Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
By Ajamu Baraka / blackagendareport.com

I confess, I am a culturally alienated, old, disconnected 1960s and ‘70s radical trying to live and struggle for revolutionary change in a world that might have passed me by, because I cannot for the life of me understand how Beyonce’s commodified caricature of black opposition was in any way progressive. Instead what I saw was the cultural power of neoliberal capitalism to co-opt opposition, monetize it and provide some mindless entertainment all at the same time.  I didn’t see opposition; I saw the imagery and symbols of authentic black radicalism grotesquely transformed into a de-politicized spectacle by gyrating, light-skinned booty-short-clad sisters. 

I am told that I am being too harsh. That there were positive messages encoded into Beyonce’s performance. In their rebuke of my interpretation, my friends return to that old canard that “we got to meet the people where they are at” and take every opportunity within the domain of popular culture to push positive messages. 

This sad and reactionary position only reflects the deep cynicism and alienation of black radical politics that has never recovered from the systematic assault on our movement from the ‘70s onward. An assault that was not only military, but as a centerpiece of its strategy, pushed for a cultural and ideological assimilation of the Black/African working class and the artificially created middle-class. Understanding the power of ideas to shape consciousness, the objective was to “Americanize” the African American. Saner people would call that process genocide, but in the U.S. it is called racial progress. 

“Beyonce’s performance and her video is conservative and accommodationist.”

The success of that strategy – the elimination of the “us,” an emerging “people” committed to radical transformational politics with a healthy psychological and emotional distance from “them,” the U.S. state, its racist and colonialist/imperialist history – was on display in Selma at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the march. In Selma, Barack Obama, the living personification of that strategy, delivered a version of the American narrative that was infused with all of the racist jingoism of bold settlers and the marginalization of genocide and slavery. But instead of Obama being run off the stage and out of town, his rendering of the story of white manifest destiny, U.S. exceptionalism and black advancement within the context of capitalism, was warmly embraced and praised by the new Negroes of empire.   

In an era where the image is dominant and meaning fluid, what is still real, concrete and observable is the operation of power. Situated and controlled by an elite that bell hooks refers to as the White Male, capitalist Patriarchy, it’s a power that exercises with devastating efficiency its ability to shape consciousness through its control of the major means of communication and cultural production. It was those white men and their representatives that placed Beyoncé on that stage at the Super Bowl. It is incredibly naive to think that anything subversive or even remotely oppositional to the interests of the capitalist oligarchy would be allowed expression on a stage that it controlled. 

Beyonce’s performance and her video is as conservative and accommodationist as the demand for justice for …, fill in the blank, after one of the defenders of the capitalist order executes one of our folks. Everyone can give lip service to the demand for racial justice or oppose the “bad apples” in the police forces that abuse their power, and most people, (except the most rabid racists) can and do get behind the idea that black lives should matter. That is why the movement has not been shut down, at least not yet! 

No folks, real opposition to this white supremacist, colonialist/imperialist order is not cool, or sexy. Being a black revolutionary means the possibility of death, it can mean facing decades of incarceration as a political prisoner, it can mean exile or the inability to make a living because your liberal friends consider you dangerous. It is facing the naked power of the national security state with its power to engage in extra-judicial murder with impunity, surveillance and infiltration.

“Didn’t Assata say that we could never be free while the American government and American capitalism remain intact?”

Those who claim that Assata taught them should have been outraged by the brazen, commodified blackness being pushed by capitalist marketers. Didn’t Assata say that we could never be free while the American government and American capitalism remain intact? That is a call for total resistance that can’t be co-opted by bourgeois culture. 

I recognize that we are in a new era.  Structural and ideological changes have profoundly altered the U.S. social formation. Even in the period of the most serious crisis of the capitalist order, the ethical framework of liberal capitalist individualism is still dominant.  And within the black community, post-modernism is in open competition for hegemony with our ever-developing radical tradition. 

In this period of media-driven pseudo-opposition in the form of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Beyoncé or even Bernie Sanders, it is increasingly difficult to make the distinction between image and reality, especially when the production of images and symbols is controlled by dominant forces with an interest in keeping us all stupid.

It is only through ruthless criticism and a commitment to struggling beyond the accepted paradigms that we can penetrate the BS and engage in a politics that is truly subversive. And that kind of politics will not be brought to you in living color in the safety of your homes while you stuff yourself with poison foods and spirits to dull the mind.

Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst.  Baraka is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. His latest publications include contributions to” Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence” (Counterpunch Books, 2014), “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA”(HarperCollins, 2014)  and “Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral” ( CODESRIA, 2013). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com
3.6 ·
3
What's Next
Trending Today
Rap News Special Edition: Hillary Clinton Vs Donald Trump
7 min · 15,665 views today · Hello world. RAP NEWS is back for a special episode on the 2016 USA Election mayhem, feat. Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump + a touch of Jill Stein & Gary Johnson. This one's...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 14,501 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 8,089 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 7,031 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 6,713 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
The Culture of Maximum Harm
Daniel Quinn · 6,160 views today · People have lived many different ways on this planet, but about ten thousand years ago there appeared one people who believed everyone in the world should live a single...
Humanity's Greatest Challenges Aren't Technical, They're Human
8 min · 4,235 views today · Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is incomplete as we commonly know it. Later in his life, Maslow wrote about a stage beyond self-actualization. Nichol Brandford explains how to...
The International Criminal Court May Start Prosecuting People Who Commit Crimes Against the Environment
Tara Smith · 4,192 views today · The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But...
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 3,784 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
The Journey From Syria (2016)
71 min · 2,955 views today · Reporter Matthew Cassel spent a year documenting the journey of Syrian jeweler Aboud Shalhoub as he travels from Turkey to Greece, and through Eastern Europe to the Netherlands...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 2,915 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
The Left Deserves Better Than Jill Stein
Kate Aronoff · 2,399 views today · Stein’s Green Party run doesn’t offer a plan to win, or to build power. The Left is capable of so much more.
Prince Ea Just Put The School System on Trial and Found it Guilty of Killing Free Thought
6 min · 2,193 views today · Albert Einstien once said "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". Today Prince...
The Little Engine That Couldn't: How We're Preparing Ourselves and Our Children for Extinction
Daniel Quinn · 2,082 views today · In a recent semi-documentary film called Garbage, a toxic waste disposal engineer was asked how we can stop engulfing the world in our poisons. His answer was, "We'd have to...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 1,917 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
This Satirical Trump Vs. Bernie Debate Is Both Hilarious and Highly Disturbing
44 min · 1,684 views today · Comedians James Adomian (Bernie Sanders) and Anthony Atamanuik (Donald Trump) bring two of the most controversial candidates in history, head-to-head, or rather bald-to-toupee...
10 Photos That Show the Magnificent Light Shining on Standing Rock
Josue Rivas · 1,673 views today · Despite all the news of pipeline regulation, court appeals, and activist arrests, Native photographer Josue Rivas reminds us that it is actually a peaceful place.
Debt, Inequality and the Logic of Financial Violence
David Graeber · 1,515 views today · Five years after Occupy, organizer and anthropologist David Graeber speaks to ROAR about the power of finance, the history of inequality and the legacy of the movement.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,239 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 1,082 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance