Is Beyoncé a Terrorist? Black Feminist Scholars Debate bell hooks

By Jamilah King May 09, 2014

Feminist writer bell hooks caused quite a stir this week during a panel discussion at the New School in which she called Beyoncé a terrorist. 

While discussing the artist’s recent Time Magazine cover with Janet Mock, hooks said, "Then you are saying, from my deconstructive point of view, that she is colluding in the construction of herself as a slave. I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact anti-feminist — that is a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls."

hooks’ comment has sparked spirited disagreement among black feminist scholars online. Fusion captured some of the conversation:

Britney Cooper, Rutgers University professor and co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective:

"If hooks’ analysis held Bey’s humanity at the center, she would necessarily come to different conclusions about whether Bey is a terrorist or not."

Cooper said she’s disappointed that hooks’ analysis "conflated Beyoncé’s brand and image with Beyoncé the person."

"She trots out the ‘what about the children argument’ as a way to police how Beyoncé styles and presents her body. Black women should be able to be publicly grown and sexy without suffering the accusation that our sexuality is harmful, especially to children," Cooper said.

Feminista Jones, black feminist writer:

"Beyoncé is very much in control of her image, meticulously so actually. She makes decisions about how she is presented and I’m with Ms. Mock-I believe Beyoncé presents herself in ways that make her most comfortable and happy."

Tanisha Ford, professor at UMass-Amherst:

"We saw [Beyoncé’s power]  when she took control over who could take and publish photos of her during her Mrs. Carter tour. This power allows her to shape the contours of her public image on her own terms, and it’s power that most black women (even those who are wealthy, educated, and so forth) don’t have," Ford said.

"I think Janet Mock’s comment in response to bell hooks speaks to the reality that black women of different generations, of different social classes, of different life experiences will read and interpret Beyoncé differently," Ford went on to say.

The debate about Beyonce’s power brings to mind Rachel Kaadzi Ghanash’s recent piece for NPR on the BeyHive (Beyonce’s unofficial fanclub) in which she writes:

Is Beyoncé a feminist? Is she a womanist? I don’t know. To me she is a cyborg. "Cyborg writing," Donna Haraway tells us, "is about the power to survive, not on the basis of original innocence, but on the basis of seizing the tools to mark the world that marked them as other." What I appreciate about Beyoncé is that I understand and recognize the tools seized. This is not to say that these aspects in Beyoncé align neatly — they are indeed confusing — but they demand a right that is so often denied black women: the right to be a human, a character with many identities, many aspects, attitudes, vulnerabilities, joys, heartbreaks and realities. 

Read more over at NPR.