An interesting article headlining Miley Cyrus and Beyonce reads: If Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé want to be feminist, they need to quit the celebrity machine. Author Gaylene Gould got it right and in doing so, ignited a conversation between myself and professor Hunter. Our December 18th discussion went something like this:
Hunter: In reflecting on recent discussions on beyonce’s declaration about her feminism, i’m trying to discern the difference between identification with an ideology and activism that leads to social transformation.
Carson: I like this reflection my friend and colleague is wrestling with. Dr. Hunter has given me something to ponder. Though I am black and educated in the spirit of the bourgeoisie, I believe that my activism will always be proletarian, as I noted regarding W.E.B Du Bois. If that means passively protesting a commencement speaker or organizing a walkout during an assembly — both of which I have done, they serve as a model to my students that I am serious about both action and teaching. I can live with that. Folks confuse leadership sometimes. Too many stationary books on what leadership looks like. It is a commercialized industry.
Hunter: knock it off ed. I’m just joe PhD. lol. I’m not trying to set the bar too high for anyone, but the history of black feminism, on all levels, is filled with known and unknown black women who put in work.
Carson: But the fact that you are creating and encouraging this discussion is what validates you and your point. People confuse talk with inactivity. It is the talk that promulgates action. And here, you are speaking towards our cultural ignorance and inconsistencies. Yes, what about the many sisters who are not commercialized but act? I want the bar high.
Hunter: Ella Baker talked. Angela Davis talked and continues to speak. Toni Morrison talks and writes, but in many ways Oprah’s philanthropy speaks to me of a feminist agenda. As you know, I think caring means learning about the conditions of structural violence so that we have good, thoughtful, and articulate hearts that are able to describe the marginalizing structures of power and then in winsome terms attract those with similar moral intuitions or commitments. As you know, discourse is critical to meaningful social transformation. For that reason, as an educator, I’m interested in the intellectual and moral (spiritual) formation of my students AND colleagues.
Carson: Unfortunately, folks either forget or do not want to revisit the narrative once scripted for such dialogue about race and gender. Angela Davis’ dealings with the Panthers and the Communist Party of America denotes her own class and racial alienation. Toni Morrison’s deepest narratives points to matters deemed too taboo to discuss in the mainstream. Intra-class and black racism works against our own sense of being consciously aware — as Marxism has taught us. A history of shade (i.e., high yellow) and incest that demonized blacks folks for centuries continues to hunt us. Both Davis and Morrison have spoken to these matters. Yet, it is Oprah who reminds us through her philanthropy in a different fashion that class and racial consciousness still exist. I think to her support of Obama or the movie Great Debaters that showcased the rise of a young Farmer who became an activist in addressing matters of inequality. Or, her book club. I do not think folks see the thread or theme with her book selections as they relate to your point on ideology and activism. Unlike Davis, who used her action and education to denounce class and racial injustices, Oprah managed to transcend both among the most unsuspecting audience: white homemakers. Unfortunately, I am not convinced she nor Davis nor Baker nor Morrison can compete with the false personification of modern celebs like Beyonce. Young sisters want to shake the booty. And that is okay. As long as the shaking stays in the club and the real work continues through a well articulated message. This has always been my message to the black sisters in my courses.
Hunter: The great debates, zora, morrison, edwidge danticat for morrison, etc and so on. the difference is Morrison’s work began with a self-reflective writing exercise that looked at hegemonic power and internalized oppression and the human condition. Instead of seeking celebrity, she wrote a book that she wanted to read. That personal work translated into social transformation, created other opportunities for black writers, as well as celebrity. These consequences were the unintended consequence of tending to her soul and asking important questions out loud. we can go on and on on this one.
Carson: Agreed!!! Darn did I really forget about sister Hurston? Yes. My mind is now racing out of control. Thanks for giving me so much to think about. I needed this today.