by Reggie E. and edited by Danny Haiphong
"Beyoncé’s latest work has been described as 'subversive' and 'unapologetically Black,'"” when in reality it is 'both anti-black liberation and counter-revolutionary." She is a Black capitalist, and "there is no market in this industry for radical black thought, self-love, and liberation." Her Pantheresque imagery attempts to co-opt a movement. "The revolution will not be televised, but the corporate media will certainly make it into a product."
How the Corporate Media Uses Beyoncé to Co-opt the Black Radical Movement
by Reggie E. and edited by Danny Haiphong
“Black capitalism fights to break down the barriers of institutional racism only to ally with the Empire and reap the benefits of the capitalist system responsible for Black oppression.”
Art is a powerful tool in the fight against US capitalism and white supremacy. It has the power to unleash the narrative of the oppressed and express how the system affects the people on a spiritual level. Artistic expression provides a space to be explicit – a space to be critical. Music, in particular, has been used as a tool to spark radical thinking and organization in the struggle for justice. However, under capitalism, the power of art has also been co-opted by corporations for the purposes of profit and propaganda.
Beyoncé’s release of “Formation” has created much buzz both in the corporate media and amongst the masses. The song and the music video have been interpreted as political, radical even. Beyoncé’s latest work has been described as “subversive” and “unapologetically Black.” But from the authors’ perspective, Beyoncé appeared to be doing her usual self-exaltation by boasting of her financial gains and staying true to the neo-liberal feminist line she’s been employing as of late. Is the Destiny’s Child lead-turned-icon looking to cash in on the Black Lives Matter movement to promote her product and to announce her exceedingly expensive concert tour? Is it a coincidence that the song was released around the same time that her husband, capitalist mogul Jay-Z, revealed that Tidal would be investing $1.5 million to essentially co-opt BLM? Neither the movement nor the media are asking these questions.
“The presence of Black women or Black people in the media and the love of one’s own natural hair will not, in and of itself, make us free.”
Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s “pro-Black” brand is just the rollout of their 2016 business plan. And the plan is working. My peers and comrades, even those typically critical of the corporate media, praised Beyoncé’s recent work as brave and “woke. “ For some, the imagery of Beyoncé’s daughter sporting her natural hair was enough, being that Beyoncé does not ordinarily exemplify or publicly model that aesthetic herself. To others, it was refreshing to see her celebrate her cultural roots, albeit superficially, with enticing props, scenes, and garments. Others pointed out that the imagery acknowledging police brutality (although they were seized from other artists in an imperialist fashion) carried a powerful statement.
The Obama era has been rife with symbolism. This development has caused great harm to the masses. The Obama period has shown that the presence of Black women or Black people in the media and the love of one’s own natural hair will not, in and of itself, make us free. No amount of costumes, Black Panther imagery, and perfectly synchronized dancing can veil the corporate media’s attempt to co-opt the bourgeoning movement with a Beyoncé song that is both anti-black liberation and counter-revolutionary.
Analysis of Formation
Beyoncé’s song Formation “slays” listeners with references to her personal successes within the entertainment industry – that is, her financial fortitude and celebrity. She concludes that gaining her level of riches and fame while being a Black woman (within a majority white space) makes her exceptional – that she is “winning” in the capitalistic game. She goes on encourages her listeners, black girls and women, to embrace individualism so they too can become as successful (rich) as she is:
Sometimes I go off, I go off
I go hard I go hard
Get what’s mine, take what’s mine
...or else, Black women and oppressed people will find themselves falling behind. In her own words,
“Slay trick, or you get eliminated.”
Beyoncé demands that Black women take on the oppressor’s attitude. Her definition of liberation is the embrace of capitalism and on being upwardly mobile within the system. Yet capitalism is the reason Black Americans have lost more ground economically than any other group since the 2008 economic crisis and why Black America is the most oppressed people in the US. As Audre Lorde notably said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The embrace of individualism will do nothing but strengthen a social system predicated on racial violence and capitalist greed. But don’t expect Beyoncé to understand this while popularizing the slogan “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”
“Her definition of liberation is the embrace of capitalism and on being upwardly mobile within the system.”
Beyoncé’s most loyal fans are Black women, yet she advises young black women to “stay gracious” and pious in the face of a system that is responsible for the violence imposed on them. She is suggesting that more money, not more resistance, is the best means to settle matters with a racist apparatus that is firmly in the hands of bankers and corporate executives who became rich from Black labor. Beyoncé hopes that we as black women will not confront the system and instead seek out a seat at the table of exploitation and capitalist ruin.
The young movement against racism and police violence in the US should reject such messages. These messages are not rooted in the history, theory, or revolutionary principles of the Black liberation movement. Rather, songs like “Formation” are just another attempt of many to wage war on Black radical political consciousness and organization. When they arise, we should condemn them. We should then follow the condemnation with these critical questions: What does liberation look like? What are we fighting for?
The only way the imagery within Beyoncé’s video could be deemed “radical” is if the scope of the movement is limited to a fight for Black representation within the capitalist system. The Black Panther Party called this development “Black capitalism.” Black capitalism fights to break down the barriers of institutional racism only to ally with the Empire and reap the benefits of the capitalist system responsible for Black oppression. Liberation is reduced to elevating a tiny minority of the Black community to class comfort. Solidarity is defined not as a struggle against a common oppressor, but as collaboration with the oppressor. These are the principles that guide the Black Congressional Caucus’s history of voting for the empowerment of the Israeli apartheid state and artists such as Jay-Z, whose recent fortunes have been derived from the gentrification of the Black community of Brooklyn.
“There is no market for being deeply critical of the system within the confines of the corporate media.”
The corporate hip-hop industry is one large market for capitalist principles, whether it is the patriarchy peddled by Kanye West and J. Cole or the “money is the motive” mindset of Drake. There is no market in this industry for radical black thought, self-love, and liberation. There is no market for being deeply critical of the system within the confines of the corporate media. There’s no space for indicting the system. One cannot fight the imperialist system and financially benefit from it. The corporate media simply won’t allow it.
There appears to be a layer of fear that protects Beyoncé from criticism despite her blatant exploitation of the bourgeoning movement. Many are hesitant due to her perceived social identity. Her status as a Black woman does not mean she is for the liberation of Black women. Just because her music is marketed and packaged to black people does not mean she is working in solidarity for radical change. Under capitalism, the masses are merely consumers to the vast majority of these corporate artists. Profit is their motivation. It is important to be critical of all corporate artists who attempt to co-opt the movement. How else can we move to a higher level of struggle and demand that icons and leaders uphold the ideology and practice of the movement?
If Beyoncé’s embrace of patriarchy is deemed feminist and her lust for money a model for Black liberation then we are in serious trouble. Her target audience, young Black people, will internalize these principles as the correct path to social transformation. The revolution will not be televised, but the corporate media will certainly make it into a product. The courageous actions of thousands of Black people across the country have forced the corporate media to react. Thinking positively about this development is one thing, thinking critical about it another.
“If Beyoncé’s embrace of patriarchy is deemed feminist and her lust for money a model for Black liberation then we are in serious trouble.”
Beyoncé may very well be sincere in her love for her daughter, her yearning to get in touch with her cultural roots, and her sympathy towards victims of police brutality. However, no matter how “pro-bBlack” Beyoncé may be, the concrete political message in her music cannot be denied. “Formation” is not solidarity. It is individualism. Beyoncé pushes her listeners to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work hard in a machine that has oppressed Black people for centuries.
Actual radical political thought and action would be class suicide for Beyoncé. Corporate entertainers are destined to serve the neo-liberal agenda of capitalism and white supremacy. Her Super Bowl performance alone unleashed an attack from the right wing center of the US ruling class. But it appears Beyoncé may perform in the colonial state of Israel, which is ruled by its own band of right wing racists. Such a move alone, should it occur, calls into question the value of symbolism in this period.
This moment is a lesson to all of us fighting for a new world based on human need and against the exploitation of humanity. As an artist and a Black revolutionary woman, I have learned from this Beyoncé moment that art must be used to advance the struggle for liberation and be rooted in the actually existing conditions of our people. The expectation should not be for Beyoncé to commit class suicide, but for us in the movement to elevate our own political struggle into a culture of resistance that is surely in birth.
Reggie E is a black woman and an artist residing in the NYC area. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at [email protected].