In 2015, Dr. Omise’eke Tinsley, inspired by Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album, launched the course “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” at the University of Texas at Austin — and the class quickly filled to capacity. The next year, she drew more fodder for the course from the release of Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, which explored black feminism in the historically fraught landscape of the South. Both sparked the idea for Tinsley’s new book Beyoncé in Formation (available now).
Says the author, “It was really clear to me from the classes I’ve taught that students were really hungry for more conversation about black feminism and women-of-color feminism.”
EW talked to Tinsley about feminism, Beyoncé’s influence, and much more.
The cultural significance of “Flawless”
“When Beyoncé stood up in front of a brightly lit sign that read ‘Feminist,’ it was a unique moment…a black woman was popularizing feminism, and then all these other white popular musicians, like Katy Perry, followed suit. So it’s this unique cultural opening, where the face of feminism is not only undeniably popular, but unapologetically black.”
“Here I was, living for the first time in the U.S. South and craving images of what it means to be a black woman who loves women in the U.S. South, and Lemonade opened that space…. I think for those of us who are queer, we saw queerness in it. I don’t think that everybody did, but there was enough space…for a variety of people to see our lives and the possibilities for our lives there.”
Beyoncé’s influence on other artists
“I feel like 2017 and 2018 have been really rich with black woman artists, like Janelle Monáe and Cardi B…. So often students hear about how terrible it is to be a black woman in the South, but I also want them to know that there’s this toolbox that artists are referencing about how to survive and thrive and be happy as a black woman.”
Feminism and Womanism
“Womanism is a term that was coined by Alice Walker in In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens and she meant it as a black counterpart to feminism. She was responding to the ways that women of color have been excluded from canonical feminist theory in the US. So, womanism focuses on the preservation of black women’s culture as well as on interpersonal relationships—that the relationships between black women and black men are important. And black women’s love for themselves and for other black women is a feminist act.”
Black women have always been feminists. [Like] Ida B. Wells, feminists have always been black women who are fighting for their votes. [The release of Beyoncé in 2013] was a moment when a black woman was a forerunner in popularizing feminism…There’s this space that’s opening up to imagine black women as feminists and being at the forefront of feminist cultural production that just didn’t seem possible even 10 years ago.
The best Lemonade remake
“There have been so many remakes of tracks from Lemonade, but my favorite is Lemonade Served Bitter Sweet by the Glass Wing collective. A group of trans women of color in LA remake videos from Lemonade and they see themselves and their black, trans femininity as having an expression through Lemonade. I think that it’s really important that Beyoncé has created that space.”