On Defending Beyoncé: Black Feminists, White Feminists, and the Line In the Sand

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by Mia McKenzie

Last Friday, Beyoncé dropped a new, super-secret self-titled album and my Facebook feed promptly lost its mind. There were so many people talking about it that I had to see what was up. I watched all of the videos. And while I can’t say that most of the songs are thrilling, many of the videos are pretty fantastic. I was pretty entertained all around. Satisfied, I went ahead and moved on.

But then. The black feminist blogosphere started showing up hard for Bey, defending her to all the white feminists who have thrown shade over the years and everybody from Mikki Kendall to Crunk Feminist Collective was declaring Bey a feminist. Like for sure. Like, seriously, why are y’all still questioning this?

In her piece for the Guardian, entitled, “Beyoncé’s New Album Should Silence Her Feminist Critics,” Mikki Kendall wrote: “This album makes it clear that her feminism isn’t academic; isn’t about waves, or labels. It simply is a part of her as much as anything else in her life. She’s pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun.”

Okay. I respect Mikki Kendall. She’s super smart and usually hella on point.  I’m not really sure why she’s only talking about Beyonce’s “personal” feminism. (In fact, she goes on to say a lot about the pop star’s personal life and what’s feminist about it without ever saying much about her public persona and what she’s putting out there with that. Which is weird.) But, yeah, there are obvious feminist themes in the song/video for “Pretty Hurts”. And “***Flawless” has some feminist themes as well. And there is almost nothing happening here that is anti-feminist. (Almost. We’ll get back to that in just a bit.)

So, while I’m not sure that one or two feminist songs on an album with 14 tracks is really a feminist triumph that should silence all critics (also, the pessimist in me is like: this is corporate entertainment, “feminism” added to get people talking and thus sell more records), I do see Beyoncé as a kind of feminist. Not just because of this album, but because of feminist things she has said in the past that reveal her analysis. She’s not a perfect feminist (none of us are), she still has a way to go (most of us do), but she is certainly a feminist.

However. There are some legit concerns…

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