Navigating my complicated relationships with Beyonce and Michelle Obama
Even my Superheroes have weaknesses…
I remember the first time I saw Destiny’s Child on TV. I’m an 80s baby so girl groups weren’t new to me but there was something different about Destiny’s Child. They embodied the soulful voices of girl groups of yesteryear while appealing to mainstream media as En Vogue had done—plus they were young. They weren’t a niche girl group that was attached to a specific music trend, they were setting the trends.
Destiny’s Child unapologetically became part of American’s English lexicon with words like bugaboo and bootylicious. Even with the changing of the group members and their internal drama, Beyoncé handled herself like a true professional and that’s nothing short than admirable.
But isn’t that typical of Black women? When we are put under pressure we make diamonds? You can rightfully argue it’s a hurtful cliché used negatively against us that sets us up for seemingly unattainable goals that nobody else has to abide by. But that ruthless, passionate work ethic is what I and many others love about Beyoncé. She consistently beats the odds as a Black woman and she’s that chick.
That’s why my relationship with her is so complicated and it’s not just with her, it’s the former First Lady Michelle Obama, too. Two international renowned Black women who undoubtedly will go down in history for their achievements and both who have been criticized unfairly by whiteness and racist pundits are not without their flaws.
But I don’t like talking about my heroes’ flaws under a white gaze because their flaws aren’t up for them to analyze because their criticism can’t be racially unbiased. For me, my criticisms( at least, I think) seem to be layered. It’s hard for me not to want to mention them when I discuss their husbands’ actions because, in my heart, I don’t feel they are unaware of their husbands’ plans. I refuse to believe these smart and successful businesswomen aren’t protecting their families’ interests when their men make these questionable and in some instances, regressive declarations.
Yeah, patriarchy. Patriarchy is trash. I’ve toyed with the concept that for Beyoncé, patriarchy is a major hindrance to her personally and professionally. For the sake of argument, let’s say Jay-Z did initially engage with Beyoncé when she was 18-years-old, he was already about 30 and no matter how successful she was at the time it’s never a good combination for older men to date younger women. Their intentions are usually rooted in grooming young women; molding them and having the ability to manipulate them emotionally and mentally (which to some extent he did when he admitted he cheated on her) paired with the fact she’s witnessed her own mother sacrifice and tolerates similar behaviors from her father. I’ve taken all this into consideration when it comes to analyzing Beyonce from a Black womanist lens but none of that can really explain her branding aesthetic of social justice.
If she didn’t use social justice in her work, yall would call her a coon!
During the Civil Rights Era, a lot of artists used news and politics as a motivator and backdrop for their art. You can listen to many Black artists between the 60s and 70s and find numerous records that became the soundtrack for what we know identify as the soulful sound of liberation. Not every artist was an activist and that’s ok and my point. You can make music for the people if you wish but it’s a different ballgame when you believe you are the voice of said people.
I don’t hate Beyonce because she’s a multi-millionaire. I believe she’s worked extremely hard to be where she is in her life and I hope she’s happy. However, as a millionaire, it’s impossible for her as a brand to fundamentally be “for the people”. Wealthy people are never for the (poor or working-class) people and have no real interest in liberation because liberation, especially Black liberation involves eating the rich. As the poor, marginalized and working-class culture shifts, so does the identity of what is socially responsible and what is not. The wealthy need the poor to exist for them to remain wealthy. Without the poor and working-class, who would attend Beyonce’s concerts? Who would buy her merchandise? When was the last time you seen wealthy influencers rocking Ivy Park? That’s no shade at all but it is the truth.
I wish for Beyonce to use her position and power and flip shit upside-down. Now that’s she’s secured her seat at the table I want her to flip that muthafucka over and open the doors for everyone else and not just a select few. When powerful women marry and are involved with powerful men who have questionable actions as they relate to marginalized people, you have to ask yourself, are these women complicit or are they putting the batteries in their men’s back?
I love what Beyoncé represents for Black girls in media. I love how she embraces hood aesthetics, social media conversations and creates art in a visual and musical form we can amp ourselves up with. My biggest (and honestly, probably my only complaint) is Beyonce’s tendency to use social media activism as a branding tool. Yes, I’m aware the Carters have donated money ( as they should) to Black Lives Matter and other families who’ve been victims to state sanction violence. I’m aware they’ve donated more money than I’ve ever made in a year ( and again, they should) but the idea that Beyoncé is a spokesperson for the poor or working-class Black woman or can relate to everyday struggles is, in my opinion, far-fetched and disingenuous. As long as the Black wealthy push the pull-up-your-own-bootstraps and coddle whiteness, they can never truly represent me.
However, the difference between Beyoncé and the former First Lady and even Oprah is that Beyonce is more likely to evolve— maybe. I always say that Black people are fundamentally conservative. White supremacy is ingrained into our DNA generations deep. Like many of you, I was proud to vote for Obama, twice! In his eight years in office, I saw the Obamas get treated with disrespect, endure racism domestically and nationally and be judged by standards they wouldn’t give the current joker in the office now if their lives depended on it. Michelle Obama was easily my favorite of the couple; she’s smarter than her husband, tall, beautiful and confident. I watched politicians, pundits and white feminists try to break her spirit and all she did was flip her perfect-coiffed hair at them. Who could have asked for a better first lady?
But as racial tensions steadily rose and the opportunity to stand for the working class and marginalized presented itself, Obama didn’t always take it. In all fairness, he had constant pushback from republicans in congress and they threatened him with impeachment every day. For a while, I reasoned with their lack of actions on certain issues. Let’s face it, you can’t be a left-leaning president and you definitely can’t be a left-leaning Black president, so he picked and chose his battles. But I started to feel the excuses I was making for the Obamas were biting me in the ass when Obama would get on TV and say certain things using certain lingo and speech patterns to essentially talk-down to poor Black people. When Obama told Black folks to call their cousin Pookie to go out and vote, he basically reiterated what white liberals do to Black voters; put the results of voting on the marginalized population in the country.
Ok, but what does this have to do with Michelle?
When Michelle released her now New York Times Bestselling memoir, everybody and their mama went to buy the book and if they were lucky enough, they were able to see her in-person on her book tour. Some of the passages from her memoir come straight from Black respectability playbook of middle-class Blacks who feel they work harder than poor Blacks without acknowledging their access to resources. Michelle stated that racism and racial inequality are psychological and we have to help others overcome. That’s bullshit.
It’s bullshit because Black people didn’t invent racism; just like women didn’t invent sexism. It’s not up to the marginalized party to help the oppressor overcome their bigotry. In the United States, Black people have been writing about racial equality since they could write and the path to ending racism lies within white people. However, when Black people achieve certain access to privileges, they assume all Black people can do the same. For all transparency reasons, I grew up in a middle class household. Both are my parents are college-educated and my father had access to generational wealth. My experiences growing up looks different from others who did not have the resources I had. It took me being financially vulnerable as an adult to understand how the system treats poor people even when you are trying to help yourself. When you grow up in middle-class Black America you are reminded daily that you aren’t like other Blacks and anti-Black rhetoric is a foundation of distinguishing yourself from others.
If you are still here reading, thank you because I went in on a rant, but if you are still here reading I want to make it clear that I can appreciate these women for what they mean to Black people as far as representation goes. But we can’t be satisfied with the surface-level representation. We have to do more than root for everyone who is Black. We have to encourage and bring wealthy Black people to task beyond the aesthetic of Black liberation. Wearing berets and quoting our historical leaders in a bop isn’t enough. We are facing dark and dangerous times and if our Black wealthy won’t condemn all forms of white supremacy, they might as well take a picture with them. You know, like Mrs. Obama does with former President Bush.
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