Formation: Criticism soaked in patriarchy / Formation: Black women damned if they do, damned if they don’t

By Gopolang Botlhokwane

Gopolang Botlhokwane argues that the response to Beyonce’s politics and activism shows how nothing is ever enough from black women,  soaked in patriarchy from successful black men whose problematic politics often get a pass where ‘learning’ is cited as a reason for the pass.

beyonce for

Beyonce’s formation has dropped and as expected there’s blood on the streets in a form of think pieces and critical tweets and Facebook posts. An episode we’ve come to get used to, ever since Bey boldly declared that she was a feminist. Her latest artistic stance has been labelled all sorts of things from appropriation to an insulting marketing gimmick. In short, she has touched many in their studios.

In Formation, Beyonce declares her love for black hair, sends a shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement and reiterates she’s here to slay (win) with all her blackness. We have to wonder – what’s wrong with that ? With stating who you’re and what you are are about? After all, rappers do this all the time but there are never headlines about how they are exploiting black history. The answer lies with her gender.  The problem is that Beyonce is a black women, boldly stating and asserting her politics in a world that can’t help but police black women.

Black women who happen to be super stars or highly successful like Beyonce, when they pledge allegiance or state their politics are often held to a different standard. A little more is expected from them than it is of their male counterparts (take Kanye West and J.Cole ) who often reference history and black heroes without the burden of having to pledged their allegiance to any cause. It’s then not surprising to see the wrath of criticism thrown at Bey for stating her politics, asserting her blackness and acknowledging her black history. What is happening on the streets that are Twitter and Facebook is the common problematic practice of demanding that black women to do more or something and when they do we turn around say “not like that, like this”.

The truth is for a black woman, successful or not, it’s a case of being damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Nothing is ever enough, had Beyonce not chosen to channel her activism through her work  which is music there’d still be criticism. Let’s say during the protest she’d personally attended the protest and walked hand in hand with the protesters, she would be seen as trying to profit from the attention the protests was receiving. Her sister Solange once tweeted

“The out spoken women are painted as bitter and angry spirits, the put spoken men are praised as revolutionaries and heroes.”

This holds truth today in the social media aftermath of Formation where much of the criticism thrown at Beyonce is not that different to that thrown at her for her feminism. The problem is a black woman asserting her politics.

Were she a successful black man, she would  have easily received a pass, as we’ve seen in the case of Kanye West who often compares himself to revolutionaries like Malcolm X and then goes on to do a  completely contradictory things like telling us he thinks racism is an outdated concept. If she was a successful black man and her politics didn’t make senses, she would be cheered on despite this.

No one would ask her to clarify, what does she actually mean when she says racism is an  outdated concept or racism is new classicism? But she is not a black man, she is a black woman she expected to explain what right she has to claim her own history.

Was Beyonce always outspoken about her politics? Of course not, only recently at the height of her career where she feels comfortable enough to speak her mind did she decide to unleash her politics on one of the world’s biggest platforms. Did she always hold these views ?

Maybe, maybe not, and that’s okay because at some point we all believed and held views about something that we now don’t. What makes much of the criticism thrown at her unfair is the refusal to acknowledge that it’s always going to be a messy process when you are unlearning and unlearning consciousness, especially when it’s done with the public’s gaze on you. It is unfair to want her politics to be crystal clear, especially when its something we hardly ever ask successful black men to do.

There’s a lot to be argued and criticised about Beyonce, but we should equally hold the Kendricks and Kanyes of this world to the same standards we hold the Beyonces of this world, whilst keeping in mind that in a patriarchal world they have it much easier than the Beyonces. The response to Beyonce’s politics and activism shows how nothing is ever enough from black women, here is a successful black women at the height of her career touching  a no go area, a potential career killer black politics and even that is not enough.

Criticism of Beyonce however fair and balanced is by and large soaked in patriarchy, successful black men with their problematic politics often get a pass – ‘learning’ being stated as a reason for the pass. Black women are never afforded the same privilege to learn and make mistakes we expect them to get it. A case of women of being damned if you do damned if you don’t.


Gopolang Botlhokwane is a Creative Writing student and an International Relations fanatic, he is fascinated by imperial and global power games between super powers.


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