Yesterday bell hooks dropped her critique of Lemonade/all things Beyoncé. Spoiler alert– bell still feels the same about Beyoncé. And it still reads violently. And it still hurts to watch. Be not deceived, couched in a lengthy word count and what appear to be concessions that allude to bordering on positivity, bell publicly came at Bey’s head. Also a Black woman. Again.

The easy stuff. Bell said Bey ain’t saying nothing new or revolutionary. I addressed that in my last piece. I must say I’m surprised to hear that from bell whose own work built on what had been said by Black feminists before her. The point is that bell, like Bey, found her own way of saying it, a way that speaks to many. But in case you ain’t convinced, bell drops a few works she does believe worthy of praise. And they are. I just would have expected bell to cite work by the first Black feminists to touch American soil since she’s making the “but she ain’t saying nothing new” argument. For the last time (today), say it with me…shared experiences mean few of us are saying anything new. Doesn’t make it any less valid. Moving on.

Bell argues that Lemonade doesn’t solve patriarchal domination. Did those fifty’leven books bell wrote solve it? ? Ok. I legit might need a good talking to for that one. #Butwherethelie My point is that none of this works alone to solve patriarchal domination. Why are we suddenly putting that burden on Bey alone? Collective. It’s a collective. And so is the effort.

“Beyoncé wreaks violence.” Memba when folks accused Black activists and protesters of being violent when property got damaged in Ferguson? The same folks who weren’t mad that an actual person was killed? To accuse Bey of being violent when she in fact harms no one physically and visually plays out reconciliation without leaving Jay Z short a couple of limbs…That particular comment feels like people who tell Black folks that we should always respond to oppression with peace. Bey made it clear which side she stands on when it comes to the Martin/Malcolm dichotomy. But I suppose after you’ve labeled a Black woman a terrorist, calling her violent is light work.

“The scantily-clothed dancing image of athlete Serena Williams also evokes sportswear.” Where bell? Where? I swear fo’ Lawd I ain’t think about sports or sportswear once when I watched Serena dance. I’m pretty sure that was the point. Much like the Sports Illustrated Cover Serena which depicted a similarly scantily-clothed Serena. A cover Serena dictated. All I thought about watching Serena was the wholeness of my Black womanhood. A Black womanhood that makes room for scholarly publications, a code-switching blog and twerking. Sometimes all at the same damn time.

Bell’s issue with Black femmes. Janet Mock dropped the mic on that one so ain’t no need to say what Janet said better.

“Can we really trust the caring images of Jay Z which conclude this narrative.” So many layers to this particular point of bell’s. First, because that trust ain’t ours to give. It’s Bey’s. Second, on a larger scale it reads like the exclusionary nature of historical white feminism that had no room for Black women who insisted upon not leaving Black men behind. if we can’t trust the caring image of Jay, are we to not trust the caring images of any of our brothers? What’s the criteria? Who determines which brothers can be trusted? Must we depend on bell to tell us?

In accusing Beyoncé of falling into stereotypes, bell attempts to force Bey and Serena into quite a few of her own choosing. Serena, according to bell is only athlete. Not the powerful woman Serena herself puts forth herself in Lemonade and on the SI cover. In continuing to deny Bey and Serena agency time and time again, bell herself invokes the patriarchy. Bell reinforces the notion that Bey’s agency is not hers to claim and must be validated by an outside source. This is problematic, even when that outside source is the legendary bell hooks who, in her own right been putting in that work.

Bell’s critique lends to the idea that Lemonade is static in that it does not move beyond pain. As I stated in my first piece, the presence of so many young women speaks to the future, of moving beyond the pain. The presence of grieving mothers speaks to moving beyond pain. Those mothers are still here. They survived. That alone speaks to the ability to move (sometimes literally) beyond pain while still acknowledging it. Because that’s necessary and because Black women are often deprived of the ability to express pain and to be justifiably angry about it. To rest in that anger if necessary. Yes bell, to celebrate the rage. Because the fact is that the sisters are healing. And that might not look familiar to many. Might not even look familiar to bell. The beauty of our healing is that it doesn’t have to be recognized by anyone else.

 
I’m going to be transparent. Writing this piece has me feeling some type of way. My feelings are hurt. For a few reasons. I don’t expect bell to agree with all things all Black woman. Or anything Beyoncé. I do expect that her love for Black women would include a respect that I don’t see evident in her critiques of Beyoncé. Bell’s continued public assaults tell me that her Black feminism has no room for Beyoncé. And I’m left to wonder, did bell ever have room for me?

24 K

31 thoughts on “Bell, Black Girls Are Healing. And it is Glorious.

  1. Shae 2 years ago

    I love your article. You hit the nail on the head. I am truly disappointed in Bell so much that I don’t want to hear or read anything from her in the near future. She appears to play down on the status of black women. And her thoughts on Bey (especially) and Serena seem personal.

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      It does read personal. And it’s disheartening.

  2. Manuel Palacio 2 years ago

    Wow, this review went Nuclear!
    First, let me say that I agree with your assessment of bell hooks. And contradictorily so, I agree with bell hooks. Sure Bell that is patriarchal. But for her contributions to black people, all those cool books, there are no substitutes. So when she says something, I pay attention. And try to reflect on her criticism and how that is relevant to me. Like, why I’m, I bothered. Do I criticise Lil Kim or Michael for skin bleaching or is it a problem I have for being black. And think they should feel proud too. I try to reflect on what are the aesthetic circumstances that got them to that decision; maybe for Kim and Mike is whats best..
    I am a Beyonce fan, no a big fan but a fan nonetheless. As a male, I love the big butt and her willingness to shake it. And Beyonce is beautiful but is her beauty a reflection of my patriarchal upbringing; I’m sure it is. I think what Bell is trying to say is that Beyonce is perpetuating a stereotype no different than Ru Paul’s, I’ma big fan also. For the same reasons, the establish blond standard of beauty. Beyonce by her looks and associations with the white image maker is continuing the same stereotype for beauty; she is more a Bridget Bardot than let’s say, Dianna Ross. Nothing wrong with that also.
    I thought Lemonade is cool. However, black folks are fawning all over it like it is something new, or empowering to black folks. It’s white’ish propaganda appropriating black culture, again nothing wrong with that, it’s also great art. it is a critic’s job to point these things out. We should celebrate Beyonce, but also, be mindful of what we are celebrating. Bell hook is an analyst with a long history of support for the image of the black woman. Not that Bell is beyond reproach, but she does have an eye for the way we celebrate all things white at the expenses of black folks, but as you accurately point out, Beyonce is choosing how she heals. Also for me, Serena looks good and is more than an athlete, even with the weave.

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Manuel, I agree that no one, or piece of art is above critique. In fact, we should critique what we love and what we don’t. It’s important to do that without assaulting people (in this case with words). hooks has a history with Bey and I’m not sure what it’s rooted in but love doesn’t translate. We must also be careful to not exclude our sisters because they bear the mark of too much “whiteness” or because colonialism created colorism. I got bell’s books. And Bey’s albums and both have fed my soul. My love for Black women means that I can’t allow anyone, not even another Black woman, to harm one of my sisters and bell’s words are, and have been, violent when it comes to Beyonce. I would go just as hard for bell. Even when I disagreed with her.

      1. Manuel Palacio 2 years ago

        Erica, thank you for your response. I feel your sincerity and gratitude for Bell and Beyonce. Your article prompted my first-time visit to bell hooks website, thank you. I most t say I admire her criticism, I don’t feel that she has any animosity for Beyonce, but I’m a male we tend to see things different. I feel her criticism is akin to the critique she has for rappers and Ta-Nehisi Coates, more to do with content. I think Bell has a health admiration for Beyonce, she says as much. However, I believe she can and probably will accept feedback from the new feminist. And if many of the sisters feel the way you do, as an artist, she could adjust her analysis. My sisters have proven me wrong many times when it comes to matter about how women see things, especially about other women. I have four daughters, and I learn just to listen be quiet and support. And for a guy that’s no easy, we tend to think we can fix things.

        1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

          Bell has certainly contributed to the discourse within the collective. The indication of animosity (for lack of a better word because I don’t know what bell feels) stems in part from bell calling Beyonce a “terrorist.” I haven’t heard bell apply that word to any other artist. It’s a violent labeling and doesn’t read healthy, to me. We couldn’t do the work without bell and we can’t do it without Bey. But we certainly can’t do it if we’re hurling violent labels at other women in the collective.

          1. Manuel Palacio 2 years ago

            Erica, I thought long before I made a comment about the “terrorist’ comment by Bell Hooks. I want to add a comment in defense of Bell Hooks. I’m currently reading “We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity ( http://www.feminish.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/We-Real-Cool-Black-Men-Masculinity2.pdf ). Chapter 5, “it’s a dick thing beyond sexual acting”. In it Ms. Hooks deals with the reasons black men become undone with their obsession with sex, she mentioned noble leaders like MLk and his sexual philandering finding a sense of masculinity through sexual conquest, for sure it’s a big list. Bell states that this stems from the history of castrating black men to terrorize, for fear of their sexuality. Or to emphasize that they are sexual outlaws. The same reason early white feminist did not want to include black women, detail in “Ain’t Ia Woma” ( http://www.mpalacioart.com/aint-i-a-woman/ ). Lynching became rampant after emancipation. Black male internalized this fear and compensated by doing the opposite. Enfasising their sexual prowess. You can see this thru out popular-culture. As an observer of popular culture and the psychology behind our actions whether we are aware or not Bell does an excellent job pointing out the reasons, we behave the way we do. Sometimes we don’t see it. And yes, I’m a big advocate of counseling. I can’t fault Beyonce or Rap artist for the content of their work; it’s relevant to them. However, the people in charge of marketing are aware that they can manipulate what they want to sell. The message is the same like the Lynchers, to define black people as s different category of humans. In the same book, she points out that it was the white publisher who made “Soul on Ice” a best seller. Again I don’t believe she is criticizing Beyonce, and she speaks highly of MLK’s capacity for love. I think Bell Hooks might be a bit frustrated, because after all this time today, brilliant young black feminist won’t get it. Its similar to black males love for the black power movement; it’s dreadful for black women. But we love us some Huey Newton.

    2. A. M 2 years ago

      So many strange declarations in your comment. Basically you’re a Beyoncé fan, (read male gaze) because her big butt and how she shakes it BUT she’s no revolutionary and shouldn’t be celebrated because she’s not doing anything besides the same old “white’ish propoganda appropriating black culture” that you find nothing wrong with?

      are you trolling or is this your discussion board post that was due at 11:59 pm from your black feminism chapter you didn’t fully read in your women studies 101 course?

      JW/AskingForAFriend/?

      1. Manuel Palacio 2 years ago

        A.M, my apologies if I offended you, I will take you suggestion to read male gaze. I was trying to point out that for many reasons Beyonce performances are about the male gaze, and that I believe is but one of the reasons Bell Hooks finds her work problematic. No dought she is more than a beautiful face and body. I will like to comment again that I am a fan of Beyonce, the artist. “Single Ladies” I believe is the coolest video since Michael Jackson’s Triller. My friends tell me I’m crazy. That she have an amazing body is part of her presentation. We live in visual culture. My male gaze is trained to pick up on those cues. And what bell Hoks is pointing out, that is the problem, of course, I disagree, but I could see why Bell thinks that is an important issue.

    3. Tracie 2 years ago

      I really love your comments as they seem to reflect a bit of my own. I’d like to weigh in on a couple of things. Michael Jackson had vitiligo. It was proven in his autopsy. We could dissect the psychological reasons why he chose to lighten his skin but we aren’t qualified, at least I’m not. We could assume that for his public image he chose to lighten his skin due to the discoloration but it definitely wasn’t to escape his heritage, according to those closest to him. He was very aware of his heritage. As far as Lil’ Kim is concerned, she has no skin condition (that I know of) that is causing her to want to lighten her skin so what are the psychological implications there? Is she aware of her heritage and or trying to escape it? Those two cases are very different and make for an unsafe comparison. I also would like to note at the end of your comment when you said, “even with the weave” referring to Serena Williams. What do you mean by that? I understood it as an “in spite of” comment as if the weave now affects her being in a negative way. I, too, at some point in my life thought wearing hair weave somehow took us away from ourselves. However, upon further study of the history of African women and hair, I have found we have been wearing weaves for 1000s of years. We were even buried in weaves as you will find with some of the mummy’s found in Africa. Hair has always been a fashion statement amongst African women and we have worn many different styles ranging from straight to kinky hair. Interestingly enough straight hair back then was not synonymous with Europeans; Africans have many hair textures across the continent. I am wondering where it would lead us if we not only stopped shaming weaves but embraced every woman’s right to express her creative self in any hair style she chooses. Real feminism is about having the freedom to choose how we express ourselves. There is no set method for this and that seems to be misunderstood amongst the new age feminist crowd.

      1. Manuel Palacio 2 years ago

        Hi Tracie, we’re in agreement. Wether Micahel had vitiligo or not did not matter. I was trying to convey that the problem is not with Michael or Lil’ Kim but with my internalize racism that causes me to be judgmental of their choice. I grew up in a Hispanic and West Indian culture, the words black and ugly and Negro Y feo were and are synonymous. So to protect my “black” self-esteem I celebrated the opposite. Black became beautiful for being black. And I love Michael Jackson because he was so dark and cool just like me, and he could dance like me, and he was on the TV. When Michael’s color changed, I stop being a fan, even though his music and skill were the same, even better. I had to reconcile with myself and be tolerant of my upbringing. I hear the same criticism black women have of Serena. Comments that she would look even better if she got rid of the weave. Or that she is not proud of herself, or what’s to be white. We seldom realize that the criticism is a reflection of ourself. Popular culture has a strong influence on the mind. We celebrate what we see others respect and admire. And Beyonce is the epitome of Popular culture. Our children are paying attention; We should take the time to explain the symbolism in her work. And make a historical connection with her art, she influences many artists in her work. Or we can just enjoy, let it go.

  3. Antonia Dorsay 2 years ago

    bell has always had an issue with femme, ging back to when I first started reading her earliest works — bell has always been critical of anything she sees as assimilationist. For good reason, as you know. But bell never understood “girl power”, never quite could wrap her head around individual Agency and the not that we can feel good about ourselves and that feeling good isn’t about appealing to or derived from the social pressure to appeal to The Gaze.

    This is why Bey is so problematic for her — and not just her. She has a hard time separating the “media image” that she knows is fostered and forced by patriarchal powers and the persona power of Bey herself (a power which allowed her to make the stunning lemonade in the first place).
    “all your faves are problematic” — Bey is forging a different path for us, one built on much of what bell has said and taught and shown us and you can see it; but she places that femme black woman on it, that screw you to the standards that has a pale mixed black woman like myself struggling to find my own sense of beauty.

    That’s the division line, as I see it.

    So be not so hard on bell, for she is still one of us, and one of us from a time when what Bey does would get us killed.

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Great points. I agree, no Bey without bell. And that was one of my concerns, how bell’s response might read as exclusionary to women who identify with Bey for many reasons.

  4. Black Girl Rising 2 years ago

    I am so proud Beyonce for being brave enough to offer here truth into the world white racist and black thought police (hooks) be damned. Thank Beyonce the hood girls needed this and we salute✊?

  5. Lisa 2 years ago

    This article gave me life! Thank you! I can’t comprehend bell’s personal attacks.

  6. Ellyn 2 years ago

    I agree with Bell. Enduring doesn’t necessarily mean healing. I didn’t detect a note of hate. It was an honest thoughtful critique. I found myself wondering in the days after the zest settled to the bottom if we were watching a marketing ploy. I found myself wondering if we were not being seduced by these images to buy more product. Be it Bey’s album or her clothing line or her husband’s streaming service. Just like “Girls Run the World” was not true as women lead very few nations on this planet, this album while certainly creative, capitalized on pain. I’m still not buying what’s being sold to me through the product of Mr. and Mrs. Carter.

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Understandable. I guess my question would be, how does Bey differ from any artist (including the ones bell supports) in that aspect (marketing etc)? My poetry is about my life, lots of pain. I still demand my coin to perform my work. And it’s a necessary, revolutionary act of self care.

  7. Babe 2 years ago

    This article is interesting but the writting and it’s structure cool use some improvement. She seems to just jump from one idea to another without fluidity, transitions or context. It’s like a bunch of mini critiques of Bell Hooks critiques… That article was very poorly written

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Babe, thanks for visiting and taking time to read the post. Much appreciated. Insightful observation. This piece (like some of my others) was published exactly as it came to me. My response to bell was more emotional than academic. It was a conversation I was having in my own head and you’ve picked up on that.

  8. Milka 2 years ago

    We forget that black women and all women occupy a place of multiplicity of selves. We have so many dimensions to who we are in regards to our physical beauty, ability to express love or rage in addition to our intellect. Some women like Bell Hooks are very uncomfortable with th body, raw sexuality and sensuality. As an intellectual she lives completely in her head and probably has never had any sexual powers to unleash. So I’m not surprise of the hate towards Beyoncé… It probably comes from a deep place of sexual inadequacy and discomfort! While I appreciate Bell Hooks, I wish she would stop trying to add her two cents because black millennial women are learning to own their bodies publicaly and without shame. Bell needs to step aside and be happy that it’s not just one image of black women… Beyoncé only represents one archetype – the temptress!

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Bell’s work shaped my journey to black feminism. As an poet, I’ve also found myself in poetry and song lyrics and usually translate my own process that way. There is room for both and room for critique. But we (bell) can’t just he hurling words like “terrorist” at our sister and then think that anything we say to/about her will be viewed in a way that facilitates growth in all engaged parties. We need the bells and we need the Beyonces!

    2. Kelsey 2 years ago

      Well said Milka! And Erica Thurman, I appreciated the ‘rawness’ of your article. I am a fan of Beyonce and occasionally I dislike some of her songs due to language.
      I remember reading Bell Hook’s 2014 “Terrorist” comments of Beyonce and thought that it was emotionally driven and very far fetched. I do not favor Hooks critiques of Beyonce because of her negative approach; she simply can not identify with Beyonce’s image and what she represents. I think she holds herself at a higher place than Beyonce and does not try to identify with her. Despite this, she should know that criticism does not have to be negative in order to be constructive.
      Also, I have yet to find an article where Hooks criticizes the lyrics of Beyonce’s Lemonade Album, she so quick to comment on the artist’s image, but not the message in the songs she dances to. [But by all means, if someone finds an article on that, PLEASE post a link to it in a reply, I would love to read it.]

      I believe that black women can support other black women (regardless of their differences) without tearing each other down.

  9. Carol H. 2 years ago

    Erica–What a lovely, thoughtful, accessible piece. Don’t know what to think about the arguments on both sides, but your exploration was welcome.

  10. Vonn 2 years ago

    While I appreciate Bell Hooks contributions to black feminism, I never fully connected with her, nor have I kept up with her Bey rants. However, while I loved the visual of lemonade, quotes from Warsan Shire and focus on Ibeyi, I felt she played the victim way to long. Halfway through I was done listening. I personally do not see Beyonce as a role model but apparently many others do, we all have our lanes.
    BTW, I must say that your delivery of this message was extremely distracting, had to read it a few times. I understand you said it came to you that way but… ?

    1. Erica Thurman 2 years ago

      Part of the beauty of a collective is that we get to find pieces ourselves in a myriad of voices and modes of expression. The style of this piece doesn’t appeal to everyone. Feel free to check out some of my formally structured pieces.

  11. Julia Chance 2 years ago

    Erica, I’m sorry you feel hurt and appreciate your frankness about it. I didn’t take hook’s thoughts as a critique as much as context and a reminder of the work that still needs to be done, which is why it takes those ” fifty’leven books bell wrote,” Bey’s “Lemonade, and the constant vigilance of feminist women and men to disrupt patriarchy. Thanks for your take.

  12. Hareem 2 years ago

    I’m not a black woman but I read bell’s article and had the same thoughts as you. So what if Beyonce didn’t say something revolutionary? So what that her video doesn’t solve the issues of male patriarchy? I found your deliberate way of writing interesting to read. Thanks for putting this out there.

    1. Paula 2 years ago

      I’m not a black woman either but I am learning so much because of Lemonade and the myriad discussions around it. It is an exciting time to be alive!
      I didn’t feel the hate from bell either but I am unfamiliar with their shared history. I did think the “nothing new to see here” stuff was unnecessary though and I loved your fifty’leven books barb. lol I also think there might be something to her reaction to Bey’s very potent display of her sexuality as referenced by Milka. I’ll bet though that bell DID have her own sexual powers to unleash but it was a very different time. Also, LOVE your point about needing to celebrate the rage. As a woman I get that. Women need time to move through the mountains of patriarchal shit. We can’t be MLK all the time. The reality is sometimes we want to swing that baseball bat. Kali is a goddess too.
      I saw Lemonade as a powerful piece of art/commerce that is doing some very important work. It made me personally weep. It touched a deep place in the collective psyche. There is so much magic about and Bey is but one practitioner, albeit a powerful, influential one! Also, she is only getting started! Looking forward to watching her body of work unfold. It will become even more relevant and interesting as her little girl grows up. I really appreciated this article. Thanks so much for your take.

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