‘Beyoncology’ professor sheds light on black feminism in music

Daphne A. Brooks speaks Thursday evening in Cosford Cinema about Beyoncé and feminism. Hunter Crenian // Staff Photographer

Daphne A. Brooks speaks Thursday evening in the Cosford Cinema about Beyoncé and feminism. Hunter Crenian // Staff Photographer

Update, [8:25 p.m.], [Oct. 10, 2016]: [ The source of a quote, size of the audience and location of the presentation were specified.]

While some label Beyoncé as solely a popular R&B artist, some label her as a feminist. Others label her as neither and instead criticize her career as being superficial.

However, during a presentation Thursday night called “Forward Toward Freedom: Beyoncé’s Sonic Fourth Wave Feminism” in the Cosford Cinema, Daphne A. Brooks, a celebrated author and professor of both African-American studies and theatre studies at Yale, emphasized the fruitlessness of trying to place Beyoncé into a specific box.

“Beyoncé has continued to expand the field of how to think about women’s empowerment liberation politics as being intersectional and constitutes it not just by race or gender or class or sexuality,” Brooks said to the audience of approximately 50 people.

In her presentation, Brooks explored Beyoncé’s evolutionary music career through a political and historical lens, calling it “Beyoncology.”

She chronologically analyzed Beyoncé’s career from her beginnings as a teenage singer in Destiny’s Child, hinting to feminist ideology in songs like “Bills, Bills, Bills,” to her now transcendent solo career where she embodies sonic fourth-wave black-feminist politics in her latest album and manifesto called “Lemonade.”

“Beyoncé uses feminism as a form of activism and protests for gender equality and gender liberation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Beyoncé came out as a feminist in the MTV music awards and then built on that statement to expand her political discourse to engage the Black Lives Matter movement,” Brooks said.

Brooks also drew parallels between Beyoncé’s work to other black female musicians in history like Nina Simone and Etta James, however, Brooks says there was and is no other artist that uses feminism so centrally in their music.

The presentation also highlighted times that Beyoncé combined her music with excerpts from other black activists, such as when she used stanzas from Maya Angelou’s poems in her visual album “Lemonade,” a part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the B.E.T 2016 Award Show and a part of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s viral TED talk in her song “***Flawless.”

“Beyoncé is an excellent role model for how any young feminist can think about pushing themselves to continue to know more, desire more and to deepen and sharpen their political vision,” Brooks said.

Brooks has taught and studied Beyoncé for nearly a decade. She published her first article that analyzes Beyoncé’s work when Beyoncé was still in Destiny’s Child and has taught four different courses that feature Beyoncé at both Yale University and Princeton University. Brooks is now teaching a class called “Run The World: Black Women and Popular Culture” as a staff professor at Yale.

Her analysis on Beyoncé’s work has been recorded in The Guardian and The New York Times, to name a few, and it has gained nation-wide attention from many students and professors.

“From Brooks’ talk, I hope my students will gain the power of feminism as it’s used by someone who has a great deal of power through their celebrity and the importance with facing institutional racism, especially in law enforcement,” said Claire Oueslati-Porter, a professor of women’s and gender studies at UM.

After reading one of Brooks’ early essays on Beyoncé’s album, “B’Day,” Kevin Allred, a women’s and gender studies professor at Rutgers University, created the class “Politicizing Beyoncé: Black Feminism, US Politics, & Queen Bey.”

“Brooks’ essay inspired me to analyze music, Beyoncé’s music specifically, as having all these other layers where you can read Beyoncé as political. It set me on the path to create my class,” Allred said during an interview with The Miami Hurricane.


1 Comment

  1. I wish I would have known about this ahead of time.

    Brooks is right. Beyonce’s legacy can’t be “placed” in a box. Her legacy extends far past music and into the conversation of social and political activism.

    A class that looks at a musician through that kind of lens is sure to be a hit!