Black Women’s Sexuality in Music: An Alternative View to Black History Month

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On Facebook, more than one of my rock/metal-loving friends described Knowles Super Bowl performance as akin to a balls-out metal performance. Beyoncé, through her rock/funk band, was using the aggressive music to feel the harder, edgier vibe of the music and act according to how she feels. I would agree that she is sexual, but the difference is, is that she is owning it and is in full control of it, which for women, especially black women, is extremely important to publicly present to young black women who are still burdened with the hyper-sexualized racial stereotypes that are not only transmitted through hip-hop and R&B videos and lyrics, but within our communities as well. Something that our elders, some who are recognized during Black History Month, fought hard to reject.

My good friend Birgitta Johnson, an associate professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of South Carolina School of Music said this about Beyoncé’s performance on Facebook:

They(critics)  ignore that she is her own boss who regularly employs them and hundreds of others on purpose. They ignore that she is one of a handful of artists who literally pays the bills for Columbia Records. The dismissal of Beyoncé as a businesswoman, an entertainer, a constantly high rating brand, a role model, and an R&B-to-Pop icon could possibly be THE BIGGEST case of misrecognition of African American women in this country. Destiny's Child said it long ago, "I don't think your ready for this jelly." She wasn't just talking about her behind....

In her excellent piece for Bitch Magazine on Black women and respectability politics, Tami Winfrey Harris discusses the existing stereotypes in which Black women are constantly battling within mainstream pop culture, and the part that respectability politics play in the policing of performers:

(Black women) are required to be noble examples of black excellence. To be better. To be respectable. And the bounds of respectability are narrowly defined by professional and personal choices reflecting the social mores of the majority culture—patriarchal, Judeo-Christian, heteronormative, and middle class.


The primary example in this post about contemporary respectability politics is Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance. Winfrey discusses the response to the film, The Help. In both instances, the criticism to the imagery presented comes from both Black and non-Black communities. So I propose that this month not only should we remember the past, we should think about the future, how we police each other, and more importantly, get back to asserting our rights as people - as individuals who have the right not only to be seen as such, but to also show our individuality, whether we choose to wear a black leotard or leather and chains, and whether we choose to listen and perform R&B or heavy metal, in the public eye.

Contributing Editor
Race, Ethnicity & Culture

Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com

Book Website: Whatareyoudoingherebook.com

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