WEATHER AUTHORITY : Flash Flood Watch - Flood Advisory View Alerts

Beyonc- and Janelle Monae are creating a new language of black womanhood

I was that little girl.Hairbrush in hand and hand on nonexistent hip, I strutted around my pink bedroom with t...

Posted: May 3, 2018 7:35 AM
Updated: May 3, 2018 7:35 AM

I was that little girl.

Hairbrush in hand and hand on nonexistent hip, I strutted around my pink bedroom with the white princess canopy bed, lip-synching to "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer.

At 6 years old, I had no idea what the lyrics meant. I was lured in by the song's relentless whistles, toot-toots, and beep-beeps. Singing in my bedroom amid the stuffed animals and roller skates, I was practicing what I thought it meant to be a woman. Certainly not the prostitute hinted at in the song, but something independent, strong, rebellious and a little bit dangerous.

American popular music today is littered with hucksterism disguised as feminism. However, Janelle Monae and Beyonc-, especially in the wake of "Dirty Computer" and Beychella, are the real deal. They are also the latest in a long line of musical artists who have used their art and unique style to create a vocabulary and cultural conversation about what it means to be a black woman in the United States.

Josephine Baker was arguably the first, reinterpreting blackface comedy and American vaudeville tropes. Baker transformed the pickaninny -- a racist stereotype used to justify the rape and abuse of black women by white men -- into a glamorous swan.

Decades later, Aretha Franklin married gospel music, the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, with the burgeoning women's movement in the late '60s and early '70s with her signature performances of songs like "Respect" and "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman," neither written by black women but forever marked by Franklin as a symbol of our power.

As black Americans made economic and social gains after the civil rights movement, Whitney Houston in the 1980s presented a sleek, polished version of black womanhood that reflected the accomplishments of thousands of black women who were often the first in their families to graduate from college and move into white-collar jobs in greater numbers.

And now in the 21st century, enter Beyonc- and Janelle Monae.

Much like Baker, Beyonc- has reframed the aesthetics of the past as a gesture of empowerment for the present. Beginning with "Lemonade" and more recently during her Coachella performance, Beyonc- has taken cultural ideas and imagery from institutions that were created in response to segregation -- such as the black national anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and the marching band and step line of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) -- and reinterpreted them to give them an unprecedented platform, power and presence. She has encouraged black people to be proud of the art we created to survive unrelenting racism.

Monae, much like Franklin, has forged the intersectional feminism of our times, most embodied by the #metoo movement -- and added her futuristic imagination to offer millennial women distinct possibilities for a future in which gender fluidity and sexual empowerment are accepted.

Together, their musical and artistic languages construct signposts of hope at a time when many either ignore or feel threatened by black women. And unlike the Beyonc- who twirled in a ginormous champagne glass in the video "Naughty Girl," or Monae, who cloaked her most daring artistic statements about black womanhood behind the disguise of a messianic android she called Cindi Mayweather, these increasingly bold and innovative languages place the experiences of black women at their center. They relegate the white male gaze (a term first used by film scholar Laura Mulvey in 1975 to convey how cinema portrays women as passive subjects) to the sidelines.

Beyonc- and Monae are crafting a "for us, by us" experience -- so that even if our stories are erased from public space, they can never be erased from our hearts or memories. The erasure of memories, and essentially black lives, is a narrative thread in Monae's "Dirty Computer" "emotion picture." In the 48-minute film, Monae and Tessa Thompson are on the run from a memory-clearing, totalitarian government that refers to its citizens as "computers."

In inventing and experimenting with a new iconography for black women, both artists are extracting from the cultural DNA of black women in the United States. From quilts to spirituals to a well-placed "mmmmhmmm" in mixed company, black women have always spoken to each other in coded, cultural language. Beyonc- and Monae have made those languages public for all to see and made millions doing it.

Their creative engagements with past, present, and future remind black women of our power and strength and that despite efforts to intimidate us into the shadows, we are an integral part of America's ongoing, cultural story. When I consider Beyonc-'s and Monae's artistic contributions and think of the dazzling possibilities they might present to young, black girls today, my inner, 6-year-old diva winks and whistles.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 473413

Reported Deaths: 9214
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison32339474
Hinds30703575
DeSoto29814346
Jackson23263336
Rankin21111358
Lee14600217
Madison14043265
Jones13165218
Forrest12953233
Lauderdale11418297
Lowndes10249175
Lamar10048128
Pearl River8737209
Lafayette8078136
Hancock7324111
Washington6837147
Oktibbeha6820118
Neshoba6404201
Monroe6372158
Warren6326161
Pontotoc610393
Panola6071124
Bolivar6016143
Marshall5972118
Union564086
Pike5491133
Lincoln5232130
Alcorn520888
George457868
Scott451993
Leflore4401140
Prentiss437276
Itawamba436198
Tippah436180
Simpson4268111
Copiah425586
Wayne424863
Tate4234100
Adams4219114
Yazoo415886
Sunflower4088104
Covington407391
Marion4032100
Leake393185
Coahoma388198
Newton364474
Grenada3517101
Stone345657
Tishomingo324888
Attala321185
Jasper310262
Winston300391
Clay288273
Chickasaw282164
Clarke277487
Calhoun259739
Holmes259485
Smith243947
Yalobusha216747
Tallahatchie215649
Walthall205557
Greene204045
Lawrence203831
Perry196453
Amite193751
Webster191941
Noxubee174538
Montgomery169853
Jefferson Davis165541
Carroll159937
Tunica148434
Benton139433
Kemper137439
Claiborne125634
Choctaw124925
Humphreys123337
Franklin115227
Quitman101825
Wilkinson99835
Jefferson86632
Sharkey62120
Issaquena1916
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 768301

Reported Deaths: 13209
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1093481727
Mobile699891179
Madison48418589
Baldwin35707452
Shelby35193291
Tuscaloosa33029512
Montgomery32582664
Lee21908204
Calhoun20140377
Morgan19351318
Etowah18583433
Marshall17272259
Houston16139353
St. Clair14956276
Limestone14129180
Cullman14069235
Elmore14010245
Lauderdale13128272
Talladega12399215
DeKalb11890229
Walker10231312
Autauga9493127
Blount9418149
Jackson9115136
Coffee8646161
Colbert8324169
Dale8284159
Escambia6456106
Tallapoosa6394168
Covington6313157
Chilton6243133
Russell591654
Franklin563597
Chambers5240132
Marion4628115
Dallas4626178
Clarke451471
Pike450091
Geneva4252106
Winston407987
Lawrence4046102
Bibb396177
Barbour338968
Marengo320981
Monroe311547
Butler309783
Pickens298769
Randolph294055
Henry293856
Hale286081
Cherokee279850
Fayette272271
Washington243545
Crenshaw232265
Clay221561
Macon214454
Cleburne209748
Lamar187839
Conecuh177139
Lowndes169056
Coosa163631
Wilcox154335
Bullock147142
Perry134235
Sumter123335
Greene119241
Choctaw72325
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Cloudy
74° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 72°
Feels Like: 74°
Columbus
Cloudy
73° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 73°
Oxford
Cloudy
70° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Cloudy
84° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 104°
Occasional areas of rain and some scattered thunderstorms will be in store for most of the weekend. However, good news by later sections of next week, as cooler and drier air will work its way into our weather forecast.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather