As a graduate student in Race Politics and Black Feminism, I am entirely too familiar with what it means to be silenced and excluded from feminist theories and narratives which have historically been focused on middle class White women.
In my academic career at private White institutions (PWIs), I have had liberal White students – usually young women who consider themselves feminists – say things to me like “sorry we’re not all from the ghetto” and “this conversation is about women, not Black people.” These experiences are precisely why the Politicizing Beyoncé course at Rutgers University is so vital. But, it’s been cancelled. And, it is simply a travesty that the institutions meant to educate this country’s next generation of leaders and scholars do not use courses like these to disrupt the racist tendencies of mainstream White feminism. Instead, they reinscribe a status quo which ostracizes Black feminism and its most prominent members, namely Beyoncé.
Everyone is talking about the Politicizing Beyoncé course in Black Feminism being cancelled this fall but few are talking about the continued questioning of Beyonce’s claim to feminism by the White mainstream. I can only infer that this course is going away, at least in part, because of the tired argument that Beyoncé is not feminist enough to wear the title so easily granted to folks like Tina Fey, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer. These women’s problematic views on race have been well-documented. Yet, they remain unapologetic gatekeepers to feminism in the 21st century. At times, it seems for White women in the limelight, just saying they are feminist is reason enough to ordain them as such. But, for Black women, the standards are much higher, perhaps even impossible to reach.
To combat this reality, Professor Kevin Allred has been teaching the Politicizing Beyoncé course since 2010. Several students of the course have published their overwhelmingly positive experiences in the class. Granted, these students are usually women and of color but that does not diminish the importance of the course in general.
According to Allred, he received pushback about the course because of its popularity. He told The Guardian: “Behind the scenes, they told me that because so many people wanted to take it, it was detracting from other courses. But beyond that, I have seen a larger issue with Beyoncé intervening in academic debates and black feminism in general.” His latter sentiment is not lost on me. Last year, there was think piece after think piece about Beyoncé’s feminism. Writers were hell bent on nitpicking every move the singer made to check to see if her brand of feminism was up to their standards. It seems Black feminists are always under the watchful eye of mainstream White Feminism, a focus rarely given to White women.
We infrequently see the same predominantly White women writers railing against the antics of their White women faves who have the lowest of bars for entry into the White Feminist Inner Sanctum. The manifold options of inclusion for White feminists both in the Academy and in pop culture are often exclusive to Whites, harmful to non-Whites, and violent toward Black women in particular. This has been the case for over a century. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
The Academy is supposed to teach something different from the mainstream though. It is supposed to move away from what is popular and toward pedagogy which is most beneficial to students. However, in my experience, the Academy continues to reinforce the same gendered and racial barriers to feminism and racial dialogue seen in most industries. This particular case is yet another way the Academy reminds Black feminists that our brands of feminism are not sufficient. I, as a Black Feminist and an academic, am personally disappointed in the course’s cancellation. Though, I’m not surprised. I am well aware of the biases in the field to which I hope to contribute over my lifetime.
As long as the Academy exercises the same gatekeeper tactics to feminism we see in the mainstream, we will continue to see Black women on the margins in a field they have been innovating for over one hundred years. Part of the reason I came to the Academy was to disrupt this tradition.
Apparently, I still have my work cut out for me.
Photo Credit: Public domain image
[H/T The Guardian]