Last week, Beyonce performed “Formation”, where she honoured the legacy of the Black Panther Party which denounced police brutality and sought Black liberation, while celebrating her Blackness unapologetically in Black militant regalia.

While she has received backlash from mainstream media and international governmental bodies for her performance, ranging from a ridiculous call to ban her from Toronto councilor Jim Karygiannis (shout out Sandy Hudson for shutting that down), to anti-Beyonce protests around the world. With the hashtag #BoycottBeyonce rippling across the internet, socially and politically conscious communities had a powerful response as well.

Cue the think pieces: the seemingly endless amount of think pieces that dissected every aspect of her performance, from her choice of venue (the Super Bowl), to her clothing and lyrics and what performing there meant for her branding and business ventures. Some were invested in holding balance, recognizing that Beyonce is not a revolutionary but an international star who doesn’t support the movement enough, yet her taking a stance, at the very least, has created dialogue where it perhaps didn’t exist before. Most, however, went straight to attacking her in a way that is reserved only for Black women.

I watched the internet unfold as Beyonce was condemned, largely by men, who felt that her packaging of Black militancy was wrong, her choice of platform was wrong, having all those Black women dressed as they were was wrong, her brand of revolutionary was wrong, a brand that she has never sought out.

The issue isn’t whether or not Beyonce upholds the ideals of capitalism, we already know that she does, but rather the rampant misogynoir that was couched in social justice rhetoric under the guise of ‘checking’ or holding her accountable.

This was made most clear by the thunderous silence following Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammy’s. Kendrick performed a combination of 3 tracks, “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”, which has become the unofficial anthem of the Movement for Black Lives, along with a song from his ‘chamber’ of unreleased material. He wore a prison uniform and chains that he broke out of, rapped about mass incarceration and was backed by African drummers and dancers. One of his most powerful lines in the song “Alright”, ‘and we hate popo/ wanna kill us dead in the streets fo’ sho/, was pulled out to make the piece less charged and anti-police. As in, it was changed to make it more palatable for a largely white audience.

If anyone is holding their breath on the dozens and dozens of think pieces for Kendrick’s performance, you can let it go. They aren’t coming. Kendrick has received praise from the White House and the mass media exclaiming his brilliance as he stole the show.

I waited for the backlash similar to that given Beyonce, where Kendrick Lamar would be held accountable for his use of stage, his investment in his branding rather than in revolution, but instead I saw overwhelming adoration for his performance.

There were unending reasons as to why Beyonce was wrong, why she is not representative of ‘the movement’, how she embodies the capitalist agenda, yet Kendrick, who used a stage no less loaded in capitalist, elitist consumerism, was absolutely right in doing so.

There was applause for shutting down and interrogating Beyonce. And there was vicious censure and denunciation (largely seen on fb posts) for the few who have challenged that evident misogynoir. Think pieces became a way to attack and justify the wrongness of Black women in the movement, at the forefront and in formation.

What happened in the treatment of Beyonce and Kendrick is a microcosm of how Black women are treated in the movement as a whole. Critiquing and coming for Black women under the pretense of ‘holding her accountable’ or ‘checking her’ is framed as necessary, but when it is a Black man being critiqued, or gender dynamics being challenged, it is being divisive.

A prime example of the ways in which Black masculinity is upheld at the expense of Black women is in the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, three Black women, and DeRay Mckesson, not a member of Black Lives Matter yet acclaimed by mainstream media and the public alike as being a leader in the BLM movement.

When there is critique of the movement for Black Lives, the blame is laid at the feet of the co-founders which trickles down to the Black women, gq and trans people who largely make up the chapters and do the work of organizing. Yet when the BLM movement is praised for a particular action, vision or platform, the McKesson’s and Shaun King’s are called upon and thanked for their work in BLM. And when Black women name these discrepancies that put them at a disadvantage, they are shut down and told they are being divisive.

The same trend happens in Canada where the Toronto chapter of BLM, made up of largely queer and trans people, is shaping the Black movement in Canada and does the work of organizing on the ground, but Desmond Cole, a Black man, is often acclaimed by the media and public alike for the work.

Though there has been some mixed response to McKesson running for mayor, the majority response has been praise. I loathe to think of what the response would have been if Alicia Garza or Opal Tometi had said they were running for mayor of their respective cities.

Being a Black woman in general means being hypervisible and invisibilized simultaneously. When it is combined with revolutionary work, it is an especially dangerous position wherein you are considered accessible to the public, but not afforded the protection that often comes with that visibility and that is often needed even more urgently because of the exposure.

Naming misogyny and patriarchy in movements is not divisive, it is part of the work that we are meant to do in dismantling the system that we live in, and ensuring that we aren’t reimagining colonial structures that continue to erase Black women from Black Liberation. This is an opportunity for an intervention in the rampant ways in which misogynoir is eroding and undermining the potential of the movement in this time. Social justice rhetoric manipulated to perpetuate misogynoir and erase Black women and their work isn’t new, and yet it remains as present as ever. Non Black people, the media and the public at large are deeply invested in this narrative of Black masculinity and patriarchy.

The reality is that despite this model of erasure, Black women will continue to carry movements all over the world, even in their own homes. Isn’t it time, yet, to recognize Black women as people, as capable of positive contribution? As leaders of the movement? Isn’t it yet time to see ourselves as oppressive to the very people who fight for us? When will we stop taking Black women for granted?

This is our moment to evolve the Black liberation movement, our moment to see it and realize it in its fullness. Let’s show up for all Black lives and the ways we each contribute to the vibrant tapestry of our collective Black future.

*Note from author: Thanks to Allix Thompson for editing and general Black brilliance!

47 thoughts

  1. While I largely agree with this, I think part of the issue is with the fact that Beyonce is and has been an entrenched and, at this point, supremely powerful cultural icon in her genre , whereas Kendrick is only now reaching his zenith. For all her subversiveness, its hard to deny that, under the sheer weight of incredibly sustained fame and success, Beyonce now reads as ‘establishment’ where Kendrick still reads as ‘disruptor’. To be sure, there are issues of sexism and racism that undoubtedly colour the differences in discussions around these two, but I think the vast difference between their respective places on their career trajectories is important. Beyonce has been around long enough, has been successful enough, to be criticized in the harsh way that only the most famous know. Kendrick, still on a parabolic upward trajectory, is, on the other hand, having his obama 2008 moment- he can do no wrong.

    1. I understand this line of thinking that more established artists receive more criticism and then I think of Macklemore, Iggy Azalea (whose career is over) and I think nope.

  2. Nat Turner said to 1,000 Enslaved Black people:
    “How many of you all want your freedom?”
    All 1,000 said they want to be free.
    “How many of you are willing to do anything it takes for your freedom step forward?”
    900 stepped forward.
    “The first thing we must do is kill those 100 slaves that’s standing behind us because they are our biggest enemy.”

    Those belittling Beyonce while congratulating Kendrick are part of that 100. Period.

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  4. If on the standpoint that one performer’s music reflects the times, the struggle and the reality of a common life without fear of backlash, but with the initial pride and hope for their people, and a motive to create change in the mind and the other’s music reflects the life of a selfish diva, the backlash and lack there of is less about gender reception and more about who is being authentic to themselves and their brand (represented in their artistry- visually and lyrically). Reasons for involvement and representation in the cause are still unknown but the track record for the “artists” show clearer in their medium on their views towards A real world and what is THE real world. A fan of both though…for very different reasons.

    1. You don’t know either of these people and so assessing their motives is really not something that you can legitimately do. Also, this entire line of reasoning ignores the very telling fact that Kendrick altered his lyrics to make them more palatable, meanwhile Beyonce who has more to lose push the issue and didn’t apologize to or change even one word for anyone. We can’t assess motives, but that behavior is telling.

  5. I think both of the performances was great. I just didnt like the lyrics. In the beginning I was like “ok Bey” but then the lyrics turned me off. The beat was hot thought lol

  6. “No march, movement, or agenda that defines manhood in the narrowest terms and seeks to make women lesser partners in this quest for equality can be considered a positive step.” — Angela Davis.

    This article, although well intentioned, I believe reaches too far in trying to lay blame for the backlash against Beyonce by blaming the male voices of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Deray McKesson, the Twitter BLM advocate who, although may not officially be a member of the BLM Organization, has championed Black Lives Matter as a Patrisse Cullors-created hashtag long before it became a 501 (c)(3) organization. The organization’s three black women founders are claimed in this article to have never received the credit Deray gets, but acquiring a sizable Twitter following is a challenge due to Twitter being a popularity contest. The organization’s founders, by their own significantly smaller subscription tallies, are simply not as popular. Johnetta Elzie has more 20K more followers on Twitter than Deray, and had she decided to run for office, by numbers alone she would be bringing more media attention to her cause. Remember the advocate Bree Newsome — the sister who scaled the South Carolina flag pole — she has several thousand more than @BlackLivesMatter. Newsome and Elzie, independently minded black women have been aligned to the Black Lives Matter movement and are getting far more traction than the @BlackLivesMatter, so the BLM male leader argument being made here is bunk.

    And to be honest — the majority of those persons giving Deray high marks of praise for his decision to run for mayor of Baltimore are Twitter users. Thousands more who don’t live their lives on a mobile app, including citizens and politicos in the public domain know his run is a great fundraiser at best, especially for someone who has never before held political office ( http://bit.ly/210ZFis ). Unfortunately, Deray possesses qualities that on a national scale have been attributed to Donald Trump’s run as an Obama successor: Having great popular support in one area, but hoping it will transfer to an almost completely unrelated realm.

    As for the main argument contrasting Bey with Kendrick, there is scant evidence spotlighting that Beyonce has long sought a crossover pop image. In contrast, Kendrick’s music has perhaps appealed to crossover audiences without his pushing it there. The difference simply comes down to the genres. Hip Hop demands artists keep it real in the streets first before they start to generate crossover appeal (it’s the very reason why rapper Vanilla Ice has never been respected). Pop R&B has never placed that requirement on its stars. The themes of Kendrick’s music have always been aggressively pro-black and anti-establishment whereas Beyonce has just now started to channel that aggression in her songs. By and large, pop audiences were shocked by seeing Beyonce, a sister who was never socially critical. You didn’t hear one peep about her ethics back then when her marriage to Jay-Z was in order. The stark contrast of Bey and Jay’s lyrics were all that might have been mentioned, but the lyrical and message comparisons quickly died. Notwithstanding, Kendrick Lamar’s very first album had his anti-establishment songs like “Ronald Reagan Era” and “F*ck Your Ethnicity” for all to see. These were his very first releases; contrast these with any release on Beyonce’s “Dangerously In Love” album or any of the songs which bear her name as a member of Destiny’s Child. Sure, she has been an advocate for the freedoms and heightened stature of women, but if you’re looking for a better comparison of a socially conscious woman artist, perhaps you need only look to her sister Solange.

    Quite possibly, the bias against women in the Black Lives Matter movement can be more adequately attributed to media journalists who continue to promote the stereotype of the “angry black male” in contrast to the “community loving black woman or black man.” But to pin the rap on men like Shaun King, who has often been quick to bring national attention to sisters like Sandra Bland and Bree Newsome and who continues to stand by the proud sister whom he daily acknowledges as his wife, is really a corny, cheap association on its face. If we can agree that divide and conquer agendas are really not helping either black men or black women to be granted the freedom of expression and the respect we have rightly earned and can give each other, then now is the time we should embrace the mantras to which Kendrick and Beyonce are aligned so to ensure we may change the narrative for good.

    1. Nothing about this article “put the rap” on these men. I think your response is a bit of an overreach. Noticing unequal treatment and calling it what it is, “a double standard” is not an attack on any single individual who benefits from it, but an observation of reality. The media is very clearly referenced as the culprit in promoting this confusion. I find it odd that you felt the need to defend two male public figures who were used correctly as examples of a double standard.

    2. YES! I was reading this article and was appalled that writer was comparing the consumerism and capitalism of Kendrick Lamar to Beyoncé. I could argue the whole designer label, designer liquor movement of hip-hop rests at the feet of the Carters. While I am extremely proud of Beyoncé and her Super Bowl performance, I don’t think the black lash was a result of her gender, but her status. Lastly, I want to point of that if the writer of the article does not know the name of the 3 black founders (they were not listed) of BLM, she is in no position to judge others.

  7. Great article! I was watching a Gazi video and he pointed out the discrepancy in the way Beyonce’s performance was recieved versus Kendrick. Not realizing that Beyonce does a lot of behind the scenes work and her artistry is largely focused on visual imagery and not complex wordplay (e.g. Kendrick’s music). They are two very different artists and yes he too is profiting from capitalism and consumerism. I think homie signed an endorsement deal with Adidas, so yeah. I’m a bit of a book worm and I love seeing the beauty in writing. I really loved your phrase “thunderous silence.” It’s an oxymoron but it captures the lack of negative critique about Kendrick’s performance quite beautifully.

  8. I knew people were gonna try to make this argument and it’s honestly just another reason for people to cry about Beyonce and how people critique her lol. The reason Beyonce faced so much backlash is because she was the good, obedient and safe black superstar that white people loved to claim. Claiming her blackness makes it more difficult for white people to claim her which is why they’re acting out. “You’re supposed to belong to us!” Lol its like the house negro entering the field. That ish is scary! Lol they’re not worried about Kendrick because he been about that life from jump lol. Now if we’re going to talk about the black community’s response, let’s be real: Beyonce had the more commercial, ratchet song and cool video that people (myself included) like to dance to. The song itself is not a black anthem. There are only a couple of lines about black anything and the rest of the song is her talking about herself so it’s hard to consider it a black anthem. The VIDEO was very powerful, not so much the song. The only reason white people even knew to be upset at the Super Bowl is because of the Black Panthers attire….otherwise with the song alone no one would’ve made the connection. That’s why most of the backlash we saw from white people was just about the outfits. Not to mention, I think the strength of Beyonce’s marketing team makes people question her sincerity all the time. She released a video, performed the content at the Super bowl, and then announced a tour. Even though I’m sure she had good intentions, it all became about her (as usual) instead of the cause she was trying to shed light on. And I already know about her donating some of the proceeds of the tour so y’all don’t have to try to use that as ammunition because as someone who has studied music marketing, I understand how it works and I know that getting people to come to your tour is great for creating more super fans and expanding your fanbase (among other things) even without the profits, so lets stop pretending she’s not benefiting from it. Lastly, have you seen some of the lyrics in the Kendrick song? Dude straight up went in and said it how it is. He actually spoke out and told them “I know what you’re trying to do!” He held nothing back. Beyonce’s song is fun, catchy, and I love to dance to it, but Kendrick’s ish was just on another level. Just my opinion. (And I’m a feminist :) )

    1. I ask this very sincerely… Why should Kendrick not receive criticism for changing his more controversial lyrics for an awards show? Had Beyonce done this we know it would have been criticized. Also, it wasn’t “some proceeds” it was a million dollars.

  9. Don’t get me wrong though….I’m well aware of the inequalities between black men and women and that black women carry these movements. I just don’t think this is one of those examples for the several reasons I listed above lol

  10. This was so bittersweet to read because it was so truthful. As a womanpreneur in the world of media and marketing I find myself mentally exhausted at the verbal slander of Black women daily. No matter how much success, money, or fame it always seems to me that we are often left exposed for open fire for the world to chew up and spit out but in the same breath we are festishized and used for the commodicfication of others. I argue often about the need and support of Black male voices needed to demand the respect due to us as well as colleagues of other ethnicities, but in my heart I know that the support should be coming from our very own backyards with our men and families. So thank you for writing this piece and dissecting the cold hard truth about the misogynoir of Black women committed by our very own loved ones. I hope that others understand that this is not about blame but it is about the progression of a Black people who are long overdue. Great piece.

  11. Very insightful article and you have some points. Unfortunately both black men & black women continue to fight fights within fights. By the time we finish fighting we may be too battered to go after the real battle.

    1. I hear you, but I don’t think it is accurate to say that the lack of support in the black community is a two way street. It really is time for us to support and protect our women and our children, the way they have supported us. I honestly wonder… Why should black women fight against white supremacy just to be dominated in all of the same ways by black men? At some point, I think that as black men we are going to have to recognize that black women are always marching and organizing anytime there is a need to support black men and we need to actually offer that kind of support in return. Right now, we just don’t do that. I think, we pretend like the infighting isn’t really just us hitting them and them slowing saying they aren’t gonna take it.

  12. you can’t compare the two! kl is best compared with Erokah badu, jill scott or even jangle monad who all have been unapologetically black and consistent with the pairing of their sound and image…they didn’t go as big as bey and they made less damages on the youth selling them fake crap…so please bey is not being criticized for just being a woman.. she just can’t earn the trust of a whole conscious community with one stunt after years of not saying shit on our behalf..stop the dishonest comparisons trying to shove her new found consciousness down pp.’s throat…let her continue to fight and perhaps ppl will come around jesus! this article was so not on spot.

    1. How are you so sure that her consciousness is new found and that Kl’s consciousness is real, when he is the one out here changing lyrics? It is that certainty that this article is challenging. We don’t know these people, so all we can judge are actions, yet we are willing to forgive and overlook KL’s flaws and highlight Beyonce’s flaws. It’s like Cam and Peyton. One doesn’t shake hands and no one notices the other gets up during an interview and they out here talking bout the man’s mama. Why does one person get a pass? Hmmm

    2. DAMN! Give her some credit for doing SOMETHING! Lift her up instead of tearing her down. At least she is making an effort. People are quick to judge while they aren’t in any position to do so. Why does there have to be a comparison? Hell we all know that Black women are not held in the same esteem as men…in and out of our communities. The question now is, how does that change? I think it changes by us being more positive about whatever anyone brings to the table to further positive changes in this country and communities. I never thought we would be in this same damn fight as when I was a kid…I’m 55 now. I think the bickering and bullshit needs to stop.

  13. Beyonce needed to be condemned and it had nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman. I mean really!!! What do the lyrics to her song have to do with the movement??? Not to mention her skimpy attire…Kendrick on the other hand, sent a message not only in his lyics but also in the visuals. How can an artist expect someone to take them seriously when in Beyonces case, she’s selling sex while saying stop shooting us!?!

  14. I only arrived at this site because the article was shared via the Facebook page of the New York Times. I’m disappointed in the blatant racism of this article. There is too much Actual racism in the world without the effort to preemptively label any criticism or disagreement as racism and appeasing white people. A perfect example would be the statement about the police. Not every policeperson is either white or male. It’s completely possible to criticize the crooked and incompetent without libeling those people who risk their lives protecting the citizens of their community.

    I’m both a Libertarian and a Egalitarian. I’ve challenged racial inequality in the most obvious way possible: by facing down an angry Klansman and daring him to object. I don’t have any use for anyone who can’t understand we are all humans before anything else. If my pink skin causes you to say I’m less your “brother”, then you aren’t part of the solution; you are part of the problem.

  15. From a white suburban woman with kids perspective, the reaction to Beyonce I have noticed is “bitch how dare you stop with your sugar pop for my pretty girls, what if they actually listen to this? Basically we thought you were the “good maid” we could “trust.” Kendric…radio silence. My speculation would be well he’s hip hop so well yeah. The misgonystic reaction has been with whites as well. That said, seeing Kendric’s performance is still on my to do list, so I haven’t a comment regarding him either way.

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