Starting Your Dreams Later In Life and Embracing the Detour

Jenee Darden speaking at Creative Mornings I know it's been a while since I've posted anything but that's because of my job. I'm working as a reporter covering Oakland and I host an arts segment on the radio where I get to interview amazing artists from around the Bay Area. Plus I'm publicizing my book  and building my speaking career!  You know what's funny? I thought this would all happen by the time I was 27-30.  Nope. That wasn't God's plan for me. I'm finally beginning to do the things I've wanted to do and I'm almost 40 years old. Some people reading this who are 40 will say 40 is still young. But some younger people reading may think 40 is nearly ancient. But I'm writing this post for those who like me, thought their career and personal dreams would come true much early in life. I'm here to tell you not to give up.  You know, death inspires life. A number of my relatives and friends have passed away, ranging in

What bell hooks gets Wrong/Right about Beyonce’s Lemonade and What Fans Don't Get About bell hooks

bell hooks
Photo from wikicommons

I had no idea what to expect when clicked on bell hooks critique of Beyonce’s Lemonade on my Facebook newsfeed. Especially since she went overboard and called Beyonce a terrorist a couple of years ago. I love Lemonade. Beyonce had me drunk in my Black woman feelings and Black girl magic. Still I read hooks’ review “Moving Beyond Pain” and I actually agree with some of her critique. Not all, but some. hooks comments are in bold- italic.

Obviously Lemonade positively exploits images of black female bodies—placing them at the center, making them the norm. In this visual narrative, there are diverse representations (black female bodies come in all sizes, shapes, and textures with all manner of big hair).
My first thought—can you positively exploit something? I had to look up the definition of exploit to put it in hook’s context because it seemed like an oxymoron. But if exploit also means to advance or further through promotion, then I can see how she argues Bey is using Black female bodies to get her message out about Black women.

What makes this commodification different in Lemonade is intent; its purpose is to seduce, celebrate, and delight—to challenge the ongoing present day devaluation and dehumanization of the black female body. Throughout Lemonade the black female body is utterly-aestheticized—its beauty a powerful in your face confrontation. This is no new offering. Images like these were first seen in Julie Dash’s groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust shot by the brilliant cinematographer Arthur Jafa. Many of the black and white still images of women and nature are reminiscent of the transformative and innovative contemporary photography of Carrie Mae Weems. She has continually offered decolonized radical revisioning of the black female body.
Yes, Lemonade challenges the dehumanization of the Black woman’s body. And I definitely agree that some of the cinematography is not innovative. There are scenes of Lemonade that made me immediately think of Daughters of the Dust and Beloved. Is that a bad thing? No. Maybe it’s Bey’s way of saluting these works. What’s even more important is that Beyonce has us talking about these artists. It was just announced since Lemonade that Julia Dash’s film will be re-released. I hope younger people can learn about the artists that influenced Lemonade.

However, this radical repositioning of black female images does not truly overshadow or change conventional sexist constructions of black female identity.
The problem I have with this argument and similar in her post is I don’t expect Lemonade to solve or change patriarchy, gender inequality, etc. I don’t expect it to change constructions of black female identity. Beyonce is an artist. Her work can influence us to change. But to knock her for not changing social and sexist construction of black female identity is a bit much.

Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators daringly offer multidimensional images of black female life, much of the album stays within a conventional stereotypical framework, where the black woman is always a victim.
I agree with bell hooks 100% here. I get tired of Black women’s stories constantly being about us in pain. While I agree that being a Black woman in this world is not easy, there’s more to our story than the struggle. There is victory, love, innovation, intelligence, joy, travel, family, good relationships, education, spirituality. But much of Lemonade is about the struggle. That’s why I say this is not about THE Black woman’s experience but PART of the experience.

Contrary to misguided notions of gender equality, women do not and will not seize power and create self-love and self-esteem through violent acts. Female violence is no more liberatory than male violence. And when violence is made to look sexy and eroticized, as in the Lemonade sexy-dress street scene, it does not serve to undercut the prevailing cultural sentiment that it is acceptable to use violence to reinforce domination, especially in relations between men and women. Violence does not create positive change.

Slow down bell. “Hold Up” is my song and my video. Beyonce wasn't encouraging violence through bashing up cars. She was angry and wanted to express her anger. Which for Black women, sometimes we hold back as not to be seen as the “angry Black woman.” All of these visuals Beyonce show is telling us we have a lot of shit to be angry about. We should be angry about the dehumanization of our bodies, unjust police killings, slavery, racism and sexism. As Malcolm X said, we’re the most disrespected person in America. And she’s bashing shit because she’s being disrespected by not just white men, but her Black man too. Yes Bey, swing the hell out of that bat. As for her emerging from water in the sexy gold dress, people are saying it represents the goddess Oshun. In the Yoruba religion, Oshun represents love, beauty, femininity and sensuality. But she doesn’t take well to being offended. Hence why Beyonce was all gorgeous, sexy and pissed off. I don’t see that scene as being a sexualization, but some kind of acknowledgement of a BLACK goddess. Often when we talk of goddesses they are Greek or Roman. There are African goddesses.

Even though Beyoncé and her creative collaborators make use of the powerful voice and words of Malcolm X to emphasize the lack of respect for black womanhood, simply showcasing beautiful black bodies does not create a just culture of optimal well being where black females can become fully self-actualized and be truly respected.

Again I don’t get why bell hooks is expecting Beyonce to change the world entirely.

This aspect of Lemonade is affirming. Certainly, to witness Miss Hattie, the 90-year-old grandmother of Jay-Z, give her personal testimony that she has survived by taking the lemons life handed her and making lemonade is awesome. All the references to honoring our ancestors and elders in Lemonade inspire. However, concluding this narrative of hurt and betrayal with caring images of family and home do not serve as adequate ways to reconcile and heal trauma.
The inclusion of Jay-Z’s grandmother and saluting our ancestors are beautiful. Are family and home solutions to healing? It can be for some, but I don’t think they’re the only solution. Sure Beyonce could have gone deeper with what heals Black women. On the other hand, this is Bey’s story whether it’s true or not. And for her, a global star, family and home are healing spaces. For some of us, family and home are traumatic and abusive places. Those of us who follow bell hooks know that family and home were traumatic spaces for her. So I see why she wants a larger discussion on solutions for black women and healing.

…but her construction of feminism cannot be trusted. Her vision of feminism does not call for an end to patriarchal domination. It’s all about insisting on equal rights for men and women. In the world of fantasy feminism, there are no class, sex, and race hierarchies that breakdown simplified categories of women and men, no call to challenge and change systems of domination, no emphasis on intersectionality. In such a simplified worldview, women gaining the freedom to be like men can be seen as powerful. But it is a false construction of power as so many men, especially black men, do not possess actual power. And indeed, it is clear that black male cruelty and violence towards black women is a direct outcome of patriarchal exploitation and oppression.
I’ve had my own questions about Beyonce’s feminism. I disagree that Bey’s feminism can’t be trusted. I don't understand some who feel she's anti-woman. Lemonade is very much a Black feminist and Womanist collection. hooks refers to Beyonce’s definition of feminism as simplistic and implies Bey’s “fantasy feminism” doesn’t recognize intersectionality. If that were the case she wouldn’t have made a Black, diaspora, feminist album. She would not have featured different social and economic classes of Black women in her visuals. I think Bey’s feminism is not academic, and maybe for bell hooks that makes it basic.

No matter how hard women in relationships with patriarchal men work for change, forgive, and reconcile, men must do the work of inner and outer transformation if emotional violence against black females is to end. We see no hint of this in Lemonade. If change is not mutual then black female emotional hurt can be voiced, but the reality of men inflicting emotional pain will still continue (can we really trust the caring images of Jay Z which conclude this narrative).

I wanted to see and hear more songs about men stepping up to treat Black women better. I wanted a song about men looking within and checking their own misogynoir and patriarchy. I agree with bell hooks that change is not one sided. Brothas need to do some work too. And I wasn’t totally trustful of the Jay –Z character (I say character because I don’t what is true or not about this story) either. Bey forgave him. Is he going to hurt her again? Black women forgive and march for our men, but some still continue to hurt us. How do we work as a collective to heal? How do we work together to uplift Black women and girls?

As Beyoncé proudly proclaims in the powerful anthem “Freedom”: “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner-strength to pull myself up.” To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy.“Freedom” is my favorite song and this is hooks’ strongest argument for me. Lemonade is about surviving the struggle. But freedom is like Jill Scott’s “Golden.” What must we do to live life like it’s golden? Or Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Or Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine.” That needs to be in Black women’s narratives as well. Like hooks said, let’s celebrate moving beyond pain.

I’ve been on social media discussing bell hooks critiques. And Bey’s fans are not pleased with hooks’ comments. I question if people read the piece in it’s entirety because there are parts where she praises Beyonce. I have Beyonce’s albums. I’ve seen her perform live. I wear my On the Run Tour t-shirt. And I will get Bootylicius on the dance floor at the club. But Beyonce is not immune from critique. I think bell hooks has some weird issue with Beyonce, but she still makes SOME valid points in this post. You don’t have to agree with everything she said. It doesn't have to be all or nothing with Beyonce.

Folks are dismissing bell hooks’ work because of her criticism of Beyonce. However, bell hooks had a strong influence in Black feminism today whether some want to admit it or not. Hell, whether bell hooks wants to admit it or not. And I see some parallels between Lemonade and hooks’ Sisters of the Yam. Maybe one day she and Beyonce will break (corn)bread so hooks can recognize that they both want the best for women.