When Beyonce released her secret album, I didn’t sleep for a week. This is one of the things I did, published by Black Feminists, who I admire so much.
So, it looks like Beyoncé has made feminism a dirty word, in the BEST. WAY. IMAGINABLE. From the bump, grind and swallow of ‘Partition’ to the feminist monologue on ‘***Flawless’, her new album is a challenge. It challenges her, it challenges us, and that’s why everybody has lost their shit over it. In January I wrote a defence of Beyoncé, because I was bitterly bored of other women deciding that she is not good enough for feminism. The release of her album has sparked the same debate, but with an important difference. This time, there seems to be a lot less white women denigrating Beyoncé, and a lot more constructive debate led by women of colour (WoC). I’m not interested in defending Beyoncé anymore because it’s pretty clear that she has got it under control. I’m interested in this difference, this progress.
I’m interested in the wider context that this good feminist/bad feminist dichotomy is situated within. The one where Bjork is an artist but Beyoncé isn’t. “Misogynoir” coined by Moya Bailey this year, became a go-to term on the blogosphere to describe the double bind felt by WoC by virtue of our gender and race. At the start of this year I didn’t fully understand the significance of Beyoncé’s race in the criticisms against her – I was just speaking from my gut. I didn’t fully understand the weeping rift that exists in feminism due to the historic dismissal of black feminists, a rift that is perpetuated when black women aren’t included on reading lists, or conferences put issues relating to WoC in the lunch break, or, or, Femen. Merry Christmas.
In August, Mikki Kendall called time on double standards when she started the hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen. It exploded, inviting WoC globally a chance to grab the microphone. Using social media as a tool for unity, change and liberation, women tweeted vignettes of what it means to be a black woman and a feminist, and why that’s an important distinction to make.
These tangible truths were still ringing in my ears in November, when Lily Allen made a mess of her comeback by accidentally coming back as a racist. But there was triumph in the powerful black feminist voices that made it clear that it was not good enough. That platform didn’t come on a plate – The Guardian commissioned pieces by two white women and man – but they were heard nonetheless. I felt sorry for Lily Allen. I wondered if en masse shaming was really necessary, if we couldn’t give more balanced feedback? No. Racism, like sexism, runs really, really, really deep, and to get the message across we cannot keep compromising.
Women are struggling to come to terms with the fact that inequality exists among them. In my experience, the issue is often met with the same defensiveness or exasperation that men have met my feminism. Perversely, it seems it is those less privileged, or with minority experiences, who often have to act as the emotional gatekeepers of friends and comrades. Self-censoring so not to betray the privilege of others and cause them reason to feel guilt becomes instinct. Enough already. Understand that minority voices have to shout to be heard. Sometimes they’re traumatised by the time they are, but they are creating a better world – a world in which men are learning the difference between a compliment and a cat-call and women are taking pride in seeing race among their feminist sisters and in the world. A world in which everyone has a critical eye. Black feminists can’t allow anything less, or they’ll get nothing more.
This has been a good year. Women of colour have held their space within feminism, as many hold physical space in protest crowds. In that space we can explore the nuances of black feminism further (#notyourasiansidekick) and we can dance to Beyoncé’s new album. An album that uses the word feminism throughout and has broken sales records. Now, I can give or take feminist as a term, but I’ve had the luxury of coming to that conclusion myself. Most girls won’t come into contact with it. A hell of a lot more girls will now. That is out and out a good thing. It’s not perfect, e.g. she’s blonde. That’s a shame. And “daddy” during sex? No thank you. But you know what, it’s complicated. Life is complicated. I’ve had a year so complicated I’ve almost denounced feminism entirely on multiple occasions. This album gives me hope and energy, and makes me want to look after myself and other people, and work hard to be the best black feminist I can be. What? I woke up like this.