavery when the [creation of the] Jezebel’s function was to relegate all Black women to the category of sexually aggressive women, thus providing a powerful rationale for the widespread sexual assaults by White men typically reported by Black slave women.” (Collins, 2000, p. 81). This internalization of women as sexual property has sometimes carried over to black men, who may internalize the belief that black women are the cause of racial plight. In Beyoncé’s case, objectification has morphed into a more insidious structure which has upheld black masculinities at the expense of black female consciousness and autonomy.
Lemonade stands as a powerful vision of female empowerment because it allows room for discourse into a “complex cultural structure where dominant toxic ideologies are simultaneously resisted and reproduced” (Collins, 2000, p.86). Lemonade acts as a resistance because it has the ability to include the roots of its cultural conception into both a capitalistic product for consumption and a narrative for women who have been made to feel as if their entire existence depends on the emotional and financial capital of a man. However mass media’s exploitation of this narrative overrides any cultural value, centering the project on questions of race wars and compulsory heteronormativity. In order to release the focus on these normative processes, much more work must be done to radically deconstruct racial stratification and the hyper-sexualization and objectification of women, on both micro and macro aggressive levels.
Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Lemonade [CD]. (2016). Beyonce.