By S. Rae Peoples
Originally posted on LinkedIn on February 13, 2015
This is how in one song, an influential musical artist like Beyoncé can propel the feminist movement forward by leaps and bounds, only to, in one fell swoop of another song, knock all of creation back to nearly the dark ages of gender (in)equality:
Over this week, the media has been all abuzz with reactions to Beyoncé’s performance of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the 2015 Grammy Awards. At first glance, the situation is just something to chalk up to the nuances and craziness of show business. But when you really start to look at how it all played out, this “minor” nuance becomes one gigantic smack clear across the face of feminism. This realization is surprising, considering that Beyoncé is such a prolific feminist, who with one song lasting less than five minutes, singlehandedly catapulted the word, “feminist”, and it’s meaning into public discourse. In fact, it is in this very song that the insights from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” speech is so tastefully highlighted. So, let’s reassess the Grammy’s brewhaha against the backdrop of additional excerpts of Adichie’s speech, and the core purpose of the movie Selma:
Ledisi, an accomplished musical artist in her own right, plays the character of Mahalia Jackson in Selma. Performing within this role, Ledisi sings a beautiful, hair-raising on your arm, back and neck rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” So far, so good. No foul, no harm...until...
The Grammy’s Want Ledisi
The powers that be wanted “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” performed at the Grammy’s. Now, at this point, it is reasonable to assume that Ledisi should, and would be performing the song since she was the one to sing it in the movie. However, at some point in the planning process, Ledisi was out, and Beyoncé was in. According John Legend, during his interview with ET:
“We were actually approached by Beyoncé. She wanted to do an intro to our performance and introduce us…you don’t really say no to Beyoncé if she asks to perform with you."
Here’s the issue with a response of “you don’t say no to Beyoncé”: That answer is just mindboggling, especially given the fact that John Legend took part in, and has received awards for a movie about a movement that, in the face of wrong, was all about saying no. In fact, it would be safe to say that the very reason for the majority of Mr. Legend’s performances this year was due to his work in a film that revolved around standing up for what’s right. If Beyoncé made such an inconsiderate request, then just purely on a human decency, common courtesy, what about the golden rule level, the proposition was wrong. There was a perfect opportunity to “practice what you preach” (or act out on screen) for Mr. Legend. Alas, the opportunity was sorely missed.
Ledisi’s “Graceful and Classy” Reaction
Ledisi is just as surprised as the rest of us upon realizing that she wouldn’t be performing her song from Selma. In the face of this blatant affront, Ledisi has been praised for her reaction with phrases like, “she’s taken the high road” and “she’s disappointed but not upset.” This kind of praise presents the notion that feelings of anger in this situation is not okay. It ignorantly implies that by stating her true feelings, Ledisi would not be taking the high road- because the high road (wherever the hell that is) does not involve the recognition of feelings of hurt and outrage. To take the high road, and to be praised for grace and class involves women, in particular, cowing down and suppressing thoughts and emotions that are perceived to be too masculine. In her speech, Adichie presents this very issue as a barrier to gender equality when she states:
When we think about feminism, what it means to be a feminist, and the history of the feminist movement, we automatically slip into the “us vs. those other” or them” mentality. Our minds immediately consider the work that has been done, and has yet to be done, by us women to address the wrongs in society that has been created by those men.
As women, we become fixated on tearing down the restrictions placed on us by patriarchal society. Yes, this particular aspect of feminism is indeed a very necessary step to establishing gender equality. But perhaps even more heinous than the sexual, economic, social, and political restrictions men place on women, are the restrictions women place on themselves in the same areas by the mistreatment of each other. As women, we must be just as committed to addressing this kind of injustice if we are going to continue to make strides towards gender equality.
Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. Adichie adds to this definition with the idea that a feminist is a man or a woman who says, “yes there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better.
The take away from this particular Grammy’s fiasco is that the process of fixing the gender problem involves, first and foremost, us women a much better job in the way we treat each other.