Pharaohs in America: On Beyoncé and blindspots

pharaoh 2

copyright louisebatesuk

I am a pharaoh.

Or at least, I am one of his people.

As a white heterosexual male living in a racist, sexist and heterosexist world, I am the beneficiary of privilege solely because of what I look like. White progressives often like to think of ourselves as participants in liberation of the “oppressed.” We like to cast ourselves in the roles of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, or at least, as one of the Israelites walking through reeds and seas toward liberation.

In reality, I am more akin to the magician in Pharaoh’s court and the people living in comfortable complicity as a result of the oppression of others. I believe this is true of most white people in America.

I have spent most of my adult life confronting and coming to terms with my own racism, sexism and privilege, attempting to understand it and dismantle it. I am still a work in progress, as I think many are. Living within the racist and sexist structures of American culture, I am not sure if I will ever get to the end of the ways in which I am shaped by them and am complicit in them.

But, I try to listen and to learn and to respond. I try to resist the pharaoh mentality to harden my heart when hard words are spoken to me. I try to listen and hear with an open heart. Even when it hurts to do so. Even when to do so reveals yet another corner of my heart still warped by racism and sexism I didn’t know existed there.

This has been the spirit in which I have tried to hear the comments and constructive criticism of my post on Beyoncé. I’m not perfect, of course, but there is much that I am learning and, I hope, much from which I am growing.

When I wrote my original post, I did so in response to how I saw many white people, mostly men, respond to Beyoncé’s performance. Their comments brought to mind long-held cultural fears among many whites regarding powerful people of color. A number of their comments framed the performance along common racist stereotypes that portray Black people as hypersexual or as vixens. I felt this racist discourse resonated in these comments and so I pushed back against it in my post. Many people found meaning in what I wrote and I am glad for the conversation it started. And while I stand behind what I wrote, I am not arrogant enough to think that as a white male I have the best, the only valid or the corner of issues of racism and sexism. I know I have a lot to learn. (updated) Some have suggested this sounds too much like an apology for what I wrote yesterday. It is not. It is about how I am engaging in the massive conversation that post (of which I am proud) generated.

Some felt I went too far in the post, was overly optimistic, or offered too little or no nuance. Part of that is a fair criticism. Part of that is intentional. In my experience, trying to provoke white people to even begin to consider confronting their own racism requires this. Had I known this post would travel so much further than any other post I have ever written, I might have written it differently. The make-up and extent of my typical audience for which I write changed at about 2 p.m. yesterday. Others commented that I should have explored more fully the relationship between power and sex rather than set up a dichotomy. Again, this is constructive and a conversation that could occupy several dozen blog posts.

The overwhelming criticism I received deployed a familiar argument against certain kinds of media — the “What about the children?” defense. They argued that Beyoncé’s performance wasn’t kid-friendly, or analyzed the cut of her leotard or whether her costume was too revealing. I couldn’t help but think of Michal, David’s wife, who was scandalized when her husband showed too much skin at a rather public dance procession. Please forgive the strong language, I think I have to be careful if I attempt to understand an adult through the lens of a child and I think I need to be even more careful when asking a performer to take in mind how what they do will affect my children. This is particularly fraught where Black women are concerned, in my opinion. Black women are not the minders of white people’s children (overwhelmingly this comment came from white people). For me, (maybe not for you?), this hits too closely to asking Beyoncé, an independent, strong woman, to perform as a veiled Mammy. In the end, though, I am responsible for what my children watch, not Beyoncé. I believe the Super Bowl to be an adult event, and I wrote my blog post accordingly.

To be honest, I was caught off-guard by the passion with which this post was received. This, of course, reveals blindspots attributable to my own whiteness and privilege. I was unaware of the lengthy cultural discourse surrounding Beyoncé, her life and her career. I have learned from this, mostly that it is an exercise of white privilege to be unaware of important conversations surrounding a celebrity who is Black.

One post was hard to read for me. People started tweeting it and facebooking it in my direction in the afternoon. Social psychologist and author Dr. Christena Cleveland wrote, not necessarily in direct response to my post,

“As ‘powerful’ as she appeared on stage, Beyonce was still subject to the stringent rules and standards that white men set for black women.  All other things (e.g., talent) being equal, she was only given ‘power’ because she happens to be the kind of black woman that white men like and because she was sure to ‘perform’ in a way that would be pleasing to them.  To be blunt, she was treated like a 21st century ‘house nigger’ whose value will never outlast the duration of an erection.”

While I don’t agree with all of Cleveland’s excellent and profound post and I wonder how we might view sexuality differently, there is no doubt this hit me pretty hard. It was unsettling to ask myself whether I had unwittingly been duped into seeing Beyoncé’s performance through a social construction that allowed me to affirm it from a progressive point of view yet still participate in the perpetuation of racist and sexist oppression.

I am reflecting on Cleveland’s reading of the halftime show. I probably could have paid closer attention to my own whiteness and how that influenced my own reading of it rather than simply responding to it from within an overwhelmingly white context.

In other words, writing about race and sex has reminded me of who I am and who I am not.

I am a pharaoh.

But I am listening. I am trying not to harden my heart, but rather to open it.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Kathleenvs

    From a white grandma: Beyonce’s costume was no more revealing nor her moves more suggestive than your run of the mill NFL cheerleaders. Most NFL cheerleaders show much more cleavage than Beyonce did. Who ever said that the Super Bowl was kid friendly?

    • guest

      Honestly, I hadn’t considered the Super Bowl to be anything BUT a family show. Its a sporting event, right? Am I to understand that baseball, basketball, soccer –are only for adults too? Or is it just football. Or just THIS football game. So I should get a babysitter to hang out in the other room with my kids while I watch a mid-afternoon sporting event. Really?

      If the “sport” is kid-friendly, but a few commercials and the half-time show not– I’d say that is a problem.

      • Judybthe1

        I’d hardly call professional football kid-friendly… from the hard hitting blows, cussing, and all from a team filled with many unsavory characters… It’s prime time programming at it’s best.

      • Matt P.

        Guest, how can one be upset with the attire of a halftime performer and its possible effect on children that are being allowed to watch, and yet seemingly NOT be upset with the violence and hyperaggression on display during the game and its possible effect on children that are being allowed to watch? The Super Bowl is an “adult” event, meaning that children younger than, say, 12 shouldn’t be watching it. If your child is older than 12 and doesn’t know about singers in skimpy outfits yet, you probably don’t let them watch much television at all, so why are you letting them watch the Super Bowl?

      • ABT

        If the Super Bowl is an “adult” event, then I think you’re going to need to inform the millions of families who watch it. Football is THE American sport, and kids love to watch it. It’s not asking too much to ask that the commercials etc to be more kid-friendly. Although football technically is a violent game, when you watch it, it pretty much looks like strategy with some tackling (and kids tackle each other in play all the time, which is no big deal). So, no, I don’t agree that it’s hyperaggressive and violent. You are certainly allowed to feel that way, however. I think the heart of the issue here is that people can feel how they want about this… they are allowed to object to Beyonce’s show without also objecting to every other thing associated with football. Mostly when people sneeringly bring up accessory issues like this, really what they are trying to do is put down those who have an opinion they disagree with.

        In discussions I’ve had about this Beyonce performance, I have run into more people carrying baggage about it than I would have guessed… people seem very anxious that any criticism of an overly sexy (I would say sexist) halftime show is a threat to free sexual expression everywhere. I also think that’s where the sneering at parents comes in, “well, if YOU were just a better parent, you’d turn off the TV, and let us adults enjoy our sleaze in peace! Everything doesn’t have to be Disneyfied!” As if the world belongs solely to adults. Or as if taking kids into account at times means bland fare with puppet shows and kids’ music. There are many venues that are adult-only or adult-mostly — the Super Bowl doesn’t need to be one of them, and making it more kid-friendly can also be done in a way that’s good for adults.IMO.

      • ABT

        Most kids don’t see that, though. They don’t know the backstories of the players. And TV bleeps out the cussing. I agree 100% with “guest.” The ads need to be cleaned up (mostly the sexism and violence) and the halftime shows need to keep in mind younger viewers. This was the first halftime show in the years I’ve been watching the Super Bowl that I’ve had a problem with. It felt like an extended commercial exploiting women. Except in this case, one of music’s strongest and most talented performers was complicit in the exploitation. Sad and gross.

      • cshiff

        You have a skewed view of professional football if you think it isnt kid-friendly. The hard hits come but players have lots of protective gear and 95% of the time they bounce back up quickly. Cussing is thankfully cut out so that’s not there, and teams are filled with men who do incredible acts of service for others off the field. Yes there are unsavory characters on each team, but they are the minority. I allow my kids to watch football as a sport, and they have even commented on how they can try and beat each other up during the game but after can give hugs and pray together.

      • guest

        Very little on TV is considered ‘kid-friendly’ in our home. The commercials are not – they’re teaching my kids all kinds of things I don’t want them to learn, including that women’s bodies are good for selling things, and that they should want want want lots of things. The cheerleaders on football are inappropriate. Frankly I find the whole sport questionable, with the violence celebrated and literally amplified so you can hear the crunching and thuds as people give one another concussions for fun.

    • http://www.facebook.com/javajamesmichael James Michael Jones

      Beyonce wore as much, if not more, than some NFL cheerleaders these days. If you are looking for “pure” entertainment, NFL and college games are not it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carole-Miles/100001792850223 Carole Miles

    Beyonce is not the first black woman to strut her stuff at the Super Bowl–remember Janet Jackson? I’m just bored with skimpy costumes, whoever is wearing them. And todays pop music sounds to me like it comes from a factory, much like the music pre-Elvis (ok, I’m old!). Wearing underwear on stage was passe before Madonna turned 40. The only singer to impress me in years is Adele. At 65, I remember a time when Janis Joplin, who, in college, was voted third ugliest man on campus, held the music world in the palm of her hand. Beyonce, to me, is a descendant of the aforementioned Madonna, not Billie Holiday or even Aretha Franklin. I wish her well in her professional and personal lives, but I’m really not moved by her music, whatever her race.

  • Pamrlarson

    Wow! From a white 41 year old woman who has been exploring her “own racism, sexism and privilege, attempting to understand it and dismantle it,” I SO appreciate your reflection here! I LOVED the original post. I loved it because it was edgy! It poked and prodded! It inspired me to look at things differently. And it stirred up a conversation! That is awesome! Thank you so much for your honest reflection! I usually don’t comment on posts or blogs, but your writing over the last two days has resonated with me! Thank you!

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      That is so great to hear, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share that with me. Really.

  • judybthe1

    I have to say that Beyonce’s performance will have it’s own significance to each person as they watched with their own unique prejudices, background. As a black woman, a Christian, a liberal and so much more, I applauded and championed Beyonce’s performance because her admittance into the exclusive club or half-time performances meant she had, in someone’s estimation, “made it.” Yeah, Beyonce for overcoming. I watched her performance with my mixed races friends and we oohed and aahed as we bemoaned the fact that we no longer could wear anything skimpy and wow anyone. We can no longer drop it low and spring back to our feet. We never had the talent, and we don’t have the looks so as mature women, we all yelled “You go girl” as our significant others undoubtedly but silently agreed – foolish grins on their faces. For us, we liked to pretend for a moment that we’d past the torch to her and empowered her to be all woman (sensuous, saucy, talented, revered) in our place and we were happy to see she did us proud! For those who are criticizing, they must not pay much attention to the middle school cheerleaders and dance teams whose gyrating routines are as provocative as anything I have seen on television so I don’t think Beyonce’s performance was anything new to the younger audiences. Also, let’s not forget racy commercials;Superbowl in not Nickelodeon folks.

    • guest

      So at a time when teenage pregnancies (for whites and blacks) are very high, are we okay with those provocative middle school dance and cheerleading teams? Should they fancy themselves to be aspiring Destiny’s Child? And have we considered the connection between what young people are exposed to and what they do — without the commensurate maturity to handle it all.

      I’d vote a big no if our high school cheerleaders decided to wear what Beyonce wore for their Friday night half-time shows. I just know that if Beyonce does it at the Superbowl, it makes it that much harder to say “no.” Kids will try to act like the grown-ups they see.

      I’m all for women claiming their strength and sexuality — but I’d say we need to be aware of how adult behavior affects kids. Beyonce has an awful lot going for her at age 31 that is not the case for an insecure 15 year old, who may have the look, but not the wisdom or self-esteem.

      • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

        I think a more productive question is how are we helping our young men and women in middle and high school process, engage with and understand these images. What kind of critical media literacy are we offering them in their education as parents and as teachers?

        Also, teen pregnancies and provocative dancing are not necessarily a related item. If we are going to speak on teen pregnancies we should be talking open and frankly about sexuality and safer-sex practices, not running from it.

      • guest

        I absolutely agree about talking. But I also know that adolescents are not adults. “Clear thinking” is not their strong suit. Even among those with pretty good mentoring, there are some disconnects. I think we make a mistake if we presume that armed with the right information they’re all set. Before, you know, that prefrontal cortex thing is all set. Impulsive, risk-taking behavior kinda goes with the territory. Here’s what I’m talking about: Big on pleasure-seeking, short on decision making. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/teenage-brain1.htm

        Maybe if there is an entire cultural shift, as in Europe, you might have a stronger point. But we have very young adolescents, stuck between the poles of prudery and an oversexualized culture.

        So does Beyonce lead directly to sex? Of course not. But does an overly sexualized culture suggest to young people that reaching adulthood, popularity and happiness is closely tied to a demonstrative sexuality that they aren’t ready for. Yeah, I think that’s what I want to say.

      • Matt P.

        So, in other words, you want to refuse David’s suggestion to “talk openly and frankly about sexuality and safer sex practices,” because in your mind, that would take “an entire cultural shift,” ugh, how difficult and exhausting, and also we’d become more EUROPEAN, yuck… might as well not even try. Instead, you want to take as a given that our children, innocent waifs that they are, have no possibilities for understanding themselves other than “the poles of prudery and an oversexualized culture,” and that given that, you choose enforced prudery. Do I have that about right?

    • Christine Csernica-Haas

      This begs the question…seriously…WHY would any woman “bemoan” not being able to wear anything “skimpy”. Is it a result of how we have been programmed thru the millenia? A very eye-opening documentary (which should be mandatory viewing for all grade school & high school staff) I saw once just blew me away. It’s time to evolve. (our planet needs it.) http://documentarylovers.net/killing-us-softly-4-advertising-women/

    • Kim

      I just have to wonder…how is empowering at all to look at another person and “bemoan” yourself? Isn’t the whole point of empowerment that a person should be comfortable with themselves – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – and not literally hate yourself for how you don’t measure up?

  • Scottfrady

    Just because you live in this society does not make you a Pharoah. Being white does not equal racist. As far as my complicity in a racist, sexist society, all I can say is that I am one man. I do not bear the burden of representing every white Christian male in this country. I have made my choices and I live out their implication in the limited sphere I inhabit. No offense, but I am so sick of the hand wringing of fellow liberals over this idea of complicity. I don’t think that I am perfect or fully blameless, but for God’s sake, it does absolutely no good worrying about who is most to blame for the shape our world is in. Obviously, we all share that. But not to the extent I see you asserting. You and others seem to think that Beyonce had no choice in what and how she performed. Instead, I hear conspiracy theories about intentional exploitation, how Beyonce is just the right shade of black. I’m sorry, but this is ludicrous. As Freud says, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Why should I feel guilty about finding her attractive? Why should that say anything about my views on race? We need to stop finding issues where there are no issues. If you want to have something to talk about, how about gun violence? How about the rising gap between rich and poor. How about the wage disparity between men and women and between black and white. How about the continued systemic discrimination against homosexuals in this country. I was more disturbed by the player who said that gays are not welcome in the locker room. That concerns me much more than any so called message that was being sent or not sent in Beyonce’s performance. We should stop being shocked by sexuality and work on violence. It’s time we all grow up and understand that the half time show is not the game neither in sports nor in life.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Scott,

      I hope you will take time to familiarize yourself with my writing here. I have written, a good deal, on each of the subjects you highlight. I am just not sure we should privilege one conversation over the other.

  • Kieren

    What interests me in all of this is, “What does Beyone think she is doing?” It seems to me that if she is not included in the conversation, we could all miss something important. Analyzing a performance from the ‘outside’, so to speak, is great cultural analysis, but people always seem to overflow our analyses.

  • Barthpatricia

    I liked your original post and I like this one too! Don’t be so hard on yourself….

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      I appreciate that. Thank you. I have written elsewhere on this blog (my post on the Syrophoenician Woman) about the importance of listening and opening myself up to the reality of those different than myself, and giving that reality the space to change me. I thought I oughta practice what I had already preached. :)

      • Pamrlarson

        You wrote the Syrophoenician Woman too?! That was also an amazing piece! It really brought a different perspective to scripture for me! I LOVE your conversations about class-ism, racism, and sexism. We must never take for granted the places of privilege that we find ourselves in. I have only recently come to realize this. It definitely gives us blindspots! The phrase “a social construction that allowed me to affirm it from a progressive point of view yet still participate in the perpetuation of racist and sexist oppression” speaks volumes to me. This is the battle. We can pat ourselves on the back for being progressive and yet we can be oppressive at the very same time. Wow.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    I appreciate the “work in progress” approach you’ve taken David. I’m glad that you’ve chosen to share your ideas AND your process with us. This is a rare and important gift you’re giving, and I honor your vulnerability and charity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Only my therapist knows just how much of a work in progress I am. :)

  • Adavis2087

    Dr. Cleveland might have a valid critique in “how” Beyoncé received her “power” but as I have recently started to study is to look past the basics of who has power and privilege but what are they doing with these tools so rarely bestowed.

    I vehemently disagree with the comment she makes that “she was treated like a 21st century ‘house nigger’ whose value will never outlast the duration of an erection.” Seems to me as I read it that value can only be defined by the “white men” she mentioned earlier in her statement. Whether white men value her as long as their erections last is irrelevant. Whether she sees her value as arousing white men, which is highly laughable, is also irrelevant. What is relevant in a society dominated by the broad constructs of power and privilege is how one uses that power and privilege no matter how much or little they have of it, to open and expand access to those who do not.

    Breaking through these constructs is not easy and some choose to work outside them with a wrecking ball to try bring them down while others try to work within the constructs and chip at them feverishly. Both are helpful and needed to make progress towards dismantling. A valid question would be that does Beyoncé by working within the constructs therefore seemingly reinforcing them net-hurt/net-help the cause when weighted with her using her artistry to chip at the same constructs? I don’t know the answer but I do know that we’re not back at square one because of her performance although some say it equates to the latest reiteration of the same chapter of blacks performing for the pleasure and tastes of white men.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    I’m going to have to start looking at pop culture more closely, and with difference lenses. I couldn’t disagree with Cleveland’s essay more strongly, and think that we will never rid ourselves of racism in this country, simply because some won’t let it go, and seem to thrive on clinging to victimization, no matter how many leaps we take beyond it. (An election of an African American president comes to mind.) In contrast to all the Super Bowl halftime show hand wringing, all I saw was a gifted and talented woman singing and dancing on a national stage. Pity so many others saw something far darker.

  • http://civil-conversations.blogspot.com/ Samantha Bishop-Strand

    What about what Beyonce thought of her performance? We can all analyze it every which way but what did she think of her own performance? Was she putting on a show she knew men wanted to see? Or was she sending a message of strength and empowerment to women? Was it a recognition that it can be both at the same time?

    We spend a lot of time arguing about what did or could have happened some 2,000 years ago, and here we are analyzing what happened three days ago.

    Nothing is black and white. We’re all a work in progress, we all have a lifetime of struggling to understand ourselves and the world around us.

  • Liz Williams

    It is a post such as this one that always tends to smack me on the head in an accusatory fashion. Thank you for your honesty and self-discovery. I arrogantly advertise my progressive leanings, not realizing that I am still a closet pharaoh. Obviously, I have much work to do.

  • ric hudgens

    We’ve had a great discussion on my Facebook wall about your essay, Cleveland’s response, and other reflections posted by those who joined in. It’s been a great discussion and it would not have happened if you had not risked yourself in public. It IS humbling to be involved in this medium and on these topics and yet if we waited until we had it altogether we would wait forever and have no one to talk with in the meantime!

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      I have learned so much in the past week through both the affirmation, the criticism and the extension of this conversation.

  • Patjoneszz

    I agree with Cleveland’s assessment of Beyonce as a pawn because she is pleasing to the white men who “give” her power. The same can be said of the over-produced young, white female performers. It’s not limited to black women. It may not just be limited to women. Many performers get chewed up and spit out by the music industry.

    BTW, the Superbowl is a family event. The party we attended (Go Ravens!) had 10 children and teenagers all cheering their hearts out AND watching Beyonce. I’m betting it wasn’t that wasn’t unusual.

  • Christine Csernica-Haas

    It is SO very heartening for me to see your ability to “re-think” things. Thank you for your honesty. It gives me hope. Beyonce’s performance, in my mind, was one of “submission” rather than of strength & power. I cringed at the thought of young girls & boys watching, as it seemed to me to do nothing other than reinforce the sexist viewpoints so deeply ingrained in society. Comparing her garb to the cheerleaders kind of proves my point, as to how these gender roles are seen as so normal…I also cringe ANY time I see scantily clad cheerleaders & women at ANY sporting event…or in any media. If you have never seen any of the documentaries on the portrayal of women in advertising & the damage it does..the link here is an excellent starting point. http://documentarylovers.net/killing-us-softly-4-advertising-women/

  • http://crunkfeministcollective.com/ Crunktastic

    Thanks for both of your posts, David. I thought they were thoughtful and extremely nuanced. I have responded to many of the things you shared from my own perspective as an African American Christian Feminist and fan of Beyonce.

    http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2013/02/06/beyonce-in-the-hands-of-jesus-freaks/

    • davidrhenson

      Thank you so much for this. It was insightful and critical and helpful. I feel I am learning so much in all this and I’m quite thankful for that!

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Thank you so much for extending this conversation and for your post. It was powerful and engaging, and I’m truly humbled you took the time to engage. As I’ve said above, I feel like I have learned so much in the past week, so thanks and thanks and thanks.

  • Christine Csernica-Haas

    In an earlier post I had mentioned a documentary….this one though, is even more mind-blowing. http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=234

  • SugarMamaWater

    The most empowering part of the performance, I thought, was the $50 million dollar endorsement deal for schilling sugar water to little girls and boys. I hope my daughter is brave enough to own that sort of empowerment. Except, of course, the part where she is complicit in the biggest American export of global disease (obesity) since cigarettes. But, hey, cigarettes were empowering for women, too! Fight the power. David- you seemed to have missed MIA giving you, and everyone else here, the finger during her halftime performance last year. Literally. She. Gave. Us. All. The. Finger. And her songs directly address global inequities and violence.
    Discuss.

  • Jfin

    First, as a Black woman I appreciate your first post and your attempt at revision that you have presented here. I’ve been super disappointed by the critiques that have focused on Bey’s sexiness (who was amazing! IMO) when we have a serious crisis of violence in this country. Football is the personification of our violent construction of manhood and all the complementary issues that come along with it. Long term physical injuries from the game that are starting to get scant attention, the recent horrible instances of domestic violence among NFL players and our overall violent culture. Its crazy that these mothers are getting a platform to clutch their proverbial pearls at Bey when they don’t even approach the issues latent in our violent culture personified through the obsession with football. How dare a women display power, sexiness, independence and talent all at once while showcasing an all female halftime show for the first time in history. Is it crazy to consider the damage to a child exposed to football culture instead of this thinly veiled racist/sexist BS?

    With all that said, I COMPLETELY disagree with the disappointing ‘house nigger’ comment you referenced above. Talk about a twist of intersectionality. This comment is a reflection of the issues of colorism that are based in white supremacist racism. Unfortunately, IMO some people in my community use the existence of this type of prejudice to reduce light-skinned black women and their accomplishments. I’m speaking from a brown-skinned body, coming from a family of literally all shades. While light-skinned privilege is a reality that should be acknowledged, it is true that Bey’s skin tone makes her more amicable to the American audience. However, I have a huge problem with heaping all of those issues onto the backs of people like Beyonce who are genuinely talented, powerful, proudly identifies with and supports Black women. I do not think it is necessary to tear Beyonce and her accomplishment down in order to critique or acknowledge the reality of colorism, period.

    • ABT

      Well, could there be a problem with Beyonce AND with football? Does it have to be one or the other? I think people have a right to critique something without giving an extensive list of every other thing that could also be found offensive — and without being called “pearl-clutchers.” The amount of vitriol being hurled at people who are just expressing the opinion that they found her show offensive is blowing my mind. It’s as if you have to accept as OK every expression of sexuality, regardless of venue (in my mind, the Super Bowl is a family show), or else you are somehow against all sexuality. As I said in a post above, I don’t think the issue here was sexiness. It was the gratuitous way it was conveyed, the way she seemed to be pimping herself for male viewers. It was her selling herself as purely a sex object, and NOT as the powerful woman she is. As a mother and as a feminist, this bothered me. I did not see it as empowering at all. And I think it would have been just as offensive if she were white.

      • Jfin

        What I and the author are arguing is that the response is a specific kind of over-reaction to her performance because she is Black. No one is claiming that this is an attack on all sexuality, quite the opposite. Its an attack on Black female sexuality which is seen as threatening. Oh and I see your micro-aggression,by the way, on the vitriol comment.

        This is happening because she is a Black woman. So before you try to reduce my critique maybe you should educate yourself about the history of white racism toward black women (esp. our sexuality and our bodies) in this country.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    I like Alyssa Rosenberg’s take. She calls Beyonce “a woman living in and very much enjoying her body, without needing to secure anyone else’s approval or ensure anyone else’s enjoyment.” She also gets at the double standard of the criticism: “I’d venture that there’s more dignity in Beyoncé’s marvelously controlled, rigorously choreographed performance than in Bruce Springsteen’s sloppy slide and camera crotch-bump of a few years back. And as much as her very much post-baby body was on display, Beyoncé’s performance was less allusively sexual than Prince’s silhouetted guitar.”

    http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/02/04/1537431/beyonces-super-bowl-performance-inspires-conservative-freakout/

    • AFT

      See, I saw her as trying very hard to prove that she wasn’t “just a mom,” that she had “regained her pre-baby body” and was still an accessible sex object to men. Her entire performance seemed geared to showing just how sexual and “sexually available” she was. It wasn’t the sexuality that was offensive, it was the fact that she seemed to have bought into the culturally acceptable idea that her sexual availability determined her worth. In that regard she was completely different from Prince and Bruce Springsteen. Her act was more in line with the skimpy cheerleader outfits or the sexist commercials. My 6-year-old son was all excited to watch the halftime show and when I saw what it was, all I could think was: great, now he’s being taught that women have to dress like hookers to get attention.

      I disagree heartily with the article that this had anything to do with race. I think that’s overthinking it. It would have been just as offensive if she had been white. If anything, I think it has to do with garden-variety sexism and the way moms are viewed as sexless beings. It’s akin to once-innocent teen stars (Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears come to mind — both white) who feel they must slut themselves up when they turn 18 in order to be taken “seriously” as women and adults. Or aging stars who put on extra-graphic shows or pose scantily clad in order to prove they still “have” it. If women were allowed to be anything other than toys and fantasies for men, none of this would happen.

  • R. L. Watson

    From one black woman pharaoh who now sits in a high-ceilinged, hallowed old university library: Here, here!

    I am encouraged by both your posts, and agree with what you said in the first article far more than I do with Mr. Cleveland’s response. Beyonce’s spirito-sexual expressions have long been what I enjoy seeing, and I am not a white man. Moreover, a white male’s gaze ought not to be forced into a dichotomous position (“the white male gaze” vs. all (lesser and/or less powerful) others) any more than any other’s person’s gaze ought to be (the gaze of the “marginalized” as singular and contra-”white” is part and parcel of the same methodological sloppiness).

    This does not mean we ignore institutional, cultural, and meta-cultural -isms. This does not mean that racism does not exist. Nor does it mean that we remain silent in its wake. What it does mean is freedom. Freedom for the individual to speak as herself/himself first before labels’ tyranny resumes.

    Case in point: If Beyonce’s appeal lasts only as long as an erection, I guess this black woman’s appreciation and critique and enjoyment of her persona–none of which can operate alone–must put the imagined erect male used to symbolize the only explanation of her lasting popular appeal in dire need of an emergency room.

    Keep up the good work. Only together does this struggle make any sense.

    <3 R

    • R. L. Watson

      Forgive my mis-apprehensions! I meant Dr. Cleveland. Yet another gender-kerfuffle. :]

    • davidrhenson

      I am grateful for your generous response and for the laugh about the emergency room.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Thanks so much for offering this, and also for the emergency room quip. Gave me a needed laugh!

  • http://twitter.com/Zornorph Zornorph

    Wow, what an embarrassing post to read. You’re not Pharaoh and you’re not his court magician, either. You’re just a rank and file Egyptian. I really don’t understand the need to flagellate yourself over the colour of your skin – it seems really bizarre to me.
    I didn’t much care about the halftime show – I really don’t care for Beyonce’s music, though she’s pretty enough. Nothing to do with race, I didn’t care for Bruce Springsteen or U2 when they played, either – just not my thing.
    If you are really worried about white privilege, go and live in a country that is majority black. As long as you treat everyone you meet fairly, why take this guilt on yourself in such a way? Really, to me you just sound silly.

    • davidrhenson

      I’m sorry my post embarrassed you. Perhaps you missed where I said, or at least one of his (Pharaoh’s) people. The way to confront white privilege is not to go live in a country that is majority black. That strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of white privilege and what I’m saying here. Sometimes things we don’t understand sound silly to us, it’s true.

    • http://www.facebook.com/unorthodoxologist David Henson

      Perhaps you missed the opening line where I identified myself exactly that way — as one of his people. The problem with writing I’m a rank-and-file Egyptian is that there are still Egyptians in the world. And it would be confusing to readers.

      Running away from white privilege will not make it and its resulting systemic injustices toward people of color disappear from society.

  • Kim

    Perhaps Beyonce’s performance is a symptom of a problem that has everything to do the with NFL player’s domestic abuse? Let me explain. It’s hard to find little boys that are taught that they absolutely don’t hurt a woman no matter what she may have done. It’s a 19th century idea that women should receive special treatment because they are women. We women have helped the death of this along in the name of equality. Two guys might swing at each other when quarreling. Men used to dual to the death. I’m not arguing that this is a good form of resolution, but boys rough and tumble all the time. Wrestling, punches, etc. Now if we women demand equal treatment, that we are nothing special and shouldn’t be protected above all else, perhaps we’ll see that swing redirected at us. Perhaps we are seeing it. Additionally, when a wife/girlfriend/partner is no longer seen as a beloved companion and is regarded only in terms of what she can give, if she can’t deliver, the partner is likely to get very mad. Maybe mad enough to swing.

    What does Beyonce have to do with this? The show was about Beyonce flauting herself for the sake of entertainment pure and simple. Hardly about prizing women. Hardly about doing anything good for women but showing them that their body is the only thing that will win them big. Perpetuate that message and perpertuate the problem.

  • Dina

    David,

    I enjoyed reading both of your post about Beyonce’s Superbowl performance. I love the fact that you judge yourself and try to stay open minded; trying to understand things from many different angels.

    I believe Beyonce’s is trying to speak out and stand up for feminine power, but I don’t think her revealing costume choice can rightfully be compared to that of King David’s public dance procession (as you have called it). When King David began to dance before The Lord, he was fully dressed. It was in his excitement and exuberant dancing that his close fell off. So this shows that the intent of his heart was not to show off his flesh. It was purely to praise and worship The Lord.

    Beyonce’s on the other hand began her dance half naked and it wasn’t to praise The Lord, but to idealize the power of femininity.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts; they got me to thinking.

  • Esther

    Hi David,

    I am a little I don’t know confused by all the hoopla about Beyonce. And even more confused that the blogs and criticism are largley coming from whites.

    As a black woman, I did not think anything was extremely special about Beyonce’s performance. It was good. Did I like her choice of clothing? Yes and no. No because some of her moves emphasized the lower part of the body. So together, it was a little too much. But I thought okay. An expected performance by an entertainer in the music industry.

    So I am a bit surprised when I read white feminist or blogs like yours that ascribe terms like power and ascribe feminist jargon to a woman that I haven’t heard identify herself as a feminist.

    And I wonder, what are white people seeing in this performance that I am not?

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    You are simply attempting to be buddies with everyone. You simply seek popularity. We are commanded in God’s Holy Word to be pleasers of God, NOT pleasers of men. We cannot be friends with the world and God. It is impossible. We are commanded to be a holy, set apart people for Him.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/TZXBWFU66RUAYN4HQGXGJUF2FQ LoserIn

    What a load of crap.

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    Let’s get to the nitty gritty of this matter. Who of you men would like to see your daughter, wife, sister, or mother performing like Beyonce did for any and all to view?

  • chrisinva

    Why waste words on a pop star who parades across any stage with a bevy of prostitutes in stage negligee?

    Thank goodness we could record it ant watch it without these vapid, blatant overtures to young men and NFL wannabees. Watch your daughters, folks, Beybounce wants young, virile men to think they’re all whores.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paula.pennnabrit Paula Penn-Nabrit

    Okay, here’s the thing-or at least my thing. Just because you like something does not validate it. And just because you can craft rationalizing, quasi-intellectual tropes of intersectionality theory (whether anticategorical, intercategorical or intracategorical complexity) you still cannot make wrong right. Similarly, just because an idiot you despise dislikes something, that doesn’t create validation either. Remember, even a broke clock is right once a day. Granted, this is a weird twist on logic and it probably wouldn’t work on a truth tree, but I think you get the point because, well even unpopular truth resonates. So here are some truths (as I see them) about Beyonce.

    Beyonce is a beautiful Sister, and an amazing singer, entertainer and dancer with incredible energy and vitality. Her latest venue, the Super Bowl, is an amazing display of controlled violence full of incredible energy and vitality. Both highlight carefully crafted and customized bodies, so toned and calibrated that it’s hard to look away. But neither convey any healthy display of power; both Beyonce and the other athletes displayed are commodities. Our failure to acknowledge the nexus between the glorification of controlled violence and the steady increase of uncontrolled violence in our communities is a topic for another post. Suffice it to say we can’t honestly be shocked at the spike in domestic violence calls and sex trafficking during such “sporting” event. But back to Beyonce, as a black woman, I felt saddened to see a sister with such skill and fame and wealth parade herself in such sexually suggestive ways covered with more blonde hair (and apparently bleached skin) than clothes. It has been argued that Beyonce’s public expression of her sexuality is an act of power and ownership of her person. I think that is a fallacy based on a false equivalence. Adult sexuality does not require sophomoric public display; it is part of the privilege of adulthood. Further, the full ownership of one’s body would seem to preclude its public display for the enjoyment of others. But it certainly isn’t new or revolutionary; Josephine Baker already perfected that act. As a descendent of generations of black women of the diaspora, I am too fully conscious to feel anything but pain and sadness when I see black women’s bodies displayed publically for sexual voyeurism. And can it be reasonably argued that it was displayed for any other purpose? The music did not require the sexually suggestive display. And while others may disagree, I take no solace in the fact that “her husband’s okay with it.” We have moved beyond the terrors of the times when many black men were unable to protect, shield or defend their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters; that does not mean we have moved to a place where all black men will or even feel the need to do so. I applaud Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s for “gettin’ that paper” and for the unprecedented number of viewers and her use of women musicians, but even the combination of those factors did not elevate the performance to the status of “Girl Power.” And as an aside why would a grown woman, married with a child be considered as any kind of “girl”?

  • Paul Van Noord

    David,
    America is racist, as racist as is the rest of the world, we certainly can’t claim superiority in that regard. It hurts me as an American to say this.

    Beyonce and most of the members of most of the American professional sports teams are black Americans. American professional sports teams and Beyonce are entertaining to us Americans and that is the extent of their value to us. I haven’t heard that Beyonce claims to speak for feminism in this country.

    It is unfortunate that many black americans find the pinnacle of success in this country to be entertaining to the rest of us. I think that Beyonce would find your blogs about her amusing. Am I racist? yes. Am I judgmental? yes. I am a sinner, David. Maybe a confession you have trouble with. I long for an America that encourages excellence in caring for one another, uplifting each other, and one that celebrates success in those pursuits. Sorry but I didn’t see that in any aspect of what happened on my TV screen on Superbowl Sunday. Including the sad exploitation of the Sandy Hook visitation of evil in this country.

    Your glorification of the Beyonce performance on that Sunday evening is puzzling to me.

    Paul Van Noord

  • Evo Brax

    Beyonce’s outfit, as many of her past outfits was another tribute to her hero, Tina Turner. If you think the superbowl outfit was racy, you should see her outfit during her Tina Turner tribute at the Kennedy Center…. red flames, strings and the POTUS – nuff said.

  • Revenger

    Beyonce is a no-talent hack who has to show off her butt to get anything at all. Same with Gaga, who last time I checked, is white. And Britney Spears. Don’t ever try to pull the race card on me. That’s just lying. Ans as a white man, I DON’T like the way Beyonce performs. There’s more racism and simplistic stereotypes in this blog than I’ve seen in one place in a long time.

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