My love affair with Beyonce started, as I suppose is true with many girls my age, in 1999 with the “Bills, Bills, Bills” video. The braids, the color-coordinated outfits with cut outs for days, the woman power of it all…it spoke to something in my young self. Not that I related at that moment—my bills weren’t even my own, but the idea of a woman demanding reciprocity from her partner in all things economic seemed empowering.
And then came the 2014 VMAs. This woman stood on a stage in front of thousands, with millions more at home, in front of a giant neon sign that read FEMINIST. My jaw dropped. I wept. Not only had Beyonce given us an album that explored some of the complexities of what it meant to be a black woman artist in America (you can see my thoughts on her Torah here), but now she was showing us all that her feminist identity was claimed, publicly, for us to take or leave.
AND EVEN THEN there was “Formation.” Another surprise for the adoring masses, a video that ran through, in just four short minutes, Black beauty, the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, #BlackLivesMatter, police brutality, sex, femininity, motherhood, 90s culture, Southern heritage, the list goes on….Before you move forward—if you have not seen Formation, get thee to the internet. Then read this to understand.
As a white woman, I cannot and will not claim Beyonce or her art as someone that I completely understand or internalize. But, like the brilliant Huffington Post piece stated “As a white woman, Beyonce’s video and subsequent Superbowl performance is like my sister having a really amazing party that I get to go to.”
I am at the party, and I am dancing. As a white Jewish feminist, it is essential I internalize the intersectionality of it all. Being a woman gives me a link to Beyonce as she claims her empowered status. Being White, I cannot understand or relate to the systematically and interpersonally oppressed experience of being a Woman of Color in the US. As a Jew, I MUST understand that it’s crucial to use my seat at the table to bring other marginalized people into the conversation, probably even to lead it.
Any position of power in the world comes with a hell of a lot of responsibility. People are critiquing Bey for her “sudden” foray into the world of activism. But that just means you haven’t been paying attention. She built a housing complex in her hometown of Houston for people experiencing homeless. She and her husband bailed out some of the Ferguson protestors. She has long created art that promotes the empowerment of women (if you want to try and talk about “Single Ladies”, as a white person….no, you cannot). Being a white Jewish feminist means supporting Women of Color as they create art, protest, demand answers, express themselves. If I don’t, that probably makes me a pretty crummy feminist. To try and critique Beyonce, or any other Black woman for that matter, on how she evolves as a feminist or activist, negates my ability to truly speak out about justice.
Yes, I am a fan. I am a fan of Beyonce’s hair, her dance moves, her relationship with her family, her activism, her evolution, her music. I am here for all of it and I am just glad I get to worship at the altar of Bey.