Najm Al-Din explains how Beyonce has betrayed her religion and race.
For diehard fans of the R&B sensation, criticism of Beyonce is the subject that dare not speak its name. “Legend”, “Idol” and “Queen B” are just a few bywords for the multi-platinum and Grammy award wining artist, ranked by Time magazine as among the 100 most influential people in the world.
Yet, attitudes on Beyonce are not as plain sailing as her accolades suggest. Everything from her race, religion to sexuality has become the topic of fierce debate and provides a revealing snapshot of a celebrity who’s deeply entangled in today’s culture wars.
Modern day Jezebel or black feminist?
This past week, I interviewed a spokesperson for a Black Women’s Foundation in Minneapolis who claimed Beyonce was perpetuating historically negative representations of African-American women. She labelled the musician a “modern-day Jezebel” – a far cry from the “feminist champion” tag which fans usually ascribe to her.
The spokesperson said: “Young girls see her as the epitome of female success. They see power in her raunch. But it’s not sexual confidence is it? If anything, it’s a form of 21st century slavery which the white man planted in our history”. The stereotype which Beyonce was apparently guilty of reinforcing was the idea that the true mark of a black girl was her uncontrollable libido and sexual cunning – a trope which white slave-masters set in stone.
As much as we try to connect the dots between historical portrayals of black women and Beyonce’s public image, it’s almost impossible placing her sexual frolics under the microscope without being accused of slut-shaming. But a teenage girl I spoke to from the Minneapolis movement wasted little time hand-wringing over the singer’s oversexed persona. She also took a swipe at First Lady Michelle Obama for heaping praise on the solo artist, which would do nothing but normalise a culture of bump and grind among young black Americans:
“As a young black woman, listening to Beyonce is culturally compromising. It makes me think of ho’s gyrating to pimps and pushers. She reinforces stereotypes of black women as ‘skeezers’. Can I not be an independent black woman without strutting around in a skimpy leotard?” A question it would seem for both Beyonce and Michelle Obama to ponder.
Christian or Satanist?
Realising the extent to which the solo artist had influenced debates on sex and gender, I was also interested to learn how religious communities were taking to her iconoclasm. Ever since her brand became a force to be reckoned with, Beyoncé -an acclaimed Christian – became a permanent fixture at Methodist conventions and Church ceremonies across America.
But recent reports of her membership to a string of occult societies and dip in Church attendance have earned her the suspicion of Christians who were equally scathing of her cultural influence and caught up in the proverbial Beyoncé bashing. A pastor at a soul preaching ministry in Alabama chided Beyonce for professing a Christian ethos, something he says Jesus would be quick to censure:
“Yes, God is the ultimate judge, but that doesn’t stop us from shining light on social problems. And Beyonce is a problem, a dagger in the heart of the Gospel. I speak regularly to my congregation about why Beyonce can never be a poster girl for success, because she stands against the Christian virtue of modesty-assuming she is a Christian that is.”
Negative reactions imploded when I mentioned how Beyonce once infamously declared that stripping on stage was her “God-given right”. According to a preacher at a Baptist Sunday service, a generation which stood for purity was being derailed by Beyonce, who instead of acting as a brake on the sexual excess of celebrity culture was making it “hip, trendy and appealing”.
Despite claiming in the Destiny’s Childs smash hit “Survivor” that “I’m not gon’ compromise my Christianity (I’m better than that)”, I listened on as many Christians proclaimed disgust for Beyonce’s soft-core shenanigans at concerts and symbolism involving pentagrams, pyramids and the all-seeing eye at this year’s Superbowl XLVII, which helped spark Illuminati speculation among other conspiracy theories. The Masonic imagery could never square with her claims of being a devout Methodist and everyone in attendance agreed that Beyonce’s slide into Satanism placed her at loggerheads with the Christian tradition.
Putting sexuality and faith to one side, it’s not the first time the music phenom has been accused of some kind of betrayal. As much as her lyrics may allude to crusading for the feminist cause and pioneering a new kind of black womanhood, the suggestion that beneath the bold exterior lies a dark vein of self-hatred for her complexion is perhaps a charge she may never live down. On rumours that the musician was hung up on colour variations and was using skin-whitening products to project “lighter”, a black mother described to me the psychological effect this was having on her child’s self-image:
“I can sense my daughter isn’t comfortable with her skin. She’s using certain cosmetics to look whiter and always compares her shade to Beyonce’s, which we all know has gotten progressively lighter over the years”.
The change in Beyonce’s complexion, once observed as miraculously “changing from dusky to peachy” reveals that inferiority complexes are rife among some women in showbiz entertainment. Changes in appearance may be the kind of sculpting that comes with a promotional budget, but the smoothening out which Beyonce has received is as much a comment on black culture as it is on industry pressures.
What we are witnessing is the symptom of a psychological ailment plaguing some black girls who are taught unknowingly to self-hate and embrace the lighter hue as the yardstick for what’s desirable and socially advantageous. “If it’s not self-loathing, then what is it?” A young mother asked me.
The topic of race continued to play on the conscience of those I interviewed. For black girls who grew up on a steady diet of Beyonce’s sultry music and party jams, impersonating Beyonce meant entering a world where bleaching their melanin helped to raise self- esteem. This was accompanied with the feeling that Beyonce had pimped herself to white corporate America by promoting a hyper sexualised image of black femininity and fuelled a misguided obsession with light skin, only feeding the childhood insecurities which dark-skinned girls had regarding their complexion. One of the convention’s organisers told me:
“Confused notions of sexuality, race and the absence of respectable role models have hurt us for too long. Beyonce is supposedly filling this vacuum but it’s really at our expense. She’s fodder for the racist corporate machine”.
Although I felt there was some truth to Beyonce being commercially exploited to serve the ends of power groups, I underestimated just how much traction this had in black communities. Time and time again, women argued that Beyonce was a carefully-packaged pawn in white American hands, flagging up the self-serving stereotype of black girls as loose and lecherous. And unless they could sense a dirty game was being played, their quest for a truly “independent woman” would always be frustrated by African-American females bogged down with altering their pigments.
So is Beyonce guilty of racial and religious treason? To her own people, she represents the good, the bad and the ugly. She may be the prototype of women’s empowerment for millions, but having plunged herself into the thick of a Godless cult and led other female admirers headfirst into a colour complex, her claim to injecting soul into black women is only skin-deep.