Last night, The New School hosted a dynamic conversation between Black women activists and creatives titled “Are You Still a Slave?”

The group, which included filmmaker Shola Lynch, author Marci Blackman, feminist icon and scholar bell hooks, and activist and author Janet Mock, focused on the images of women of color in the media and what types of messages are sent to the public at large.

At one point in the evening, the discussion turned to Beyoncé’s Time magazine cover, and hooks—who once encouraged Bey’s budding feminism—accused the singer of being a “terrorist” when it comes to the messages she projects to young girls.

Hooks, argued Beyoncé’s sexy, partially-clothed Time cover did little to bolster her pro-woman bona fides.

“Let’s take the image of this super rich, very powerful Black female and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover — that image,“ the professor argued.

Mock and Blackman pushed back against the idea of Bey’s lack of control, questioning whether Beyoncé’s sexy image is subversive, but hooks wasn’t having it.

Mock: I think she had control over what she wore…I would argue that she has a power now that she has final-cut approval and she chose that image. I don’t want to strip Beyoncé of her agency, of choosing that image, of being her own manager, of all of this stuff.

hooks: Then you’re saying then, from my deconstructive point of view, that she’s colluding the construction of herself as a slave. It’s not a libratory image.

Blackman: Or, she’s using the same images that were used against her, and us, for so many years and she’s taken control of it and saying, ‘If y’all are going to make money off it, so am I.’ There’s collusion, perhaps, but there’s also a bit of reclaiming if she’s the one in control.

Hooks: Well, of course, I think that’s fantasy. I think it’s a fantasy that we can recoup the violating image and use it. I used to get so tired of people quoting Audre [Lorde], ‘The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ But that was exactly what she meant that you are not going to destroy this imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it. Even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money.

I’ve really been challenging people to think about would we be at all interested in Beyoncé if she wasn’t so rich, because I don’t think you can separate her class power, and the wealth, from people’s fascination with her. That here is a young, Black woman who is so incredibly wealthy. And wealthy is what so many young people fantasize, dream about, sexualize, eroticize. And one could argue, even more than her body, it’s what that body stands for—the body of desire fulfilled that is wealth, fame, celebrity, all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for, wanting.

If Beyoncé was a homeless woman who looked the same way, or a poor, down and out woman who looked the same way, would people be enchanted by her? Or is it the combination of all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy?

And I’ve been saying, people of color, we are so invested in white supremacy, it’s tragic. Lorraine Hansberry said it is the only form of extremism that should discredit us in the eyes of our children that we remain so invested.

Although Mock agreed that certain aspects of Beyoncé’s public image deserved critique (like the unfortunate “eat the cake” line from Drunk In Love), she explained why she found Beyoncé’s music and persona empowering.

Having ‘Partition’ come out…a couple months before my book came out, when I am writing about sex work and sexual abuse and issues with my body, my sexuality, it was freeing to have Beyoncé showing her ass, owning her body and claiming that space. That meant a lot to me because it gave me the ok to have that. I’m not saying that she is not participating in all of this, but I do think that there is power in her leaving her father…and saying, ‘I will not let you give this distilled image of me anymore.’ That resonates with me on so many levels.

Despite Mock’s defense of the singer, hooks contended that Beyoncé, and the media at large, levies the biggest attack against feminism today.

I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major of assault on feminism in our society has come from visual media, and from television, and videos. Just think, do we know of any powerful man of any color who’s come out with some tirade against feminism? The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image-making business, and what we see.

What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why don’t we have libratory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us?

Watch the entire conversation between bell hooks, Janet Mock, Shola Lynch, and Marci Blackman below:

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  • Dessoftruth

    “You know what’s anti-feminist? Denying a woman the right to call herself one”.

    I am disappointed in the Black women who attacked Beyonce’ for calling herself a feminist, especially bell hooks. If this was Iggy Azalea there would be narry a peep, not from her or from Annie Lennox. White women are allowed to express their sexuality, but when Black women do it they’re “whores” or “terrorists”. Black women have a right to express their sexuality without being terrorists. In reality, bell hooks is the one perpetuating White Supremacy, where Black women are bed wenches and jezebels, and White women can embrace their female form. She can shake her body onstage if she feels like it. Y’all wouldn’t care if this was Iggy either and you would care even less if it was some female dancers shaking around Usher or Jay-Z. Stop falling for the oky-doke. I thought Clutch was a website for hip, insightful Black women. I guess I was wrong.

    • it’s not her color, for heavens sake, it’s her money. maybe thats not true for everybody, but it’s certainly true for me— & almost undoubtedly equally true for bell hooks, who has in leftist credibility what beyoncé has in dollars.

      the word feminist needs to MEAN something more than just i want what i want when i want it, & i’m gonna do whatever it takes to get it. i hate to say this, but thats just psychopathy. not to mention how very disturbing it is for someone who has both beyoncé’s money & her supposed sociocultural leftish cred not to acknowledge that that money is the reason she gets whatever she wants—& NOT, by any means, is the source of her success FEMINISM.

  • SRR126

    Here is why women keep tripping up – they keep tripping up each other.
    The average woman no longer has to fear the dreaded white male – she has to watch her back with her sisters-of-color.

  • [more article than comment, apologies. then again, cos i’ve been sick & therefore briefly out of commission, yr getting it for free—& boy, does it need saying.]

    two things, & theyre VERY important:

    1/ WHEN in the modern era was it NOT okay for an attractive western woman of any color to show her half-naked ass? not always entirely naked [maybe], & not [perhaps] always acceptable to every single citizen of the mainest of the mainstream. other than that? please.

    if you wanna go back to when such business had meaning, please note that you must return to decades before the hays code. decades, in fact, before the turn of not this, but THE LAST century. when adah isaacs mencken put on her [ne’er before heard of & certainly ne’er before seen] scandalous leotard to play mazeppa, then YES, you have a feminist making a feminist statement— a HARD WON feminist statement, & a good & decent job done by a feminist.

    when, instead, more than a hundred years later, one of the richest women in the world insists that the best way she can “express her creativity” is by wearing almost nothing & doing onstage spreadshots [a move, at this point, long-discovered even by yr most ardent fundamentalist]— THAT is NOT LIBERATING AT ALL. politically, as a form of activism, what it is, at best, is nothing. at worst— at worst— i defer to the brilliant bell hooks.

    as a little sprinkle on top, though, i must needs add that there IS a good, leftist term that describes this beyhavior. what we now self-servingly call “second wave” feminism FOUGHT a fierce fight against what they called MALE-IDENTIFIED REPRESENTATION. if somehow you cant figure it out, this means that a woman defines her sexuality &, in particular, presents that sexuality in a way that is not only pleasing to, but which has long been a creation of the male gaze, specifically its most stereotypical desires.

    there is no better current example going today of MALE-IDENTIFIED SEXUAL REPRESENTATION than beyoncé, her onstage spreadshots, & her hyperpublicised hindquarters.

    BUT[T]! you say! she’s taking control of this stereotypical representation because it brings our Billionaire Boss her billions, not to mention her extraordinary power—for a woman, yet!—in such a male-dominated industry! w/o those leather leglifts, she’s nothing!

    or nearly nothing—about that you & i have very little argument. otoh, when precisely did this bustling business-bastion of male domination start REQUIRING its singers to be not merely the lowly purveyor of [often, now, a producer’s] music, but also dancers— & by dancers i pretty much mean strippers. lets start at the modern beginning again. i’ll give you josephine baker [whom i love], but i will also note that nakedness was her shtick & that shtick, even created by herself, wouldnt pass a quarter second today w/o being stopped & banned for racism. as for half naked singers? airy-fairy lillian russell? bessie smith? sophie tucker? “baby esther” aka esther jones who, later & via helen kane, became betty boop? all these women flashed crotch at least as much as they sang songs? & thats just the twenties. later it was done by billie holiday, yes? edith piaf, her too? aretha franklin? joni mitchell? linda rondstadt? bette midler, when she—NOT madonna—was the female singer who opened up gay america to our ordinary citizenry? poly styrene? the stunningly-voiced minnie ripperton or roberta flack? the once-great patti smith?

    as you can see, i can go on all day. i can cover from the waterfront to the whole century & it isnt until the video-80s that female semi-nudity became a necessity [largely because appearance became, for the first time in auditory entertainment, MORE important than the auditory component of that entertainment. & this, of course, was compromised further by the Hot Chicks of male music television]. but, of course, i’ve written enough & this is more article than comment. so i will leave you w/ a final thought.

    none of those women, famous though they were, had anything like the power—or made anything like the money—that does our current beloved billionaire. to that, we’re gonna take my final ride [in the form of a question]:

    2/ WHEN in the name of hell or heaven did it become a LEFTIST, FEMINIST value to venerate anyone, again of any gender or race, explicitly for the preposterous & grotesquely INFLATED AMOUNT OF MONEY s/he has? HOW THE EVERLOVIN HELL did a gross & vulgar glob of cash so OVERSWOLLEN it looks like a sac of soon to hatch spider eggs become something ADMIRABLE to WHAT CALLS ITSELF THE LEFT?‽‼

    regardless of our subject, we as a culture are no longer concerned w/ what have been since time began the authentic values of the left: JUSTICE – KINDNESS – COMPASSION – INTEGRITY, & ALL of this UNIVERSALLY? as we all but DEIFY beybey, particularly politically, answer me this: how does the behavior of our beloved [& nearly beatified] correspond w/ these values? how is she anything other than the somewhat less self-aggrandizing madonna of our disgraceful & disgracefully ignorant time? & if thats what she is, what does that say about who WE are? we who have idealized not only beyoncé but the grandeur of our exceptional left wing political commitment?