In my one week of free space between academic obligations, I have decided to think about this whole bell/Bey issue being blown to great heights in the media. I’m ambivalent to discuss this at great length, as there are still many variables ambiguating both ‘sides’ of this argument. I will attempt to keep this brief. If you haven’t heard, a story that has been out for a little while at this point surrounds bell hooks’ sound byte labeling Beyoncé an anti-feminist terrorist in relation to the impact on young girls. Yes, this is a very polar statement that demands deep thought. Let’s think through this together.
Most of the articles and blog posts out there have a transcript surrounding any and all of hooks’ comments in relation to Beyoncé and DEFINITELY have THE verbatim of the exact sound byte in question. If you’d like that, search it. What I’d like to do here is try and offer a broader context of the bigger conversation that was being had (and why I find this important in understanding hooks’ statement). There was a panel of four influential black women (Janet Mock, Shola Lynch, Marci Blackman, and bell hooks) discussing the topic, “Are You Still a Slave: Liberating the Black Female Body,” at The New School. hooks plays MC and initially proposes the talk focus on new, creative, imaginative, and counter-hegemonic narratives as method for liberating the black female body from the controlling images of our white supremacist capitalist heteronormative patriarchy. With that said, I consider a good place to think on would be the imagery of Beyoncé on this VERY widely renowned magazine.
hooks makes a connection between the clothing Beyoncé is wearing, her hair, and her comportment to hegemony’s idealized schema of the docile, child-like, hyper-sexualized, violable black [slave] girl. I think hooks is acknowledging the potentially hazardous effects (body hatred/self-depricative behavior/depression/etc.,) of the affectional terror (that embodied, reactive moment of dismay/shock/jarring [negative] emotion, provoked by engagement with said image) involved in young (particularly black/marginal) girl’s perception of this imagery. What I think hooks’ statement is pointing to in the context of the bigger dialogue is the fact that although Beyoncé may have had control over her look for the image, but in relation to liberating us from these hegemonic tropes in imaginary, creative, counter-hegemonic spaces, this image misses the mark. hooks’ aim seems to be to reach young children, who have not yet been completely conditioned to perpetuate and/or complacently accept these tropes through life in the process of socialization. I think it would be hard to explain all of the complexities involved in Bey’s cover photo to a very young child.
2-No one wins here:
Regardless of the intensity of hooks’ remarks or of Bey’s Time cover process, the focus falls away from what we should really be attending to, THE LIBERATION OF OUR BODIES FROM THESE HEGEMONIC TROPES. What is happening with all of the focus being given to how ‘off the mark’ or ‘dated’ hooks’ view on Beyoncé is, is yet another round of rendering the real foundational issue of what to do about the hegemonic violation of our bodies to silence. SILENCE. Yes, Bey’s Time magazine cover image DOES carry a lot of ambivalence with it, but are there other images of her that could be seen as an example of this liberatory process they are speaking of? What can we ask ourselves, hooks, and the other women on the panel as far as how to better understand these active spaces of imagination and new liberatory imagery? Instead of this GREAT opportunity for mass exposure to feminist theoretical thought, this too has be eaten and regurgitated by the hegemonic beast.
3-You have agency:
Have you seen the discussion in its entirety? If not, I encourage you to watch it for yourself (when you have the time) and you decide for yourself what your thoughts are on what hooks said, the media portrayal of it, and what to do with all of this in relation to the bigger discussion focus.
See? I kept it short. Let’s stop letting hegemony take away our voices! Let’s try and really think through these foundational issues!
Until Next Time Comrades,