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.
First, I have to call this attack exactly what it is: disingenuous and dangerous; sexist and racist. And it’s also clickbait using Beyoncé’s name to air a personal grievance. It implies the labor of a black women is yours to own, and in failing to meet your demand, you shame Beyoncé and spread a message to less critically thinking folks that Beyoncé doesn’t care about the LGBT community. In fact, she has offered tireless support to and of that community — just in ways that don’t pass your own litmus test, one more interested in spectacle than actual political change. Well, guess what Carlos? It ain’t nobody’s business what Beyoncé does or chooses not to do.
It all started when HERO failed to pass a public vote in Houston on Tuesday. Carlos, you tweeted how devastated you were since you worked as a political organizer on the issue. Your devastation is warranted and you have every right to express it. The problem begins with your follow-up tweet, claiming Beyoncé’s PR team will somehow need to answer for this political loss. Wait…what?! What about Houston voters? What about actual elected official in Houston? How is Beyoncé and her team involved in any of this?! After sharing the tweet and my disagreement, I was immediately blocked by you, Carlos. I was able to engage with you very briefly through another Twitter account for my class “Politicizing Beyoncé,” but you quickly blocked that account as well.
You continuously told me you were NOT blaming Beyoncé or her team. You had in fact written another Huffington Post response detailing the “real” reasons HERO lost — namely the failure to adequately challenge the “predator bathroom myth:” a fictional scare tactic used by conservatives tying equal rights in access to bathrooms to an increase in sexual predator’s ability to prey on unsuspecting individuals. Hours later, however, you changed your tune and published your article taking Beyoncé to task in quite a condescending manner. You continued to talk out both sides of your mouth — saying you weren’t blaming Beyoncé while at the same time offering a long, drawn out, melodramatic account of how long you’ve waited for Beyoncé to stand up and be the hero you’ve always wanted her to be.
You center yourself throughout the whole situation. You were hurt that Beyoncé didn’t speak up. You were disappointed that one of your favorite artists let you down. You were sad that people that don’t agree with his point of view were then calling you out on Twitter. But Beyoncé doesn’t owe you anything, Carlos. Black women don’t owe you anything. And I have a sneaking suspicion had Beyoncé said anything and had the vote gone differently, she wouldn’t be getting the credit for the win. So why is she being highlighted as part of the loss? You created an online campaign asking Beyoncé to be a hero — an online campaign on a platform she doesn’t use. That’s the equivalent of shouting into a canyon asking for Beyoncé’s help and hoping the echo reaches her instead of just calling her office (something that no one from this campaign actually did, according to Parkwood.) So, what exactly did you expect?
Are you actually invested in the politics you say you are? Because if so, you would center those politics, not yourself or Beyoncé as a straw man for everyone to blame. And despite your continued assertion you never once blamed her, you’re smart enough to know that your article leads everyone else to blame her while you claim your hands are clean. Typical. You light a match and take the cap off the can of gasoline, but then feign innocence when the gasoline spills.
Carlos, maybe if you paid more attention to Beyoncé and her boundaries, boundaries set up by a black woman that defied all odds and became one of the most famous people in the in the world — a world set up against black women, you’d already have the answers to the desperate questions and accusations you’re putting out into the world through your article. And to be clear, a white woman would never be held to the responsibility or scrutiny you’re holding Beyoncé to. Think about that.
Where was your celebration of Beyoncé when she silently built a homeless shelter in Houston in the summer of 2014? I’m sure you know that LGBTQ youth experience the highest rates of homelessness, and therefore she has directly and vitally supported the LGBTQ youth of Houston. Where are all your think pieces on the explicitly queer content Beyoncé infuses into her music, creating layers of questions about the ways gender and sexuality norms are imposed on us all in ways that make it harder for some to thrive over others? Where is your praise of Beyoncé’s hiring practices in which she makes a point to hire LGBTQ folks of color and make their points of view central in her business and art? I guess I missed all those pieces from you. Feel free to share the links with me.
It seems politics for you just means an Instagram post. Because from where I sit, Beyoncé is highly involved in making the world a better place for LGBTQ folks and others — in Houston and beyond. I’m sure she’s just as devastated by the loss in her hometown as you are. But she has never once asked her fanbase or the people that she hold influence over to perform a certain action, and you have to respect the fact that she was not about to start doing that just because you asked her to. What’s more, you asked — demanded really — in quite a disrespectful and privileged way.
Carlos, you weren’t really asking Beyoncé to be the hero of LGBTQ politics in Houston; you were demanding that Beyoncé be your particular hero. And that’s not what she’s here for. Besides the echoes of Bessie Smith in Beyoncé’s music, that it ain’t nobody’s business what Beyoncé does or doesn’t do, Beyoncé has also directly addressed her own role as hero. And it’s a thankless role she has a conflicted relationship with, especially as a black women criticized for every move. In “Save The Hero,” a bonus track from the I Am…Sasha Fierce album, Beyoncé sings, “I’ve given too much of myself / And now it’s driving me crazy / Sometimes I wish that someone would / Just come here and save me / Save me from myself.” Carlos, in demanding that Beyoncé be your hero and do political work for you, have you ever asked what you’ve done for black women lately (to paraphrase a Janet Jackson song)? You expect the impossible, but what do you give?
Beyoncé has been the hero, and as such she still can’t win. She chooses public silence as protection (while doing political work behind the scenes because that’s what she prefers). But even that doesn’t work. You demand more. You center your needs that must be met. In the same song, Beyoncé asks “Who’s there to save the hero / When she’s left all alone / And she’s crying out for help / Who’s there to save the hero / Who’s there to save the girl / After she saves the world?” You want Beyoncé to be a hero for you, Carlos, a hero for Houston, but who’s ever been there to save the hero after she saves the world? Who’s ever been there to support black women after they tirelessly stand up for themselves and others politically and personally? Demanding anything of Beyoncé is indicative of a racist and sexist double standard pervasive in society. Are you willing to stand in the crosshairs you’re demanding a black woman put herself in for the sake of your political organizing? Think about that question the next time you demand a black woman do your work for you.