Don’t expect bell hooks to have Beyoncé over for dinner anytime soon.
On Wednesday during a discussion titled “Are You Still a Slave?” hosted by the New School in New York City, the feminist scholar was joined by author and activist Janet Mock, filmmaker Shola Lynch and author Marci Blackman.
Somehow, as with many recent conversations dealing with feminism and black women, the topic shifted to Beyoncé. This time it was about Beyoncé’s controversial Time magazine cover and how black women’s bodies are represented in the media.
At one point during the discussion, hooks equated Beyoncé with a “terrorist.”
“I see a part of Beyoncé that is, in fact, anti-feminist—that is, a terrorist—especially in terms of the impact on young girls,” hooks said.
The writer and scholar raised a question about whether Beyoncé had control over her image on the Time cover.
“Let’s take the image of this super-rich, very powerful black female and let’s use it in the service of imperialist, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy because she probably had very little control over that cover—that image,” said hooks.
Mock spoke in Beyoncé’s defense, arguing that Beyoncé was likely in full control of her image. “I would argue she chose this image, so I don’t want to strip Beyoncé of choosing this image—of being her own manager.”
In hooks’ eyes, Beyoncé not only may not have been in control of her image but was a slave to it. “Then you are saying,” hooks said in reply to Mock’s point, "from my deconstructive point of view, that she is colluding in the construction of herself as a slave.”
It was interesting to watch these women tackle Beyoncé as a subject, especially when there are probably more pressing issues facing those who describe themselves as feminists.
Mock said she was inspired by Beyoncé’s song “Partition” because it enabled her to deal with writing about issues of abuse and sexuality, but hooks wasn’t buying the idea of Beyoncé’s impact being positive.
Although everyone has her or his own ideas about what it means to be a feminist, the discussion offered new perspective on exactly who controls someone’s image.
Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.