by Dr. Boyce Watkins
A lot of conversation has centered around the growing love affair between first lady Michelle Obama and Beyonce Knowles. Beyonce sent Michelle a very nice public letter, sharing her admiration for the first lady. Michelle responded by tweeting “Thank you for the beautiful letter and for being a role model who kids everywhere can look up to.”
Perhaps in the spirit of hip-hop, I should have (as Reilly on “The Boondocks” would) said the words “pause” and “no h**o” before discussing how close these two women have become. But out of respect for President Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage, I would like to publicly banish the term “no h**o” from my vocabulary.
With that being said, eyebrows were extra arched as one amazing first lady (Michelle) has become especially chummy with a first lady in her own right (Beyonce). One woman is married to the leader of the free world, and the other is married to the world’s most famous slum lord (did I say that?). OK, Jay-Z isn’t a slum lord, but he is a very talented artist who goes around the world calling himself a “Ni**a in Paris,” where he even refers to Beyonce as the “b*tch in his home.” When I get married, I don’t expect that my wife will be happy to hear that I’ve called her a b*tch in public, no matter how much money some white guy paid me to say it.
But in spite of their superstar husbands, neither of these women are Basketball Wives, whose greatest source of achievement comes from the hard work of someone else. Beyonce has earned more than her husband Jay-Z, and Michelle would probably make a better president than Barack (well, she would at least be a better black president).
Both women are beautiful and intelligent wives, mothers, and career women. That point is abundantly clear.
Some wonder, however, if Beyonce is an adequate role model for young women. My friend Demetria Lucas at TheRoot.com openly questioned whether or not Michelle should be following Beyonce around the country and sending tweets of admiration across cyberspace. I can understand where Demetria is coming from, since we can say that Beyonce did choose to marry a former drug dealer and made a song (Soldier) encouraging young girls to date dudes with “hood status” who “carry big thangs,” “make money three ways,” and “keep it real.” That song irked me to no end, because a whole lot of brothers have died or gone to prison trying to “keep it real” over some nonsense.
But as we think about what Beyonce represents, the good clearly outweighs the bad. She carries herself with a tremendous amount of grace, poise and civility that makes her worthy of her superstar status. She’s not like Rihanna, seen on a blog every week smoking weed with no top on. She’s not beating women down on television like Evelyn Lozada, and she’s living her life with dignity in a media space that loves to see black women at their absolute worst.
Is Beyonce a bad role model for black women? I don’t think so. The mutual respect between Michelle, Oprah Winfrey and Beyonce represents growing empowerment among women in a country where women now officially comprise the majority of the American workforce. Michelle and Beyonce are not feminists, they are womanists. They are proud to be feminine, accept some traditional gender roles, but command the respect that they deserve. They know they don’t need a man, but they allow themselves to need good men in order to make their relationships work – that makes them both powerful and lovable, which is an awesome combination.
I don’t think that Michelle wants Sasha and Malia to grow up and marry their own version of Jay-Z (if Malia’s boyfriend ever calls her a b*tch, he might end up in Guantanamo Bay). But, there are a few things that they can learn from their mother’s friends, all of whom show them a little bit of what it means to be an empowered black woman in America. That sounds pretty good to me.