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Beyoncé's "7/11" as Self-Care

      Beyoncé’s new track “7/11” and accompanying video, dropped this weekend before the official release of BEYONCÉ (Platinum Edition) on 11/24/14, are FUN! And, moreover, they are about fun. And fun can be an important political statement too: for Beyoncé, for us (the listener/viewer), for the world.  After all, Audre Lorde – as a black lesbian poet warrior (i.e. member of many intersecting underrepresented groups) – assures us, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” And further, Alice Walker centers the role of dancing as critical for “maintaining balance,” especially for those involved in any number of social justice struggles/movements, in much of her recent writing, but especially the poetry collection Hard Times Require Furious Dancing. Case in point: how many of us are torn up inside awaiting the verdict from the Ferguson grand jury, rumored to still be coming this weekend, and also rumored to be pointing toward no indictment for Darren Wilson for shooting and murdering Michael Brown, an unarmed black boy, from nearly 150 feet away? In these racist, sexist, homophobic, imperialist times, how good does it feel to take 5 minutes and just dance; just jump to the beat; just forget the world around you for a brief moment while your body fuses with music? This is not just fun – it is a survival strategy for many of us, a moment to recharge and continue to fight the good fight.

      In “7/11” we have a Beyoncé defying expectations, being goofy, drinking, and appearing to have a shit-ton of fun, if I may say so – in private spaces, with herself, with friends. And she is encouraging us to have fun as well – to jump, dance, run around, let loose, be free, dance in our underwear, not give a fuck. At least for a moment, albeit brief. Or, if you’re like me, you’ve had the track on repeat for most of today – but even taking a day to recharge and reconnect with whatever kind of fighting spirit is not too much. It is absolutely essential. In fact, the poems in Walker’s collection signaling us to dance are some of her most somber, most heartbreaking, most sad. And that is exactly why she remains tied to the idea of dancing – because it is exactly what carries her forward. Connecting this impulse to history, she states, “It struck me one day, while dancing, that the marvelous moves African Americans are famous for on the dance floor came about because the dancers, especially in the old days, were contorting away various knots of stress. Some of the lower-back movements handed down to us that have seemed merely sensual were no doubt created after a days’ work bending over a plow or hoe on a slave driver’s plantation.” She evens goes so far as to say it not at all easy to hold on to an ethic of dancing – that is in fact an accomplishment when those from marginalized groups and populations are able to continue to dance, to “still hold the line of beauty, form and beat – no small accomplishment in a world as challenging as this one.”

     Many folks online have noted realizing the lyrics to “7/11” were nonsense but still enjoying the song. However, I don’t think the lyrics are nonsense at all. Simple? Perhaps. But nonsense? Absolutely not. These lyrics are INSTRUCTIONS. And while they might not be that deep, they don’t need to be. Just try to enact these commands without a smile breaking out onto your face. (And let’s not even begin to discuss the number of times I have stood up from the computer to do some of the moves she is requesting as I listen to the song on repeat as inspiration for this essay!) Not since “Get Me Bodied” (later reworked to “Move Your Body” for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to end childhood obesity) has Beyoncé given us such a full-throttle fun, instruction-based pure-dance track. And it can’t be overstated, sometimes a mindless dance track is JUST WHAT WE NEED!

     But that’s not to say the only political import of “7/11” lies in its fuck-it-all fun vibe. The song sneaks an extra message in through the final lines. While the thrust of the song encourages us to forget our problems and the sad political situation we may be in currently – to “smack that clap, clap, clap like we don’t care” – Beyoncé herself quickly realizes that we do care and that it’s OK to take a moment to relax as she immediately shouts back at us: “I know you care!” And then, as we’ve all been dancing, jumping, putting our hands up, spinning, spinning with our hands up, (possibly) drinking, not dropping our cups, and rolling dice, Beyoncé shifts the tone with the last moments of the song. While the song has been more deeply-rooted in a hip-hop aesthetic than some of Beyoncé’s other music (an aesthetic/art form created and maintained at the ground level by people of color – and impoverished Black and Latino communities specifically), for her last semi-verse, Beyoncé goes in hard with references strongly invoking black culture, and firmly tied to black feminist style.

“Rock that groovy dye dashiki

Nefertiti, edges kinky

Sweatin’ out my blow out

Sweatin’ out my presses

Trick about to go off

Mad cause I’m so fresh

Fresher than you

I’m fresher than you

Fresher than you”

     These lines clearly invoke/evoke Afro-centric clothing and black women’s natural hair styles. And in stereotypical hip-hop fashion, Beyoncé also presents a “beef” between her and another “trick about to go off” because she’s not as fresh as Bey herself. But beyond the simple “beef” storyline, hearing these last few lines, I can’t help but be reminded of another Alice Walker poem: “Be Nobody’s Darling” from her collection Revolutionary Petunias:

Be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Take the contradictions

Of your life

And wrap around

You like a shawl,

To parry stones

To keep you warm.

Watch the people succumb

To madness

With ample cheer;

Let them look askance at you

And you askance reply.

Be an outcast;

Be pleased to walk alone

(Uncool)

Or line the crowded

River beds

With other impetuous

Fools.

Make a merry gathering

On the bank

Where thousands perished

For brave hurt words

They said.

But be nobody’s darling;

Be an outcast.

Qualified to live

Among your dead.

      Beyoncé embodies this outcast mentality in the “7/11” video. She gives us her goofy self. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. She is literally nobody’s darling here. She responds askance, “I’m fresher than you.” She embraces the contradictions of black feminism, as she has always done – contradictions that often get read by white America as not-feminist-enough, as evidenced by the recent deluge of criticism from Annie Lennox, et al. When have twerking and feminism been mutually exclusive? (Not that Beyoncé is specifically known for twerking as Lennox claims, though in this video she does give us an image of pseudo-twerkability in skin-tight white pants!) When have privileging sexuality and feminism been mutually exclusive? Beyoncé points out the inherent privilege involved with white feminists’ claims by challenging those same claims. And perhaps “white feminism” in general is the “trick” in “7/11” about to go off, mad because Beyoncé and black feminism are fresher than her tired old assertions. Maybe by dancing our asses off to this track (and trust me – I am dancing my ass off!), we are all demanding a more inclusive feminism and politics that is fresher than the current standard. Maybe we are all asserting that feminism and politics should be nobody’s darling – especially the white power structure, or “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist (hetero)patriarchy” as bell hooks has powerfully labeled it. Because, as she says, Beyoncé knows we care. We care about so many important things – we care about equality; we care about the intricacies of discussing race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.; we care about progressive politics; we care about Michael Brown’s murderer being held accountable to the legal system and the public; we CARE. And we’re with Beyoncé on this one – from another song – “Well, I care / I know you don’t care too much / but I STILL CARE!” Maybe we just need a quick dance break and then we’ll get right back to fiercely caring. Or we’ll care while fiercely dancing. Either way. Trust. 

© Kevin Allred 2014

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