Race, feminist perspectives and politics focus of discussion

Contact: Deanne Puca
Photo of Dr. Jennifer Richardson.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Dr. Jennifer Richardson, Western Michigan University assistant professor of gender and women's studies, and her students will go beyond their usual classroom boundaries for an evening this month as they engage the community in a discussion about the intersections of identity, race, gender, class and sexuality in contemporary representations of black women in media and popular culture, focusing particularly on media figures and celebrities like Beyoncé.

The free and open event from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31, will be in 1920 Sangren Hall. It is part of the students' requirements for the course "Beyoncé: Critical Race Feminist Perspectives and the Politics of U.S. Black Womanhood."

The open classroom format was successful a year ago at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where Richardson used to teach and held a similar event at that time.

Beyoncé and feminism

"Beyoncé is a powerful figure with a tremendous multicultural and multigenerational fan base impacting the lives of millions of people," says Richardson. "As my research delves into how African-American women negotiate and navigate media representations of beauty and representations of black women, Beyoncé's name was the one that came up for every single woman in my study.

"There is depth and complexity within Beyoncé's persona that we rarely get to see of black women in popular mediated spaces," she adds.

Meanwhile, Richardson claims that while many young people and celebrities today run away from the "feminist" label, Beyoncé claims it as a political stance demanding that her viewers at least investigate what she has to say as a celebrity, sex symbol, success story, mother, wife and African-American woman of wealth.

"It’s important to study someone as powerful as Beyoncé," says Richardson. "We saw evidence of that power at the 50th Super Bowl, especially since so many people were talking about her performance afterward." 

Students in Richardson's class are challenged to use critical race feminist theoretical frameworks as tools to analyze and make meaning of Beyoncé, her persona and the impact she has on society so they can ask questions about the current moment feminists find themselves in today.

"Beyoncé is a polarizing figure within feminist debate, and now within political, racial, and public debates,” says Richardson. “There is no one consensus about whether or not she is a feminist or represents a feminist agenda. If she is a politicized figure, what does that mean? We also need to ask what impact she has on women, women of color in general and black women in particular as a way of seeing themselves and the world around them?"

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