Thursday, December 26, 2013

Beyonce and Michelle Alexander: N.I.C.E. Picks for 2013, Naturally!

So, it is the Christmas/holiday season. Let me begin by saying Happy Holidays to all N.I.C.E. readers. During this season emotions are usually running high and people are excited so in the midst of all that, Beyonce dropped an album, without fanfare in terms of marketing, and shut Itunes down, literally, in the process.  So I took the time to listen to portions of her new album, because some were arguing that it is a feminist manifesto.   After listening to portions of it with my daughter, I became so intrigued that I purchased the album and watched every video, during a series of my workouts.  My analysis is below, but before heading there, another piece that is seriously worthy of consideration was also released by Bill Moyers with Michelle Alexander: http://billmoyers.com/segment/michelle-alexander-locked-out-of-the-american-dream/

If you are willing to listen to and watch Beyonce's new release, surely a moment to listen to Michelle Alexander is equally warranted. I noticed something about these two women.  Both are on fire in terms of their work, both are committed and both are passionate.  I don't think anyone can argue that.  I also have to give Michelle Alexander praise for her natural hair because there seems to be a correlation between wearing it as such and consciousness.  Her work is about caring, knowledge of the issue she is addressing, which is mass incarceration in the United States with an emphasis on Black people due to the disparity between incarceration of Blacks and Whites, for the same crimes, and doing something about it now.  She is indeed an absolute powerhouse and her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is enlightening: http://newjimcrow.com.  So if you haven't read this book, you are simply walking around without significantly important information.  I taught a full semester class about this topic, using her book as the text, so the analysis was full and complete.  She is indeed the N.I.C.E. political and activist pick for 2013.

As for the analysis of Beyonce, there is a great deal to consider.  First, the album Beyonce is verbally and visually (the videos), sexually provocative in terms of many of the pieces.  This, for some, is very problematic because many of her fans are young, some very young, and exposure to some of what Beyonce is speaking of and presenting is definitely not for young ears or eyes.  Personally, I don't want to see or hear about Beyonce's or anyone's intimate sex life because I think it's personal.  Perhaps what happens in your bedroom or car or wherever else you want to be with your man, should stay in that venue, between you and him.  But, as I have been told, not everyone feels that way.  Some people want to know and see as much as possible, so she shared, big time, with those who want to hear and know and see.   This is the case with Haunted, Drunk in Love, Blow, No Angel, Yonce, Partition, Jealous, Rocket and somewhat in XO.  So essentially, what can be gathered from these pieces is that Beyonce's work exhibits a sexual being, exhibiting the classic Jezebel archetype (info about this archetype is here: http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/jezebel.htm), which is an unfortunate categorical stereotype of Black women.  This is not a negative critique of the work per se, but a mere indication of the archetype she has chosen to present consciously or unconsciously.

It seems, however, that Beyonce's new album has to be considered as a body of work, not as individual pieces because it  provides insight into the range of a black woman, namely Beyonce, rather than one way of looking at her.  Yes, she is provocative and sexual and objectifies herself in this album, but she has more to say than that.  Pretty Hurts is her first piece in the album and it seems to explain how she ended up as a blonde, objectified Black woman who started out as a little Black girl with her natural locks flowing and ended up, at this point, as the complicated  being that she is now.  In terms of her physical appearance, this can be somewhat confusing for individuals observing her work.  First and foremost, she is an artist so there is a great deal of room for complexity in her work that some will perhaps embrace while others are offended.  That's what art should do.  It should allow you to interpret it as you will with only the artist knowing the truth about it that you struggle to understand in viewing the work.  Flawless, speaks volumes as she tries to explain that confusion exists in this society about what girls and women should aspire to.  Some say Beyonce, the album, is a Feminist manifesto. I disagree, with that but Womanist (discussed below) perhaps would be a better description. She states "we flawless" in the rough, harsh, intense environment in which she also  states repeatedly "I woke up like this."   This is definitely a statement to reckon with.  It exudes strength and power in its simplicity and in essence a sense of power that black women often feel but often have no venue to express it without being referred to as angry or "b's."  I found it interesting that she stated "bow down b's" and appears agitated, hard and tattered in this piece while clearly indicating "we flawless."  In Superpower, she takes a revolutionary posture.  She is covered, then uncovered, camouflaged and speaking of love in a very connected, intense way, which is above and beyond any sexual provocation.  Clearly, intense hugging, glancing and the holding of hands with a man is all that is needed to express love as she walks through burning, raging chaos.  Facing the harshest of circumstances, she speaks of that bond that cannot be broken.  It is communal, it is strong, it is fierce, it is looking into each others eyes, holding hands and knowing, "we got this" together.  That, in a sense is powerful, beyond the frivolity or intensity (depending on how you look at it)  that she exhibited in the sexually provocative pieces. Heaven and Blue are purely about motherhood.  The loss of the one who left is exhibited in Heaven and the gain of another is demonstrated in Blue, a tribute to her living, breathing baby.  If only every mother had the opportunity to express the love for her first born, and all their subsequent children, in this way, the world would be a greater place. Every child could benefit from a public testament of her mother's love for her/him although the private sentiments generally serve us well.  Blue is the lucky one for the creation of this piece, even if no one else gets it.

The N.I.C.E. pick of the album,  is Grown Woman.  Why?  Because she takes us back to the natural and evolving Beyonce...when she was a little girl.  We see her at various points and that the energy that we see in her now, was in her as a child, naturally.  Her hair tells it all, as a little girl.  In terms of her hair, it was naturally untamed and free.  The braids, she wears as a teenager in which we see African styled Beyonce, indicate the style at the time but also that she was willing to embrace it.  In I'm A Grown Woman" she tells the world with, African interpretive dance movements that hark back to the continent without a doubt, that "I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want."   She then sits next to her mother and then with the babies at the end, looking regal.  There is something about being grown woman that can do whatever we want, in a patriarchal society.  It's complicated and in this piece, to simplify it, she just left men out completely.  She has already let men know in many of the prior pieces that I want you, I need you, I aim to please you and more, but at the end of the day she ends with "I'm a grown woman, and I can do whatever I want."   It is this final piece that leads to the perspective that in its totality, the artistic compilation by Beyonce is a Womanist venture either consciously or unconsciously. Her choice of a feminist, to speak in her work, is therefore relevant as feminism is a component of womanism. As coined by Alice Walker, another amazing Black woman,  the definition, in part, of a womanist is:

From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless. 

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Beyonce and Michelle Alexander, you are the N.I.C.E. Picks for 2013, Naturally!

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