By Evelyn Gonzalez '18
Self-proclaimed members of the Beygency can now rejoice knowing that Yoncé has officially seeped into college classrooms.
On Thursday, Feb. 28, Kevin Allred, a professor at Rutgers University, arrived at Claremont McDenna’s Athenaeum to discuss his widely popular women and gender studies course titled “Politicizing Beyoncé: Black Feminism, U.S. Politics, and Queen Bey.” According to Allred’s website, “Politicizing Beyoncé,” (which was implemented in 2010) is the groundbreaking interdisciplinary college course that attempts to think through contemporary U.S. society and its current racial, gender, class and sexual politics using the music and career of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter alongside historical and contemporary black feminist texts. While the course does spend a good deal of time delving into and analyzing Beyoncé’s music, Allred encourages his students to go beyond the surface level to understand the ways in which Beyoncé expresses her own politics. As Allred joked, “ We know nothing about Beyoncé as a person,” so the class focuses on analyzing her work as a singer, songwriter and actress.The class is framed by theoretical readings, predominantly from inspired Black feminist activists such as Bell Hooks and Audre Lorde, in addition to Beyoncé’s own works.
Allred’s main focus for the lecture was a deep analysis on what can be considered Beyoncé’s more controversial songs and videos, “Partition” in conjunction with “Jealous.” After playing each music video in full, Allred unpacked the multitude of layers that Beyoncé included in these two works. He interpreted each piece, focusing on her words and images to produce a textual analysis through a black feminist lens. In doing so, he effectively demonstrated how Beyoncé exposed the stereotypes of black female sexuality though the songs’ “continuing story.” By pointing out the ways in which she subverts issues of power, like by including a white maid, Allred also coaxes out ideas of self objectification and agency found in these two music videos . Although Beyoncé has to be subtle about her politics because of how far-reaching her influence falls, Allred ended the lecture by revealing what he hopes to see from her in the future. “There’s no guessing where Beyoncé is going to go, but I do hope she becomes more and more politically [and racially] explicit.”
Although Allred has received criticisms for his choice to make a pop culture icon his main focus, especially by those who he said believed “such a course is a waste of time and money,” in an interview with the Feminist Wire, Allred effectively shuts down critiques by expressing his concern over who gets to decide what is deserving of learning about. “It’s a sad state of affairs when the critical thinking skills necessary for young people to navigate the world around them and understand and empathize with the lived political realities of race, gender, sexuality and class in the U.S. are no longer seen as worthy components of a comprehensive education in our contemporary, corporatized university industrial complex society.”
What Kevin Allred has shown through the implementation of his course is that popular culture and media is a necessary form of pedagogy and one that should not be easily dismissed. This course, “Politicizing Beyoncé: Black Feminism, U.S. Politics, and Queen Bey,” allows students to engage with contemporary culture in a way that will bring about important conversations. By allowing students an outlet that is outside of often strict academia, Allred is effectively creating a site that is accessible, and that resonates with a much broader audience. Through Beyoncé, students in this course are being introduced to a wide range of important topics such as black feminism, gender, sexuality and the ways in which politics have shaped them.