Beyoncé and Whites' Resentment of Wealthy Black Celebrities
I find it very disingenuous (as in anti-Black and hypocritical) that critiques of capitalism regularly surface as rings of fire with Black celebrities as the centers. Beyoncé and other Black celebrities are regularly the ruler by which Whites—who benefit from the fact that slavery and genocide, anti-Blackness and settler colonialism, are what capitalism itself would not exist without, no less—use to measure how oppressive this system is to them. This involves often glaring over how even in exceptionalist cases such as celebrity wealth or the upper echelons of wealth that Whites occupy, Black people are still underrepresented. Black people are underrepresented among the wealthy and even among the middle class, period. Even among the wealthiest in the world, Beyoncé still does not occupy that tens of billions plus structural power stratosphere that people want to non-intersectionally view as a raceless mass of riches. There is no raceless class analysis that would be valid one. (And I know the elevator mention in the remix to “***Flawless”—of course interpreted denotatively by Whites—is used as “proof” she’s somehow Warren Buffett. Not really.)
To be clear, I’m not going to rehash the discussion about Beyoncé and feminism itself. I previously discussed that here: Liberating The Black Female Body: Thoughts On The Voices Of bell, Janet, Shola and Marci, Beyoncé’s ***Flawless Feminism: A Womanist Perspective, Beyoncé’s New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood and Freedom. I’m also not going to discuss the "unless Beyoncé is thoroughly dehumanized via misogynoiristic criticism, then she wasn’t adequately critiqued" approach. I critiqued her when I talked about light skin privilege and its impact on her success, when I discussed “Drunk In Love,” and here: Beyoncé, #BanBossy and Feminist Credentialism. I don’t believe misogynoir is “valid critique” from people who aren’t Black women to critique Black women nor does it prove “truth telling” or “introspection" on a Black woman’s part, if we’re the ones critiquing. I’m also not going to re-address the misogynoir nor respectability politics involved in critiques of Beyoncé that are really meant to harm everyday Black women. I’ve done that here: What’s Really Going On With White Feminists’ Critiques of Beyoncé?, Respectability Politics ≠ Womanism/Black Feminism, A Twitter Conversation, re: “Why Talk About/Defend Beyoncé?”. I’m also not going to “defend” why I choose to write about her, as I write about many Black women (and Black womanhood in general), which is ignored by those looking for confirmation bias to devalue the totality of my words (in like 1,000+ essays on various topics, 4,000+ blog posts, 300K+ tweets) solely because they hate Beyoncé; I’ve already done that here: "Why Do You Blog About Beyoncé?"
I am, however, thinking about how the entitlement that makes White privilege what it is, includes an entitlement to wealth, a response that amounts to “Black celebs have ‘egos’ if they are not “humble” about money that they should be thankful we allow them to have.” And I see this surface when White women, especially White feminists, shape their critiques on Beyoncé’s money as well. Besides the blatant racism of White women deeming their cultural appropriation of Black women to be “empowerment" for White women (while decrying any critique of this racism as "misogyny" from Black women), where White women who do this are then "feminist" by default, and besides deeming sexual empowerment, creativity, dancing/music, and normally privileged social markers of cishet marriage, motherhood and theism as "anti-feminist" when embodied by a Black woman, White women, though not them alone, engage in economic violence against Black women as well, using Beyoncé and as the tool by which to do it at times.
Whites use Black celebrity wealth to harm Black people in three ways (and these ways are absorbed by non-Whites as “fact”). First, it is to deny Black humanity, as Beyoncé is regularly juxtaposed to “real” women who are usually middle class and White. White women have 8,520X the wealth of Black women ($42,600 versus $5), yet this rarely factors into thoughts about “real” women or not. Black womanhood is always on trial, and clarifiers such as “real” cannot be separated from this dehumanization. Second, it is to harm poor Black people by suggesting that since financial outliers like Beyoncé exist, income inequality and wealth disparity that impacts millions of Black people (which I discussed in Black In The 99%) are “not real.” This connects to the victim blaming that American exceptionalism and bootstrap theory (as well as other popular ideologies) rely on by default. Third, it is to juxtapose the claim of Black celebrities not “giving enough” in philanthropy to fellow Black people (which many Black celebrities/Black business owners actually do, although research has shown poorer people across the board tend to give more in relation to their income) with White philanthropists who are praised for being White Saviors™. How ahistorical does someone have to be to praise the Koch brothers’ “philanthropy” and “humanitarianism” as “kindness” when the Kochs and other powerful White men (in addition to the institutions that are their footstools and playpens) benefit from the structural violence they enact through unstoppable power and resources; violence that creates the need for philanthropy in the first place?
Wealthy/successful Black people disturb White people. This doesn’t mean that capitalism is then automatically “liberation” for us nor does it mean that purposely denying equitable wages and resources to Black people via exploitation of labor deemed justifiable because of anti-Blackness is okay either. The latter is actually still capitalism. But it does mean that financial outliers like Beyoncé are centered as “wealthiest.” Why is Oprah immediately named as a wealth reference and not the Koch brothers who have more than 50X her wealth, as well as power that she cannot buy, power that comes with old money, Whiteness, maleness and political dominance behind the scenes? It’s not just media visibility and pop culture. It’s because people are taught to ignore the implications of imperialist White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchy and how generational wealth works. Oprah and Jay Z are one generation removed from poverty. One. (It’s worth noting how a lot of Black wealth is concentrated in entertainment/athletics. This is not accidental but a complicated picture of our own creative genius as resistance over time and Whites’ racist and narrow labor/lending practices, in addition to Whites/non-Black people of colour’s consumption of Black culture.)
Beyoncé’s humanity, not her “feminism” is what is really on trial in these type of critiques (especially since Black womanhood is regularly questioned and denied and since Whiteness is the only requirement for a White woman to be deemed feminist). I find wealth criticism of Beyoncé and many other Black celebrities to be short-sighted and harmful when they’re coming from these White-male owned mass media platforms with positions held by White women (and at times anti-Black non-Black women of colour; non-Black women of colour can and do engage in misogynoir against Black women because of how they’re placed above Black women, especially in terms of “beauty”) whose mastheads remain mostly or all-White.
What on Earth would they know about Black women’s womanist/Black feminist epistemology, experiences or lives when their own companies do not consider Black women as hires and pay many White women to engage in plagiarism and erasure of Black women? (Most music sites will employ White men, Black men and White women/non-Black women of colour before a Black woman.) How can they pretend they’re committed to economic viability for Black women when their economic criticisms of Beyonce surface superficially (i.e. after the VMAs this was a common critique from non-Black women, especially White ones; really they just didn’t like seeing some happy Black women online that night, I’m certain), yet they have no real grasp of what Black women’s unemployment being more than double White women’s means for us? Nor do they and many employers do anything to change that. White women’s media comeuppance via content trolling, plagiarism and cultural appropriation of Black women does a lot of types of harm to Black women and that includes economic violence. Instead of singling out Beyoncé among a legion of celebrities who are wealthy, perhaps they can think about why their White feminist icons like Madonna and Miley Cyrus—both who culturally appropriate and exploit Black women, and both who earned more than Beyoncé last year—remain such icons with a “feminist praxis” that is primarily exploitation. I’m supposed to listen to their critiques of Beyoncé’s money when I’ve been to hell and back with the academe and jobs, Black women writers like me have donation buttons and crowd fund to survive, and they ignore how most Black women will never have the wages, wealth or platforms that White women do? (Not suggesting I want their specific platforms; ew no. But Black women and fully human visibility matters.)
It is woefully transparent to single out Beyoncé or other Black celebrities when an entire culture of celebrity admittedly does leave a lot to be desired and deconstructed in terms of ascribing value on a person because of money, but still deems it okay to dehumanize and blame a person like Beyoncé because of Black womanhood. The discussion that White women in terms of feminism/White people in general don’t want to have (beyond the "oh no, this is terrible, well time to continue on with our privilege!" at best, or "liar, this is not true, you’re just blaming us for your ‘failures’” at worst), is about the economic disparities that they cannot deny exist for the majority of Black women, and Black people in general, no matter how many Black celebrities they turn their noses at. The deceptive analyses that center exceptions like Black celebrities don’t make the reality of the violence of anti-Blackness, racism, White supremacy and capitalism on everyday Black life any less true.