Trigger Warning for Extended Discussion of Racism and Sexual Violence

There is a particularly ugly trend—a culturally delusional, woefully self-involved epidemic—of white people being paid to share uninformed opinions about Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. These pieces complain about her “inappropriate” use of sexuality, the “divisiveness” of her music, or how the writers, white people, deserve to have unfettered emotional access to whatever it is she’s talking about on her albums, as if all her music should be for them. I have not yet checked, but I’m sure this has been the case over the past couple of days in the wake of the singer’s devastatingly wonderful set at the Grammy’s, where—dressed in garb bringing together iconography from Yoruba and Christian spirituality (it’s worth noting that this is not a first for Beyoncé. Her recent pregnancy photoshoot referenced two separate Yoruba deities. Beyond that, if you’re interested in reading more, I would recommend tracking down one of the many fantastic pieces by writers of color on this subject)—she performed two songs from her recent visual album Lemonade.

Within minutes of the performance, social media was abuzz, declaring the singer blasphemous and egotistical. I think Piers Morgan may have wet himself. It was disappointing but not surprising. Hell, when Beyoncé deployed a number of photos to announce that she was pregnant with twins, the internet exploded with pieces about how she was misrepresenting pregnancy or that it was gauche to announce her pregnancy at all (because Black women apparently don’t deserve to look as glamorous while pregnant as Demi Moore once did). No doubt, white people nationwide have continued the pattern since that Grammy’s performance. I don’t know how long the average white person can go without criticizing something about Beyoncé, but it seems like anti-Beyoncé rage is just like oxygen for some of us. And that’s a problem. That’s a big problem.

So, just let me say, from the bottom of my heart, with all the love I can muster: White people, we gotta chill out about Beyoncé.

Let me be clear: You are allowed to dislike Beyoncé’s music. You don’t have to like any music you don’t want to. What is important and problematic, though, is the way that you engage with this dislike. Did you listen to “Formation” and say, “huh…I’m not really feeling this?” Or did you listen to it and think to yourself that it was imperative for you to decimate this track and its video with your blindingly white critique? Did you watch a few snippets of Lemonade and figure that it just wasn’t your thing, perhaps not even supposed to be your thing? Or did you dedicate yourself to explaining to everyone who would listen (anyone who was close enough to have the misfortune to hear) the exactly 700 ways you thought Lemonade was tacky and self-indulgent and exclusionary?

You are allowed to like or dislike whatever you want, but when it comes to an artist like Beyoncé—a woman of color whose latest and most controversial work has been about embracing Black femininity—it is patently irresponsible to not engage with the currents of misogynoir in our country that have motivated much of the backlash against the singer, and very well might be informing yours.

Lemonade itself addresses this. There’s a Malcolm X quote Beyoncé samples, an excerpt from a speech the Civil Rights leader gave to a Los Angeles crowd in May of 1962. The quote goes: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” It’s a powerful piece of rhetoric that speaks a powerful truth, and sheds light both on what Lemonade is dedicated to combatting and what a large chunk of the reaction to Lemonade ended up invoking: that white America has always saved a special hatred for women of color, whom this nation has abused, exploited, objectified, demonized, used, and exiled. Dating back centuries, white America has had an especially perverse relationship with women of color: defiling their bodies on our terms and punishing them for trying to embrace sexuality on theirs; happy to see them as sexual objects but shunning them when they try to live as sexual agents. Much of the institution of American slavery was about the institutionalization of sexual violence, and that mindset has ingrained itself alongside all of the other enshrined and excused tenets of anti-Blackness in this nation’s history.

So, when white men and women turn out in droves to criticize Beyoncé for making a career based on her looks, for exploiting her own sexuality, for appearing too comfortable or too showy with her own motherhood, her own self-worth, they are invoking more than just the anti-materialist or anti-shallow-pop-music rationale they hide behind when they’re called out. They are knowingly or unknowingly buying into the massive system of misogynoir that afflicts this country and a large swath of its population. They are engaging in a targeted rhetorical violence designed for the insidious purpose of barring Black women from the opportunity of feeling, let alone celebrating, self-worth.

Beyoncé’s showmanship is not some unique display of arrogance. Her exaltation of her own sexuality is not some unique display of indecency. Her invocation of religion is not some unique act of heresy. Are you mad that Beyoncé dressed like the Virgin Mary? John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. Are you mad that Beyoncé dances “suggestively?” Have you seen the music video for Britney Spears’ “Toxic?” Are you mad that Beyoncé flaunts her lifestyle? Have you seen Taylor Swift’s Instagram? Have you ever seen a single “E! True Hollywood Story” about any of those big famous rock stars who spent their days writing about how many women they were scorned by or how many women they were gonna use to get revenge? Showmanship, self-love, sexuality: None of these things were invented by Beyoncé, but still she is routinely berated for trying to make them her own. I’m not some big-time detective, but it almost feels like there’s something else going on here.

And even if Beyoncé is the best example of the hatred thrown at Black artists (both men and women, ultimately) who just so happen to do what so many other white artists have done for decades, it’s not unique to her. The media routinely covers Azealia Banks just for the opportunity to call her a crazy, irrelevant bitch, wallowing in the historical refusal to show compassion to women of color with mental health struggles like a pig wallowing in shit. Bashing Kanye West is a goddamn national pastime and you could almost hear the sigh of relief from white people when he began associating with Donald Trump, since now they could retroactively claim the moral high ground. Whenever some rapper says something slightly unpalatable or dresses flamboyantly, white people go up in arms, despite the fact that magazines are still regularly granting interviews to Gene Simmons. Again, it’s almost like there’s more at play here.

That we have become so comfortable accosting Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, abusing her on the pages of our blogs every time she is bold enough to blink or smile or share the blessings of her life with us, is, frankly, disgusting. It’s abhorrent. It’s a crime and failure of self-blindness, the violent failure of our refusal to try out any sort of self-reflection despite centuries of exploitation and genocide. And before you fucking #NotAllNotBeyoncéFans me, I know. I know that you might not like her music because you just don’t like her music. But if it’s so important to you to make that known, and to wage an unending uncreative crusade against her, then you might need to look in the mirror. You might need to ask yourself some hard questions.

And then shut up. 

  • Man with Axe

    The irony seems lost on you that you are stereotyping Beyoncés critics for the crime of stereotyping her.

    I don’t like Beyoncés music, but there are plenty of black female performers I do like. What does that say about me? I once found myself criticizing Madonna in much the same ways and for the same failings for which I criticize Beyoncé today.

    Perhaps the reason gets so much undeserved (to you) criticism is that she also gets so much undeserved (to me) praise. One comes with other.

  • Dear Michael Darer

    I would like to recreate some of your sentences by exchanging the identities of the people involved and their racial attributions with reverse identities. For example, how would you feel if, instead of saying, “There is a particularly ugly trend of white people being paid to share uninformed opinions about Beyoncé Knowles-Carter,” I said, “There is an ugly trend of black people being paid to share uninformed opinions about Taylor Swift?” Or how about instead of “I don’t know how long the average white person can go without criticizing something about Beyoncé,” “I don’t know how long the average black person can go without criticizing Iggy Azalea?”

    Do you understand how racist you sound? You are assigning an entire race with the identity of “obsessively critical of this musical artist.” Yet, if I tried to convince you that Black people were obsessively critical of Eminem, or the Beatles, or Keith Urban, or whoever, you would think me a crazy racist. When you cease to treat the thoughts and actions of the individual as those of THAT individual, and instead see them as the thoughts and actions of a RACE or a PEOPLE, you have become a racist. Because, you see, I don’t like Beyoncé. I think some of her songs are okay, but mostly I think she’s artistically bland. But, as you say, “But if it’s so important to you to make that known, and to wage an unending uncreative crusade against her, then you might need to look in the mirror. You might need to ask yourself some hard questions. And then shut up.”

    You have the argumentative tactics of a four-year-old. Telling someone to shut up because you don’t like what they have to say is childish, to say the least. You are so unwilling to even consider that the criticisms of these Black artists are not racist, or at the very least PRIMARILY not race-motivated. Maybe people call Kanye West a crazy asshole because he showed up Taylor Swift, inexplicably announced he was 50 million dollars in debt, and speaks vociferously about Black issues (see “New Slaves” and “Gorgeous”) but cozies up to Trump. Maybe people call Kanye West a crazy asshole, in other words, because he’s a crazy asshole. And maybe people call Azealia Banks dangerous because she, according to EVERYONE present, attacked Russell Crowe and his friends at a party and had to be expelled from the suite, then accused Crowe of racism, misogyny, and woman-beating. And maybe, just maybe, people think Beyoncé is vapid and self-congratulatory because she is, or is at least some of the time. “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster. Why? Because I slay!”

    Look, I’m not saying that every criticism levied against West, Banks, or Beyoncé has merit. Most probably don’t. And I’m sure a lot of people don’t like West, Banks, and Beyoncé because they are Black. But for you to act like there is an endemic corruption among whites, an inherent disdain for Black artists purely because they are Black, is racist. It is racial stereotyping. It is ridiculous. You treat white people like they are an individuated, metaphysical collective, like they have a hive mind. “You could almost hear the sigh of relief from white people…” Please, do me a favor, and listen to yourself. White people, in case you haven’t heard, don’t all think alike, and to pretend that they do is what people refer to as RACISM.

    Ah, but refusing to look at a person as a person and instead ascribing to them every negative prejudice you have about their people isn’t racist if they’re white, right? Because you can’t be racist to white people. I would hope you don’t believe that, but I fear the social justice inculcation is already too far gone.

    “That we have become so comfortable accosting Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, abusing her on the pages of our blogs every time she is bold enough to blink or smile or share the blessings of her life with us, is, frankly, disgusting. It’s abhorrent.” Oh, but in your article “What Kenneth Lonergan is Missing” you are perfectly comfortable implying, if not outright declaring, that Lonergan is a misogynist who thinks all women are liars, who is trying to protect his reputation given his association with Casey Affleck, and is strategically using his advantage as a white man to avoid repercussions in public opinion. (By the way, just so you know, support of presumed innocence of the accused is not the same thing as saying “women always lie about sexual assault.” Only a person who did not believe in the judicial process would think so. I hope you are never selected for jury duty, you racist, sexist, unhinged lunatic) So, it’s okay to write many-thousand-character articles about EVIL WHITE MALE celebrities, but not about Beyoncé. Because she’s black. And a woman. In other words: when a celebrity’s beliefs are not politically coincident with your own, or when they are a white man, then they deserve the worst calumny you can heap upon them. In the case of Lonergan, they deserve to be accused, in a university newspaper by one Michael Darer, of intellectual pedantry, a fragile ego, racism, and sexism. They deserve to be assigned some of the worst personality flaws imaginable.

    But if they’re Beyoncé? Well, then criticism of her is a uniquely white phenomenon that needs to be put to a halt! Then it’s abhorrent! Then it’s disgusting! But if I call Kenneth Lonergan a vicarious supporter of sexual harassment who would never believe a woman if she told him she was sexually assaulted? Well, that’s different.

    Let’s face it: you’re defending Beyoncé because she’s a Black woman, and attacking Lonergan because he’s a white man who disagrees with you politically. You are a partisan hack, but more than that, you’re a racist. And that is all.