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Replaying the Remix

Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism by Umise ‘eke Tinsley is an “amorous gesture” that seeks to explore black feminism through her experiences as a black, queer, femme woman and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. My overall responses might be described as three general emotions: acknowledgement, confusion, and disagreement.

Tinsley writes with great humor and narrative skill, weaving stories of Beyoncé, her trans*husband Matt, and feminist scholarship together throughout her exploration of her topic. Places where she notes aphoristic wisdom like “lemonade can be sweet to me even if her recipe isn’t the same as mine” and every woman’s ability to be man’s “equal in jumping from bed to bed as well as fight to fight” resonated with my own experiences of truth and womankind’s strength (14, 34). When she writes about dressing outside of professorial norms and the discomfort this brings, I can see why this is a painful experience for her. However, times like this were instances where I didn’t know a good answer to the problem she posed.

Rights and Right

Should a profession have a right to create standards of dress, conduct, and character? If so, who decides? Tinsley mentions the oppressive nature of respectability politics in regard to black women and black feminist culture, and I can’t argue that there is certainly a clash of values and perspectives in the arenas she describes. However, I am not sure I can agree that audience members attending her presentation at a conference do not have a right to their own thoughts and opinions about her personal choices regarding professional presentation. Should her dress discredit her scholarship? No. Does her dress or sexuality or opinion justify devaluation or disrespect? Absolutely not. But does an organization have a right to create standards that, by their nature, will create discomfort in those who willfully choose to operate outside them? Perhaps.

Critique

My disagreements with Tinsley were often matters where I would like further clarification. What does it mean when she says “we’ll burn the motherfucker down if we need to” (92)? If standpoint epistemology is the only method of knowledge-making that’s valid, how then can we abstract knowledge obtained at the end of our reality tunnels into universal laws applicable to all people? When Tinsley shares Beyoncé’s miscarriage and her own four miscarriages, my heart broke for her (122). But if Tinsley also advocates for abortion (under the term “reproductive justice”), then how are these consistent? When we mourn miscarriage and celebrate abortion, we define the tragedy of the former solely as desire unmet, for the outcome of each is the same death and loss of human life.

 

 

Conclusion

I believe that a quality foundation must be established before just methods can be created, and the foundation of intersectionality is still unclear to me. I want equality, and affirm the value of every human being and the right of every opinion to be heard. The strands of intersectional argument that situate reason, logic, and truth as subjective constructions of self-interested power are concerning for me, along with proponents who wish to deny even the opportunity for critique or debate. Dr. Tinsley has written a thought-provoking contribution to black feminism that’s a fun read. If we could chat, I would ask her to help me understand the elements of her argument and philosophy that seem disjointed in my mind.