The master’s tools won’t dismantle master’s house
There has always been a close relationship between culture and revolution. Under apartheid, we had the likes of Dorothy Masuka and Miriam Makeba, who sang about the struggles of black people, their stolen land, poverty and incarcerated political leaders. In the US, there were the Nina Simones and Harry Belafontes, who not only sang about the civil rights struggle but actively participated in it through resistance marches and campaigns.
Last week, Beyoncé joined the list of artists using their artistry to speak truth to white supremacist power (which continues to kill black bodies in ways that are seen and unseen in America) through her song Formation. Indeed, black people throughout the world mostly basked in it.
We watched with awe as she demonstrated resistance against police brutality; against a government that left black people to die during Hurricane Katrina; affirmed the history of resistance movements such as the Black Panther Party; and celebrated black aesthetics often perceived to be “ugly”, such as the Afro and the “Jackson 5 nostrils”.
What worries me about the collective love for Beyoncé, however, is that there’s little room for criticism, even as she, too, is a human filled with wonders and contradictions.
In the past, “Beysus” (as her fans call her) has collaborated with artists such as her husband, Jay Z, who made light of the abuse of Tina Turner at the hands of Ike Turner. When I watched Formation, I was further unsettled when Beyoncé made reference to being “a black Bill Gates in the making” and said, “Always stay gracious; best revenge is your paper”, thus celebrating a capitalist trope that says money, defined through the “success” of white males like Gates, is the only true way to power and the affirmation of one’s being. In her lyrics, Beyoncé’s enormous class position as one of the richest black women in the world expresses itself. She may truly believe that your “best revenge is your paper”. However, feminist scholar bell hooks cautions us, saying that you will not destroy oppressive systems “by creating your own version of it, even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money”.
In black feminism, we learn that all systems of oppression matter. White supremacist capitalist patriarchy has created a system in which black women are the faces of poverty, both in South Africa and the US. It allows for a minority of black women, like Beyoncé, to “benefit” from it. Therefore, as Professor Pumla Gqola writes in A Renegade Called Simphiwe: “It’s important to create alternatives, just like it is necessary to speak truth to power.”
I hope that as Beyoncé’s politics continues to evolve, she will not only speak truth to power in relation to gender and race politics, but will draw from, as well as showcase, the alternatives to a patriarchal capitalist world that many black feminists have already envisioned.
We cannot be invested in white supremacist capitalism, for Audre Lorde reminds us: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
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