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Culture, Identity and Beyonce’s #BlackIsKing

Beyonce is so committed to her art. You see it in how she performs like her life depends on it. I’m so inspired by her passion and how she stays committed to improving, working so hard as though she’s trying to build a fanship even though she has millions of them.

And yes, I see all the comments on cultural appropriation and her pandering to a certain narrative but I think that we need to begin to have a different conversation.

1) Is it still cultural appropriation if she worked with other African artistes and gave due credit for her source of inspiration?

2) At what point do we begin to diversify what we consider as mainstream (which, to be honest, is just western)? If WizKid can sing in localised English while wearing chains and denims and it’s cool, why can’t Beyonce reciprocate? ?

If I’m telling the story of the history of England, I won’t be showing women in well-fitted dresses occupying big positions as we see them today. I’ll show all those large gowns and hair coverings, etc. Men in oversized coats and hats and fat cigars. I’ll show women in aprons knitting or baking while their husbands go to work. Somehow, people will see that and appreciate it for the history that it is. But if a white girl or even me African as I am decides to tell story of Africa in the past and show men without shirts or girls with long braided hair in threads and face painting or tribal marks going to the stream to fetch water, cooking with firewood or men coming to marry women with cows as dowry, we will be disgusted at the image and begin to say that there is more to Africa than that. But of course, there is. It’s simply the story I’m telling at this moment.

So we still allow ourselves to, unconsciously, be held back by what the white man has told us is development or advancement. We still carry the shame they’ve made us wear about our past and we’re constantly trying to defend that we are much more. Yes, I’m African. I speak English. I write English. But I’m also Igbo and I speak Igbo. In my village, we still have streams where children jump into naked and climb trees for fun. There are still people with tribal marks and villages where women don’t wear clothes. But so what? In the cities, you’ll find people working in big industries and doing all those things like you’d find people doing in the Western cities. Does that mean we do not have a history? Does showing that history belittle all of our present achievements?

That, for me, is what Beyonce is trying to portray with her Black is King and even more successfully for doing it in collaboration with African artistes. In a world where you’re treated small because of what your history looks like, Beyonce is saying “Yeah, this is me. Do your worst”. Perhaps in more exaggerated features but isn’t art often a distorted form of reality?

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What do you think?

Written by Jennifer Chinenye Emelife

Teacher. Writer. Interviewer. MA Scholar.

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