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By Regina N. Barnett

Tuesday, February 16, 2010.


“I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal/I cannot be comprehended accept by my permission” ~”Ego Trippin’,” Nikki Giovanni

I know I am breaking the code of Beyoncé by speaking on B out of the context of perfection. Music has always proven a viable outlet for any representation of blackness whether gendered male or female. The blues, for example, provided a voice for women of color to talk about those things too worldly for the church walls. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Ella Fitzgerald were dangerous. They spoke to their passions, their pain, and their experiences of black womanhood.

These women carved out a niche for the blues women depicted in literature– Shug Avery in The Color Purple, Ma Rainey in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Ursa in Corregidora are only a small sampling.

What the blues women started to fight, female rap and R&B artists continue to battle today. This constant struggle could be considered part of that call by Ursa’s mother in Corregidora to “make generations.” Generations of black women have tussled between the demand of communal, if not ritualistic obedience to social expectation and the desire to express themselves. Beyoncé Knowles is not immune to that toil. Her 2008 release I am…Sasha Fierce proves that.

The dual CD, which caters a disc a piece to Knowles’ performance personalities of Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce, represent the extremities of black women’s sexuality. There’s the ballad driven Beyoncé and the booty and body poppin’ Sasha Fierce. Here’s my question, folks: what, exactly, besides performance, is fierce about Sasha Fierce? A friend jokingly told me that Sasha Fierce is a drag queen’s dream because of her intricate dance routines and flamboyant attire. He made me think specifically about the music video for “Video Phone.” Lady Gaga didn’t stand a chance.

Like black men, women of color also battle the case of the extremities – the asexual mammy-esque figure and the voluptuous and exotic black Venus that craves only sex. Beyoncé presents both. Her ballads suggest love and sex are two different monsters. Beyoncé croons “I-don’t-have-to-have-sex-with-you-to-love-you” lyrics and Sasha Fierce spits “I-don’t-have-to-love-you-to-sex-you” tracks. Knowles’ music suggests the need to retain a critical distance from her performance character and her actual person.

With thanks to New Black Man.

Regina N. Barnett is a doctoral student in African American Literature and Culture at Florida State University. She earned her MA in African American Studies from Indiana University Bloomington. Currently, her research interests include performance and gender identity, popular black culture, late 20th and 21st century black literature, and Hip Hop.

Ms Barnett blogs at Red Clay Scholar.

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