A few days ago The New School university in New York hosted a panel discussion entitled “Are You Still a Slave” with black thinkers and activists, including feminist scholar bell hooks. The discussion focused on how black women are portrayed in the media.
At one point the talk turned to Beyonce’s recent Time Magazine cover, which was heavily criticized for showing the songstress only partially clothed. hooks commented;
Let’s take the image of this super rich, very powerful Black female and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover — that image…
When panelists countered the Beyonce could still exude power and control in a skimpy outfit, hooks disagreed
I’ve really been challenging people to think about would we be at all interested in Beyoncé if she wasn’t so rich, because I don’t think you can separate her class power, and the wealth, from people’s fascination with her. That here is a young, Black woman who is so incredibly wealthy. And wealthy is what so many young people fantasize, dream about, sexualize, eroticize. And one could argue, even more than her body, it’s what that body stands for—the body of desire fulfilled that is wealth, fame, celebrity, all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for, wanting.
If Beyoncé was a homeless woman who looked the same way, or a poor, down and out woman who looked the same way, would people be enchanted by her? Or is it the combination of all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy?
Later in the conversation she dropped her now famous ‘terrorist’ statement
I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls.
Okay, that’s a lot of jargon, lol. But I do get what hooks is saying.
From Beyonce, to Love and Hip Hop, to Basketball Wives young black girls are inundated with images of black women who are conspicuously wealthy or in pursuit of wealth and (in many unfortunate cases) willing to do anything to get it (Mimi Faust’s sex tape anyone?) As a grown woman, I can consume this media because I have filters and a foundation. But young girls? While I do think they are more independent in their thinking than we give them credit for, I also think that it serves them well to surround them with role models who exude something that is altogether different than what Beyonce’s image is about.
Young girls need to know that their power, potential and worth has NOTHING to do with how they look, how they dress, who they’re with or how much money they have. Too often they hear the opposite, that their voice is not valid UNLESS they are beautiful, have entertainment value or are rich.
The list of talents a girl can have doesn’t begin and end with singing and/or dancing. Girls can show talent in their ability to orate, experiment, lead, empathize, observe, synthesize information, conceptualize new ideas, serve, create, emote, and the list goes on. Plus a good, rich and meaningful life can be had without the trappings of materialism. I hope my future daughter knows that she is truly rich if she loves and appreciates herself, and is receiving deep love from friends and family, if she has a sharp mind and meaningful work and uses her talents to serve. Not if she has a closet full of Louboutins.
I’d love to hear your thoughts ladies. Do you think bell hooks was too harsh? Do you agree or disagree with her assessment? Do you allow your girls to view Beyonce as a role model? Why or why not? And if you don’t allow your girls to idolize Beyonce, what kind of role models do you prefer they have?