Friday, December 25, 2009
A few weeks ago I woke up and realized that I am the person that I wanted
to be when I was thirteen.
At thirteen my closest friend was Fancy and we were in middle school together
in East Oakland. We were nerdy, and skinny, not what the streets want, no?
If the library had it we read it. I was partial to all the Judy Blume's,
Beverly Cleary's, Sweet Valley High's and when I found Walter Dean Myers
I was home.
We traded library books and Sassy issues the way 8 year old boys traded
We rode that Emporium Capwells basement in downtown Oakland like
a Long Island Outlet mall the day after Christmas.
It was through my friendship with her that I saw how people treated
brown skinned Black girls. In some ways we learned how to negotiate
our femininity together.
By 15, we discovered Berkeley's Telegraph avenue, clothing stores, book stores,
used record stores, natural hair, sewing and fashion magazines. While I liked
The Source magazine, more than Seventeen, we both shared our love of the glossies.
In many ways I became myself in that era, or at the very least the ground was being
set for me to claim it in high school.
She was always more of an alternative head than me, putting me on to Neneh Cherry
and being the first Black person that I ever knew to bump Alanis Morissette.
Our goal was to become Fresh Girls.
Fresh girls were natural, maybe wrote graffiti (or was at least cool with the crew
with the most ups), were smart, had cute clothes, some of which they made
and their own style.
After middle school, I left Oakland to go to high school in 'Frisco,
and a little after that she moved back East. We had a plan for her to move
to NY to model and design clothes and I would go to college and
design clothes, sell vintage clothes or write and just be AROUND hip hop.
I move to NY for school and she got married and had a baby, and for a hot minute
I was like dude, what happened to our plan? Being young and immature
I had a resentment.
Now that I am older I realize that all women have to make choices about
baby dreams vs. career dreams, especially when we live in society that needs
children, yet refuses to support the people who are implicitly charged with raising
I also now realize how much of a gift it is to think of something at 14 and actually
be able to do it 4 years later.
Back then I wanted to be nappy, be around Black art, eat good food and read
Three weeks ago I realized that I am in fact this person.
I get to be nappy, write about Black women and pop culture (and my relationships)
and have the things that I say be taken seriously by my blog readers and my professor's
and this is awesome.
I googled Ms. Fancy a couple of weeks ago and found out she wasn't that far from me.
In a twitter conversation with @prisonerswife I talked about how I wanted to say
something, but I didn't want to come out the blue and the last few years of my life
have taught me to leave well enough alone when it comes to people. I try to live by
if it don't fit don't force it. This isn't hallways successful. I try to realize that people
will be bothered when they want to be, otherwise I should leave them be.
@prisonerswife responded saying something along the lines of, "people say things
like that just because they don't want to step up" and I was like, "I'm pretty much a courage
bear. If God wants me to be in contact with her, we will cross paths."
Ms. Fancy Facebooked me Tuesday.
Merry Christmas. Woot.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Here is the thesis and intro ya'll. Peace to Birk and Jess for helping
me organize the beginning, I swear that's the hardest part, because the
rest of the framework flows from there.
In writing this I was reminded that its not enough to have something
to say. Its not enough to have read the books to be informed. It's only
enough when I can frame and deploy a convincing argument.
If you have any questions, leave them below, and I will try and work them
into the paper.
Beyonce Incorporated: R&B, Thugs and Whiteness
Since the 1998 crossover breakthrough of Destiny’s Child, Beyonce Knowles has
been a star on the rise. Since then she has released numerous albums, both with
Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, she has starred in or served as a supporting
actor in several major motion pictures, and has married a multiplatnuim selling rap
artist. In short, Beyonce is everywhere, including the bank. In fiscal year
2007-2008, Beyonce reportedly earned an estimated $87 million dollars.
Given that black wealth is incredible rare in the United States (Oliver & Shapiro, 2006),
the reasons for Beyonce’s incredible success are worth exploring.
In exploring the reasons for Ms.Knowles’ success, I am primarily concerned with
the intersection of popular culture and the day to day lived experience of African
Americans. Often times we listen to music without considering the fact that it isn’t
neutral and that it also has an affect on the ways in which we go about our lives.
Beyonce Knowles is an accomplished, talented and attractive, singer, actor,
entertainer and fashion designer.
She is also is fast becoming an entertainment empire in and of herself. While she
“grew up in a four-bedroom home in Houston's upscale third ward with her father,
owner, and sister, Solange Knowles, sings.”According to Forbes magazine,
Ms. Knowles has “sold upwards of 118 million records, won ten Grammys,
starred in seven films and headlined three solo tours” (Rose, 2009). Her endorsement
deals are extremely lucrative. She has had them with “Tommy Hillfiger L'Oréal,
Giorgio Armani Diamonds perfume, Samantha Thavasa handbags” and in the last
year, “she's added deals with Crystal Geyser and Nintendo DS to her résumé” (Rose, 2009).
Further more, the blue chip corporation, General Mills just underwrote her most recent
tour, I AM (Rose, 2009). Rose goes on to note that “Beyoncé constantly works and
reworks her act, watching every two-hour performance on tour--even after her
hundredth appearance--taking notes on how to improve. "I'm never satisfied," she
says, adding with a nervous laugh, "I'm sure sometimes it's not easy working for me."
Then, seriously: "I've never met anyone that works harder than me in my industry”
(Rose, 2009). Indeed, given the fact that she employs four hundred people and
arguably many more through touring and merchandising, she, in many ways is a
According to Marxist theory on cultural hegemony, “the class, which is the dominant
material force in society, is at the same time its dominant intellectual force”(Strinati, 131).
Beyonce Knowles earned an estimated 87 million dollars in fiscal year 2007-2008 not
only because she is talented and attractive but also because her most popular work
serves the interests of the white ruling class elites, such as the presidents of Fortune
500 corporations and Madison avenue advertising firms, wall street investment bankers,
television and record executives. She serves the interests of the ruling class by
normalizing and never questioning the impact that white supremacist patriarchal
capitalism has on black heterosexual relationships. Lyrics such as “pay my auto
bill, pay my telephone bill”, thug worship such as “ if his status ain’t hood, I ain’t
messing with him, he better be street if he looking at me” and “them hustlas keep
on talking, they like the way I’m walking” reify the stereotype of the black, male,
sexy thug. These lyrics also deploy the patriarchal notion that African American men
are only worth what they can contribute financially. Furthermore such lyrics are
problematic because they place the economic issues facing black heterosexual couples
squarely on the shoulders of individuals while obscuring the structural forces acting on
the lives of such couples such as a historically segregated educational system, a
segregated housing system, a discriminatory bank lending system, an oppressive
police system, historically discriminatory judicial system, the war on drugs, the war
on poverty and a largely self serving non-profit industrial complex.
I am making this argument because I am concerned with the package that her
message comes in, the content of message that is deployed and the impact that
this has on the masses of society, as popular culture is where most people learn
about society by deploying lyrics that focus on black women asking black men
for money for utility bills, that celebrate black men as the mythic thug, Beyonce
Knowles both reifies the stereotype of rugged, violent, black men who work in the
underground economy. This is important because applying white hegemonic market
ideology is harmful to Black heterosexual relationships, given the fact that historically,
Black workers tend to be some of the lowest played workers in the
economy (Oliver and Shapiro).
Monday, December 14, 2009
Educated Sistah Girl asked me some really good questions about
the Beyonce Post from a couple of weeks ago.
I kept trying to respond in the comments but blogger wasn't having it,
so I have made it into a blog post itself. Below is my response to her
Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your
responses have me thinking. I am going to try and respond to the
questions/comments that haven't been answered already.
The up and coming artisits like Jazmine Sullivan and Melonie Fiona are sickening to me with songs like Bust Ya Windows and that song on the radio abt 'I dont care if you are cheating I just want to be with you'. They are pop artists. They are much more detrimental to our culture byt not the White Ptriachal Capitalist System that you speak of...more like in a Willie Lynch Kind of way.This is interesting. What do you mean by this? Why is it sickening?
What do you mean by a Willie Lynch kind of way?
I woudl argue that Beyonce says that she needs a baller because she is a baller. Do you mean to tell me that a woman worth xxM should be dealing with a guy worth xxH? It makes for an imbalanced relationship and is much more unheathy.Why does Beyonce need a baller when she is married to Jay-Z and recently made
Why not sing about her marriage? Whose interest are being served by this?
What does this mean given the ways in which Black women who date ballers
wind up dead or in jail?
I happen to think that Beyonce is close to the modern-day Tina Turner... to the mediaYou are right and I am going to root Beyonce in a Tina Turner, Josephine Baker
and maybe even Lena Horne lineage. However, we must look at
image AND content. Tina and the Yonce ain't sing about the the same shit.
They were also produced by two very different historical moments and that
has to be accounted for to.
You also made two really profound comments that I am going to respond to at length.
Even Upgrade you is a testament to being with someone who is
"on your level" and bypassing those guys who will be bad for you.
Not because he can't give you anything but because you need to
have similar level of ambition (if not interests) to be in a HEALTHY
relationship. Many of her songs (Irreplacable, Me, Myself and I, Diva,
Put a Ring on It) are about empowering women to be independant.
This is needed in our community because there are way too many
women in unheathy relationships because they think they need a man.
Their ambition in life is to be someone's woman. The reason that
Beyonce appeals to so many is because she can sing about thatThe second is:
strength, that fierce independance and then show vulnerability in love
with a song like Flaws and all.
Many of her songs (Irreplacable, Me, Myself and I, Diva, Put a RingWe have are working with different assumptions. I am glad that you commented
on It) are about empowering women to be independant. This is needed
in our community because there are way too many women in unheathy
relationships because they think they need a man. Their ambition in
life is to be someone's woman.
because it is forcing me to think through my assumptions and state them
Assumption Number 1:
I do not assume a patriarchal view of the family or relationships.
More about patriarchy here.
Black women asking Black men for money for the rent is not
This is really akin to two people fighting for crumbs from 'Massa
Our economic system serves the interest of the ruling class, a ruling class
made up of White people, to serve the interests of White people.
Beyonce's music serves the interest of the ruling class because it talks
about "empowerment", in terms of the most historically oppressed people
(aside from Native Americans) in the United States, arguing with each other
over paying the rent.
Black men and women beefin' with each other about money,
instead of focusing on an economic system that is created by White
people to serve the interests of White people is the complete antithesis of
empowerment because it has us looking at ourselves, instead of the system
that creates these conditions.
I'm realize in reading your statement that if I had a patriarchal view of
relationships THEN it would be true, this may seem empowering.
In this society, if we were going to "ask" any men for money, logically it
should be gay White men. They are White men, so they tend to be better paid,
and because they are gay, they tend to choose when they have children, as
they are is less likely pregnancy accidents. This is material because having
children is a high predictor of poverty in the US.
Our American economic system presumes that a group of people will
be financially exploited. Historically, this group has been black men
Empowerment arises in a system that pays Black men and women enough money
to survive, or even one that pays Black men and women the same amount
that White men earn, for the same jobs.
Empowerment arises in a system that forces some folks to live simply so that
OTHERS may simply live.
Women do 2/3rds of the worlds work for 1/10th of the pay. I want MY
9/10ths of pay back. Black men didn't take it from me, so they can't give it back.
Getting it from Black men isn't the issue.
Assumption Number 2:
Black men have been woefully underemployed since after WWII, so
walking around expecting them to have money simply isn't the issue.
Its an insult to measure ANY person by what they have, Black or otherwise.
Human beings are children of God.
What you have and who you are are two different things and Pop music/culture
in general and Beyonce's music in particular is harmful because it normalizes
the idea that relationships are based on financial transactions, fuck love.
This is not to say that we shouldn't have standards and just date anyone but we
must ALSO look at how the system limits the options that Black people have
in this society.
I hear you, as women we are socialized to put relationships ahead of everything else.
I have worked VERY hard, and still work hard at making my spiritual life, my artistic
life, my work at the center of my day to day , not just my relationship. In order to do this,
I had to do a lot of unlearning what I was taught as a young girl about who was suppose
to be when I grew up. I wrote about it in this post titled, "On Waiting Around for a Man."
I am going to repaste a part of the above quote again, because it reminds
me of something else.
As far as the videos she has "Normalizing consumption and exchange-based
heterosexula relationships, she has plenty of other songs that are just as
popular, if not dancable (which doesnt realy mean much...ppl dont LISTEN
to dance songs for the lyrics), songs that speak to giving your all to a
relationship, appreciation for your partner, and recognizing the person
he/she is. Dangerously In love, Flaws and all, and Halo. Even Upgrade
you is a testament to being with someone who is "on your level" and
bypassing those guys who will be bad for you. Not because he can't
give you anything but because you need to have similar level of ambition
(if not interests) to be in a HEALTHY relationship. Many of her songs
(Irreplacable, Me, Myself and I, Diva, Put a Ring on It) are about
empowering women to be independant. This is needed in our community
because there are way too many women in unheathy relationships
because they think they need a man. Their ambition in life is to be
someone's woman. The reason that Beyonce appeals to so many is
because she can sing about that strength, that fierce independance
and then show vulnerability in love with a song like Flaws and all.
This is a profound statement.
Where is the middle ground for a heterosexual Black woman between
refusing to be a doormat and loving Black men in the face of limited
employment options that they have?
Is the issue that we need to learn love ourselves?
What is the connection between black women's empowerment and self love?
Is the issue that Black men need to learn how to love themselves as well?
Would Black teenage boys kill each other the way that they do if they loved
Black men with Awesome credentials, Ivy League etc, have a hard time getting
and keeping a job. If Ivy League Black men can't get a job, and if we value men
by how much money they have, then don't we have a problem? Is the problem
us our the system that we live in? What will it take to redefine what it means
I am pushing this conversation to get us to think along the lines of the system
that we live in, along with, thinking in terms of individual relationships we have.
All in all, I hope this was responsive.