Beyoncé doesn’t simply release albums or perform shows; she creates events. Experiences. She stops the world. She changes the world. The Formation World Tour is certainly no exception. In fact, it’s the current crowning achievement in a career full of jaw-dropping, one-upping, seemingly-impossible feats. The Formation World Tour isn’t just a concert, it’s movement, through music. A monument to memory. The militant momentum of a missile disguised as missive. A mission. Magic.
It’s no great shock that the Grammys tend to skew racist, along with most other mainstream award shows. Oscars So White, right?! White mediocrity gets praised while some of the most creative, innovative, game-changing work by black women goes unrecognized. And I know it’s an honor just to be nominated, but nominations don’t always add up to much when the awards continue to be doled out to undeserving and under-talented musicians (and yes, I’m very much talking about Taylor Swift here). I also know awards don’t measure the quality of work or personal taste, but the social and cultural relevancy that come along with winning any of the major awards at the Grammys can’t be denied.
As a verb, “white” means to cover a mistake in printed copy. To erase that error. To start over, brand new. Blank. While mistakes by definition are the product of accident, a more insidious meaning also hovers. To censor something by whiting it out is to make something invisible to a certain targeted group on purpose. To willfully hide information.
Bessie Smith was one of the first black women to famously sing the lines, “There ain’t nothin’ I can do or nothin’ I can say / That folks don’t criticize me but I’m going to do / Just as I want to anyway / And don’t care what people say,” from the song “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.” The song’s refrain concludes it “ain’t nobody’s business” what the hell Smith does. Other black female musicians, like Billie Holiday and Nina Simone followed suit and added the song to their repertoires.
The lines, when applied to black women in American society (and elsewhere) prove astutely emblematic of the overall dynamic a black woman faces from within an oppressive and hostile environment. When delivered by Smith and other black woman, the lines become black feminist critique leveled back at a society in which black women never receive credit, and always receive blame, regardless of their individual actions.
Yet another unfair and illogical attack on Beyoncé in relation to the recent Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) vote proves again that these lines stay as relevant as ever. In a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Beyoncé Ignored the LGBT Community in Houston,” Carlos Maza reframes Beyoncé’s longstanding choice not to actively engage in using her fanbase to campaign for specific electoral issues as an active abandonment and conscious disavowal of the LGBT community that makes up a large portion of her fanbase. Carlos, yours are most definitely fighting words.
Recently, Azealia Banks called a white Delta Airlines flight attendant a faggot after he prevented her from getting her bag and removing herself from a situation in which she felt unsafe. Video of the interaction surfaced and Banks became the center of another media firestorm. In a sea of knee-jerk condemnation, too few reports on the incident investigated power dynamics — namely that Banks is a young, bisexual black woman and was confronted by a white (presumably gay) man. That power differential must be overlaid on critique of her use of a homophobic slur in a moment when she felt threatened.
It’s no secret that I am obsessed with Janet Jackson’s new album Unbreakable. It’s no secret that I’ve been obsessed with Janet Jackson for as long as I can remember, sitting in front of my tape deck with a cassette of Rhythm Nation 1814; begging my mother to take me to the record store so I could buy a copy of janet. on CD with my own money; spending the rest of the day (and week and year) cross-legged in front of my stereo, devouring the lyrics, singing the songs, and during daring moments even jumping up to practice dance moves. So it’s fitting that Unbreakable is actually a return to Jackson’s most classic (and I would argue perfect) albums of the 1980s & 90s, from Control to The Velvet Rope and everything in between. It feels like not a moment has passed since those stellar albums and the release of Unbreakable. Yes, it is that good.
Just one short year ago, Beyoncé stood on the MTV Video Music Awards stage and stopped the world. Not for the first time, either. During a 15-minute long medley performance on the occasion of winning the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the event, she stood in silhouette against the backdrop of the word “FEMINIST in giant letters. Never saying the word aloud in her own voice, she advocated feminism rather than proclaim her own identity as an individual feminist — to the immediate audience and to millions of viewers at home, just as she had been doing since the release of her fifth solo album, BEYONCÉ.
My father is a giant racist. And I don’t mean that in terms of stature — he’s actually a very small, squat sort of man. His racism, however, is huge. His unwillingness to critically assess his own position is equal only to the size and scale of his racism.
I am not my father. But this is my history.
I wrote this piece in 2010 or so, in the aftermath of Taylor Swift being interrupted by Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards and the events that followed. Given today's racist response by Swift to Nicki Minaj calling out racism in the music industry, I dug it up and thought it would be the perfect moment to re-share. The original text follows...
Let me make one thing clear: I hate Taylor Swift. I’ve never met America’s beloved pop/country princess, but I hate her. I hate her music. I hate the return to conservative heterosexual fairy-tale romance values that she represents. I just hate the hell out of her. However, it seems that I’m mostly alone in this unbridled fury. Taylor Swift must be the second coming of Jesus because it’s become damn near impossible to utter a critical word against her. She has an army of defenders willing to stake their lives on the assumption that she can do no wrong and the media has latched onto her as the next (and possibly last) great white hope. Even those few bloggers and critics out there that give Swift and her uber-hyped innocent image a hard time, most still issue the caveat that they don’t hate Swift as a person and in fact respect her talent. But I can’t even say that much. I don’t/won’t/can’t respect her, and let me tell you why…
As the saying goes: another day, another dollar, another white person trying to claim oppression, racism, victim status for nothing more than getting their feelings hurt. I might have added that last part myself, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t mean to sound callous and insensitive but other white people’s feelings are not terribly important to me — especially seeing as how important the feelings of black folks and other people of color are/were/have been to other white people throughout history. If we, as white people, want to use our feelings as justification of oppression, we’ll need to take a long hard look at the bad feelings we’ve created, over centuries, directed back towards us. We’ll need to interrogate the environment we’ve created and come to terms with it — NOT ask everyone else to ignore history, deny oppression, and pretend that hundreds of years of racist violence have not been lived. In other words, we’ll need to do A LOT of work.