Got motivation I done found me a new foundation, I'm takin' my new salvation And I'm a-build my own foundation, You won't break my soul And I'm tellin' everybody Release ya anger, release ya mind Release ya job, release the time Release ya trade, release the stress Release the love, forget the rest Release the love, forget the rest
Break My Soul
Written by Beyoncé, Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, JAY-Z, BlaqNmilD, Big Freedia, Fred McFarlane & Allen George
Did you get tickets? Did you opt for one of the three extra dates at Spurs? Or will you be spending the night in the Welsh capital to see Queen Bey? I know interest rates went up again last week, and everything seems pricey. Inflation is in double digits. The UK narrowly dodging recession is scant comfort to the striking nurses, teachers, and other public service workers, but even among their ranks there will be those who understand that Beyonce Joy (c) is priceless. I know him indoors succeeded in talking you down from buying those £1960 front row seats – forget this winter’s cost-of-living heating-v-eating dilemmas, is the culture ready for summer’s front-row- access-to-Beyonce Joy (c) v the stress of moving back in with your long-suffering parents for a few months conundrum!
It is sorely tempting to mock the BeyHive. Such unswerving dedication to their multi-millionaire muse and queen feels unsuited to the precarity of modern celebrity, the rarefied existence of those on the other side of the velvet rope represents a poor guarantee of ongoing relevance as their memory of relatable normalcy fades. The speed at which the pendulum of social taste swings away from an artist deemed to lack authenticity, plus a bank balance so comfort-inducing as to disincentivise leaving whichever gold plated mansion it is this season, must lead this superpower couple to consider hanging up their mics, leaving the BeyHive queenless and the hive “doomed” (*according to ‘Beekeeping for Dummies, in any case).
While sorely tempting to mock, it would be foolhardy. The Hive is widely recognised as ‘having no chill’. Paradigmatically, when enraged they enter battle with the abandon of death or dishonour kamikaze. Pop fandom has rarely, if ever, been known for encouraging measured or sensible acts of dispassionate music appreciation. This seems particularly true at this moment of peak clickbait, when the playbook of punk-style, artist histrionics, is too cliche to garner much popular interest. Immersive, on-demand media, collide with publics required to parse as many as ten thousand adverts each day (up from ‘only’ 500 fifty years ago). Pop music, the most enduring of faddish, derivative, low-art forms responds in kind as it must, facilitating fickle acts of devotion that signify about as much as Harry Styles in a pussy bow shirt, that is to say, simultaneously not very much and everything (for an infinitesimally short time).
Enter Beyonce, returning to our shores five years after her last blockbuster tour. Five years in which it feels like we have squeezed ten in terms of political, cultural and social change. Her last shows celebrated the (business, musical, and marital) partnership between Mr and Mrs -Z. This tour is different, because it is based on celebrating difference; it is The Renaissance World Tour. Guncle Johnny has been identified as the artist’s inspiration for the collection. Her use of wise counsel and megastar status secured the collaborations that enliven the tracks, authenticate her invitation to the queer corner of the cook-out, and share (some of) the wealth. Beyonce will be championing US Black queer folk and the cultures they have created across continents. We understand the attraction (and regularly do the same). We appreciate the political optics, and welcome solidarity that will extend beyond the entertainment mogul elites and enable space for more of those necessary conversations between Black people. (I think click finger applause is an appropriate response)
The personal is political when populist governments (even populists as unpopular as our own) seek to ‘take back control’ for super rich, patriarchal, and/or fascist elites, using black, brown and queer bodies as collateral damage in their efforts to distract a fearful public from the actual causes of dysfunctional government, increased fear of violent crime, the removal of hard won human rights, limitations on access to decent public services, meaningful jobs, and declining international influence. We are Black Britons so understand all too well that the margins can shape mainstream cultures, while being denied access to power. We’ve appeared in the promotional material more often than the boardroom. We have lived and re-lived the colonial playbook that systemically maintains privilege for the already privileged and tries to convince us that even our own senses are not to be trusted. We are asked to rely on x-ray vision to verify whether others have a racist/patriarchal/homophobic/sexist ‘bone in their body’ (an accusation I am yet to hear anyone make despite the frequent use of its denial). Mainstream cultures initially revile the creative spark of black people, queer people or poor people that are in themselves driven by necessity, and derived from an ability to find abundance in scarcity – elements that denote the elusive ‘cool’ sought by the culture vultures. ‘Fetishise, patronise, monetise, bastardise…’, the recipe continues until finally, seek to invisiblise the contribution of those deemed marginal to anything of value, or claim it was derived from the powerful group all along (step forward government minster nominally ‘for Equalities’ who responded to parliament’s Black History Month debate in 2020 with the dismissive, ‘We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt’)
Inured to this pattern, confident in our tenacity to survive, our ability to imagine better futures, and alive to the requirement to build solidarity against oppression, we will adapt and continue to create. It is a necessary element of our liberation.
we will adapt and continue to create. It is a necessary element of our liberation
For the next part of the journey the leading Destiny’s Grown Up, is taking US Black queer cultures with her to the front and centre of the mainstream. Are we ready for the ride?
Except, of course, ‘the ride’ will ultimately contain as many risks as opportunities for us. ‘The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house‘, no matter how proficiently we twerk, serve, or death drop. When Queen Bey retires to her counting house to count her coin, we won’t be invited to take a percentage as profit for our dancefloor sweat equity. Nor will there be any offer of financial recompense for those years of storage and maintenance of the vibe that she has co-opted to pay for Blue Ivy to sail into the Ivy League. Like the unpaid intern in the arts or media, we may enjoy the experience, even learn from it, while at the same time be no better off as a result. Worse than the hapless intern, we’ll be found applauding the wit and wisdom of the premier couple of entertainment capitalism, having fuelled them with content in exchange for what? Visibility? Being seen by strangers is an acquired taste, and not a uniformly positive one without voice or assurance of safety. Whether you revel in the (reflected) limelight, or shrink from the glare of the anglepoise in the interrogation room, visibility butters few parsnips. The richest in the stadium ‘get rich’, while we face the prospect of hustling even harder to pay the credit card bills for trains to-, and hotels in Cardiff; still trying.
Beyonce is remarkable, but is not (yet) able to operate outside of time, beyond capitalism, or without political backlash. She is not the first pop megastar though. There have been precedents, in the not-so-distant past. In 1990, Madonna took ‘the gays‘ mainstream. So pleased was she with the good she had done, and the ground broken, she was persuaded by film director, Alek Keshishian, to make a self-congratulatory, yet highly regarded documentary, said to contain the seeds of inspiration for the reality TV revolution – In Bed With Madonna / Madonna: Truth or Dare (US Title) – as a result. The film, premiered alongside the Cannes film Festival in 1991, and remained the highest grossing documentary until 2002. Along with Paris Is Burning (1990), the film amplified the voices of queer people, and changed the conversation significantly.
Neither Paris Is Burning nor Truth or Dare would be made now, but for the first half of the 1990s these were important interventions in the struggle for LGBTQ rights. When documentaries require documentaries, you know that somewhere there has been beef. In this case, after the film’s release, a number of the dancers sued Madonna and the filmmaker for outing them, and endangering their careers as a result – media visibility may have been great for the movement, but less so perhaps for its protagonists or their potential employers. What are movements, if not people?
Strike A Pose was made to reflect on the 25 years since the release of the popular, In Bed with Madonna/ Madonna: Truth or Dare. 25 years is not too long for some to bear a grudge; the load changes the carrier though. Time may heal all wounds, eventually. Wounds unhealed can leave scars lasting for the rest of a lifetime.
[Renaissance] allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving. My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgement. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration. I hope you find joy in this music. I hope it inspires you to release the wiggle. Ha! And to feel as unique, strong, and sexy as you are.Beyonce reflects on the pandemic context for the creation of ‘Renaissance’
BLKOUT enters its seventh year this week. At our modest age we have gained some insights from observation and employing emergent strategies – firstly, the value of making our intentions clear when building coalitions and partnerships. Secondly, the power of establishing patterns/ways of working at the most intimate levels that can scale to inform the shape of the intermediate, immense, and ultimately, the infinite. We also know that what we pay attention to grows. It follows, then, that for us, a Black Queer renaissance would include a focus on creating and sustaining spaces in which relationships of common interest and mutual benefit can flourish between Black queer folk, we start with men. It follows too, that those spaces and relationships will find support and sustenance in both digital and on-land environments. Finally, the interventions we may make centre the lives and experiences of a diverse range of Black queer men. Like Beyonce with her latest album, we set out to create spaces in which bravery is encouraged, and growth enabled, where judgements are held lightly, and joyfulness abounds.
Our ‘community accelerator‘ fundraising campaign seeks to bring an increased focus to our emergent model, and enable us to implement learnings from practice, while continuing to innovate.
Our initial approach on fundraising had been to seek a large multi-year grant, that would give us the chance to be part of driving transformative change and healing justice. Understandably this is the kind of funding that philanthropists find most difficult to give, and other social mission organisations prize very highly. ‘NSA’ Funding of this sort when offered is both rare and even more competitive than more interventionist models for giving
To mark the start of our seventh year, and in response to requests from folk who would like to donate to support our work, we have opened a Just Giving crowdfunding page. Our appeal has a modest target of £500 that if raised, will be spent on outreach and training for potential partner organisations to use the BLKOUTHUB for convening among Black queer men their groups.
We really appreciate donations however small, as a signal to us that we are creating value for you. Donations made through our standing donor page (via Paypal) are used to extend access to our events to those who are unwaged.
This week also includes the birth date of poet Audre Lorde (18th Feb). Her powerful words continue to resonate, challenge and inspire.
Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist. . . For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110-114. 2007. Print.
Above, is one of many reminders from Lorde’s writings about empathy, difference, and the forms of ‘mature solidarity’ required among and between minoritized groups to disrupt, and ultimately dismantle, hegemonic systems of oppression. She warns against incrementalism and in favour of change at a scale that transforms our relationships to ourselves as well as with each other. to ones where our many differences are a vital source of our power. Activating our differences as the context for generative interdependence rather than as levers for destructive conflict runs counter to the way in which populists and identity essentialists have sought to frame trans lives, migrants, and black lives as somehow less deserving of trust, compassion, and love.
The attention that will be generated by Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour (plus potential Glastonbury and/or a Netflix Special), contains risks but together we can take steps to protect our safety. We are in a position to choose what we focus on, what we would like to grow.
The concerts will also open opportunities for us to engage with our peer group of Black queer men and the diverse communities of which we are part. We have an opportunity to choose how to frame that engagement – with difference as a threat or a virtue. We can
- utilise Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour as a beacon, an opportunity to hold space for a Black queer defined movement towards a radically different future than past,
- shape discourse with the mainstream so that we set the agenda and tone. It can be our interventions that demonstrate the transformative change we aspire to, bringing unheard voices to the fore and building effective partnerships,
- shape the spaces we create around an explicit commitment to healing the wounds that threaten to limit us from using even the space we currently have more effectively,
We can create a renaissance of our own. Thanks for the inspiration, Beyonce.
Editor’s Note: I started this article with a destination in mind, one not yet reached, though I hope you’ve enjoyed the detour as much as I have enjoyed writing it. It even involved listening to my first Beyonce album! In a shorter part two to follow; from words to actionRob Berkeley
I'm takin' my new salvation And I'm a-build my own foundation, You won't break my soul