When Beyonce’s “Partition” came out in 2013, the singer received backlash for the sexuality in the video. Many critics questioned why she would release such a provocative video when she had just become a mom and had a largely teenaged fan base.
Kevin Allred, a professor at Rutgers University and a speaker and writer, came to Boston College Thursday and addressed the three stereotypes of black women—mammy, a stereotype based in history in which the black woman cares for white men, women, and children; jezebel, a hypersexual, animalistic stereotype; and sapphire, an angry black woman stereotype—in Beyonce’s music and music videos.
The AHANA Leadership Council hosted the event in lieu of field day, which had been cancelled due to inclement weather. Students who attended the event had the opportunity to win tickets to a Beyonce concert this summer.
Allred aims to dismantle what is seen as “normal” in order to create a more integrated society. He focuses on a wide array of topics from gender and sexuality to class and race. His presentation on Thursday was “Politicizing Beyonce,” an analysis of the singer’s role in dismantling the stereotypes of black women.
The talk, he said, would be like a condensed class lecture. The first part of the talk was the part that would’ve normally been homework for his students. Instead of readings, he gave the audience some background information on the stereotypes of black females.
Allred began by explaining the intersectionality of black women in that they cannot be reduced to simple and/ors. Black women are both black and female, not one or the other.
“It’s not like she solved the stereotypes by doing this artistic performance of ‘Partition. But she calls out the questions and then she asks us… to unlearn the stereotype and break it down ourselves.”
“You cannot just analyze Beyonce’s work as the work of a woman,” he said. “Beyonce is a black woman.”
Melissa Harris-Perry, a writer, professor, television host, and political commentator with a focus on African-American politics, wrote a book called Sister Citizen in which she describes how when you walk into a crooked room, you tend to bend your head to fit accordingly. This is done, Allred said, because it takes a lot of money and time to completely tear down the room and rebuild it.
This, Allred said, is how black females face the world—like they’re walking in a crooked room.
Allred pointed to other examples of black female artists’ work and how the public reacted to it.
Artist Kara Walker created a sculpture, A Subtlety, that was a black woman in the pose of a sphynx and made out of sugar. Walker knew that the response to the sculpture would exhibit the stereotypes that people place on black women.
What Walker did not tell the viewers, Allred said, was she was filming all of them reacting to the sculpture. Many of the viewers took inappropriate photos with A Subtlety and posted them online. Walker then took these responses and turned it into another exhibit.
“What is the interaction with black women and the general public?” Allred said the sculpture asks its audience.
The Nicki Minaj wax figure at Madame Toussauds in New York City got a similar response from the public. Allred showed the audience several Instagram pictures, all of which were viewers posing with the singer’s body in sexually explicit ways.
“Beyonce’s performance in ‘Partition’ might also have to do with the interaction between people watching what she’s doing,” he said.
Allred then showed both “Partition” and “Jealous,” asking the audience for its reactions to the two music videos.
In the “Partition” video, audience members explained, Beyonce seems to have a lot of control over the unidentified male. In the opening scene of the music video, she is seated at the head of a long table, opposite the person—presumed to be a male—reading a newspaper.
Beyonce also exhibits her power when she purposefully drops her napkin on the table. When she drops it, the beat drops, showing that she is in control of the music.
The video, Allred said, demonstrates the difficulty that black females have with the jezebel stereotype insofar as they want to express their sexuality without confirming the stereotype.
Just as the three stereotypes about black women can divide people, so can a partition. Allred asked the audience to identify some of the partitions within the music video.
Many of the partitions that the audience pointed to were of Beyonce’s clothing in the video. For example, her glasses and her high neck collar both are partitions, creating a sort of wall between Beyonce and the viewer. As the music video progresses, however, she takes them off.
Another scene in “Partition” shows Beyonce dancing on a stage with a light projecting a leopard print onto her. This light acts as a partition, Allred and the audience concluded, and serves as a metaphor for the animalistic stereotype that people project onto black women.
“This is a stereotype she’s pointing out to us rather than just being,” he said.
The audience found that “Jealous” is also riddled with partitions. The most glaring of all would be the partition between the two videos themselves—“Jealous” and “Partition” could be one long video, as “Jealous” is a continuation of “Partition,” but are segmented into two different videos.
The person sitting at the table in the opening scene of “Partition” and the man who gets out of the car and runs to Beyonce at the end of “Jealous” remain anonymous. Beyonce purposefully did this, Allred said, so that the audience members could assume this unknown person’s role.
In putting the audience in the video, Beyonce makes the members of the audience guilty of objectifying her. She does this, Allred said, to show the audience that it continues to see black females as these stereotypes.
“It’s not like she solved the stereotypes by doing this artistic performance of ‘Partition,’” he said. “But she calls out the questions and then she asks us… to unlearn the stereotype and break it down ourselves.”
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor