Ain't I a Diva?: Beyonce and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy

Ain't I a Diva?: Beyonce and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy


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A pedagogical primer on integrating Black feminist thought, critical race studies, and America's most beloved pop star.

"Proving himself a worthy member of the BeyHive, Kevin Allred takes us on a journey through Beyoncé’s greatest hits and expansive career—peeling back their multiple layers to explore gender, race, sexuality, and power in today's modern world. A fun, engaging, and important read for long-time Beyoncé fans and newcomers alike." —Franchesca Ramsey, author of Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist

In 2010, Professor Kevin Allred created the university course "Politicizing Beyoncé" to both wide acclaim and controversy. He outlines his pedagogical philosophy in Ain’t I a Diva? , exploring what it means to build a syllabus around a celebrity. Topics range from a capitalist critique of "Run the World (Girls)" to the politics of self-care found in "Flawless"; Beyoncé's art is read alongside black feminist thinkers including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Octavia Butler, and Sojourner Truth. Combining analysis with classroom anecdotes, Allred attests that pop culture is so much more than a guilty pleasure, it's an access point—for education, entertainment, critical inquiry, and politics.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781936932603
Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY, The
Publication date: 06/11/2019
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 427,908
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kevin Allred is a writer, speaker, and educator based in Brooklyn. HIs writing has been featured in Salon , INTO , NBC News, and other publications.

Poet, critic, and activist Cheryl Clarke was born in Washington, DC. She earned her BA from Howard University and her MA and PhD from Rutgers University. Clarke is the author of five collections of poetry: Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (1983), Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989), Experimental Love (1993), and By My Precise Haircut (2016), which won a Hilary Tham Capital Competition. She wrote the critical study “ After Mecca”: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (2005), and a volume collecting her poetry and prose was published as The Days of Good Looks: Prose and Poetry of Cheryl Clarke, 1980–2005 (2006). Many of Clarke’s most influential essays, including “Lesbianism: an Act of Resistance” and “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” first appeared in landmark publications such as This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) and Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1983).

Clarke was an influential administrator and teacher at Rutgers for more than 40 years. She founded the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian-Gay Concerns, which became the Office of Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, and retired as the Livingstone Dean of Students in 2013. For her service to LGBTQ communities, Clarke received a David Kessler Award. She currently lives in Hobart, New York, where she owns and operates Blenheim Hill Books with her partner, Barbara J. Balliet.

Read an Excerpt

I sat dumbfounded, jaw on the floor, for the entire 61 minute run time of Lemonade (including credits) and for a good a deal of time directly following its HBO premiere on Saturday, April 23, 2016. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen. It wasn’t just the sheer majesty and power with which Beyoncé presented a genre-bending narrative and catchy-as-fuck music—a fully realized visual album unlike anything prior—but the way she expertly, cohesively retold many of the same stories and conversations I’d been having with students in classrooms for years based off her other work. Of course, there was much that was new and particular to Lemonade. It was deeper, more complex, concisely refined and merged into one film, but there are elements of everything that came before blended into those tight eleven tracks, interspersed with British Somali poet Warsan Shire’s poetry and retold through lush visuals based on Julie Dash’s 1991 independent film Daughters of the Dust (the first widely distributed feature-film directed by a black woman). A perfect recipe; a groundbreaking artistic achievement. Lemonade out of lemons in a multitude of ways.

So many incredible black women critics, activists, thinkers, and artists quickly—with lightning speed actually—produced scholarship geared towards a deep understanding and analysis of Lemonade ; far too many to name in these pages . The speed with which critical engagement appeared spoke both to the complex artistry of the narrative and the deep desire for more nuanced black women’s stories to be featured and available in the mainstream. Engagement far surpassed typical reactive think-piece fodder, deeply mining cultural references and celebrating experiences that aren’t typically celebrated and centered, even still. A particularly robust and comprehensive list of writing on Lemonade was compiled by Janell Hobson and Jessica Marie Johnson for the African American Intellectual History Society and published online only three weeks after the album’s release, “#Lemonade: A Black Feminist Resource.” Additional college courses emerged devoted fully to Lemonade. The achievement truly catapulted Beyoncé and the way the public at large viewed her work into a new critical galaxy.

As a brand new addition to the syllabus in 2016 and given its explicit focus on the experience of black women—moreso than anything in Beyoncé’s catalog prior—I immediately jumped to pedagogical and personal questions about where Lemonade fit into “Politicizing Beyoncé.” How could I carefully and honestly address and position Lemonade in a way that wouldn’t overstep any boundaries, but still allow students from various backgrounds to respectfully grapple with this brand new cultural touchstone as the next piece of Beyoncé’s growing legacy? We’d always looked for the subtle politics layered into Beyoncé’s work in the classroom, but with Lemonade so many of the explicit politics were shamelessly on the surface. Because the entire conceit of my course is to not assign writing about Beyoncé, I needed to get even more creative and unconventional as most everything possible to say was immediately and importantly said, and continues to be said, by black women critics and scholars.

While the narrative is a deeply personal and painful story of an infidelity and its aftermath, a Southern gothic love letter to black women as celebration of vulnerability and strength., Beyoncé also created Lemonade in such a way that we all, no matter our own identities, play a role. There are ways in which Beyoncé invites our participation as long as first, we meet her and black women at the center. As a celebration of resilience in the face of a lie, the album is also an indictment of the lie itself and an exposé of a broken promise. The rest of us are positioned on the margins by Beyoncé as the liars. We can only enter the narrative of Lemonade through that broken promise; as part of the culture that devalued black women so much so that celebration and reclamation was necessary in the first place. Just like the perfect balance of sugar and lemon in the water that makes lemonade, Lemonade is a meticulously balanced blend of celebration and indictment.

America as a whole broke its promise to black women. Removed from any gossip about Beyoncé’s personal life, that’s the truth at the core of Lemonade. There are a multitude of conversations to be had around the album and all are necessary. Some conversations are for black women alone; others are for wide, diverse groups of people. As always, I’ve tried to highlight aspects of Lemonade in class that invite us all to talk about complicity and responsibility in critiquing the same world that devalues black women as part of that same world, while connecting her work to texts from the past that aren’t about her work. In the aftermath of Lemonade , part of that impulse also became connecting moments and themes from Lemonade back to her previous work as historical texts themselves. This opening chapter will talk about some larger aspects of Lemonade , but many other moments get looped into following chapters by theme. Lemonade itself creates a performative historical loop in Beyoncé catalog, one that moves back and forward in time. “Formation” is Lemonade ’s prologue chronologically, but featured on the album as epilogue, which causes the viewer to find prologue further back—in the ghosts of B’Day and “Deja Vu,” where some of Lemonade ’s ingredients can also be found. With many stops in between. A much longer story that remains the overall focus of “Politicizing Beyoncé.”

By itself, Beyoncé weaves a critical tale with Lemonade that attempts to rewrite the social contract itself, to imagine a different world. She offers instructions to repair what has been and continues to be broken by examining what the Combahee River Collective named “Black women’s extremely negative relationship to the American political system” in their famous 1977 “Combahee River Collective Statement.” In addition to all else that it is, Lemonade is an examination of that negative political relationship, that broken promise. It also highlights our own complicities in the system that is devaluing and lying to black women continuously. Ultimately, Lemonade leads the audience on a journey that exposes freedom itself as nothing more than America’s most intimate lie, a perpetually broken promise by design.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Cheryl Clarke

Introduction: Schoolin’ Life

Part I.

Chapter 1: Mixing Lemonade, Re-Mixing America

Chapter 2: In/Formation

Chapter 3: Ghosts of Slavery Past

Part II.

Chapter 4: A Crooked Room of One’s Own

Chapter 5: Don’t Partition Me

Chapter 6: What’s So Queer About Sasha Fierce?

Chapter 7: The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell

Part III.

Chapter 8: Out of the Ruins

Chapter 9: Politics of Resentment

Chapter 10: Fresher Than You

Epilogue: Let’s Start Over

Appendix: Master Syllabus

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Ain't I a Diva?: Beyonce and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ReadersFavorite3 5 months ago
Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite Ain’t I a Diva? Beyoncé and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy is a work of non-fiction focused on education and socio-political themes and was penned by author Kevin Allred. From a perspective of utilizing the power of pop culture and modern-day icons to examine a range of critical thoughts on feminism, race and modern life in general, Kevin Allred chooses the undeniable star power and influence of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter for his subject matter. Unpicking her lyrics, successes, failures, and influence against a background of writers from Black feminist thought and modern social and political shifts, we discover the true power of Beyoncé’s influence as a reflection of culture and a creator of culture. I absolutely loved this book from start to finish for its acknowledgment that celebrity has real power in the world and is not something which academic thinkers should turn away from in distaste. Author Kevin Allred presents the old favorites from Bey’s career in the hindsight of social movements and changes that have occurred alongside them, as well as unpicking more recent lyrical endeavors against themes of empowerment, gender, mental health, and self-care. On top of this comes the pedagogical consideration of how this example of a pop icon can be used for the betterment and greater understanding of teaching and learning, which I also found to be highly compelling and effective. Overall, Ain’t I a Diva? Beyoncé and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy is an important work for educators looking at the social world and comes highly recommended.
ReadersFavorite2 5 months ago
Reviewed by Astrid Iustulin for Readers' Favorite The title of Kevin Allred’s book, Ain’t I a Diva? Beyoncé and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy, echoes Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech and reveals what its purpose is. This amazing book-length study explores the influence that Beyoncé Knowles exerts on our society and culture and explores her connection with other prominent African-American women. At the end of a journey where music and social issues interweave, you will realize how determining Beyoncé’s contribution has been for Black feminism and social justice. Ain’t I a Diva? is divided into three sections and explores past, present, and future in relation to Beyoncé’s songs, lyrics, and videos. Allred presents an exhaustive picture and reveals how Beyoncé’s music can be a “blueprint” for a better world and equal society. Ain’t I a Diva? is the written consequence of a series of courses Allred taught over the years. Its conversational and engaging tone reflects its origin and makes the book an inspiring companion rather than a lecture. I have rarely read an essay written with such clarity and incisiveness. Allred aims at popularizing his message as much as possible, mirroring Beyoncé’s efforts to make her audience aware of the power of Black feminism. I have to say that Allred has successfully done that. His interesting and stimulating remarks convince the reader that Beyoncé has an important role in the fight for gender and racial equality. I appreciate that Ain’t I a Diva? compares Beyoncé to other illustrious Black women because it opens to new perspectives. The hope is that pop culture and Beyoncé will contribute to lead us to a better society.
ReadersFavorite1 5 months ago
Reviewed by Gisela Dixon for Readers' Favorite Ain't I a Diva? Beyoncé and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy is a socio-cultural commentary on black women and their history in America which has been expertly tied in with Beyoncé’s worldwide impact as a megastar pop icon. In this book, Kevin, after an introduction, divides the book into three main parts: past, present, and future woven around Beyoncé’s career and music while analyzing and commenting on the evolution of black women, especially in the history of America. In this, he thoroughly covers and integrates varied but related subjects of the role of race in America including the African American stereotypes, especially in relation to black women, beauty standards and sexuality, gender, pop culture, political power and social hierarchy, the historical dehumanization of blacks in America from the days of slavery, education, social control and power, and much more. There is also a detailed appendix presented at the end of the book with an epilogue. Ain't I a Diva? Beyoncé and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy by Kevin Allred is a fascinating read and I don’t think I have read a better book that appears to combine diverse elements of education, black feminism, and pop culture, blending them so well together. As a result, this book is not only a detailed narrative of Beyoncé’s songs and albums but also connects the themes in her music and pop status to a wider conversation on race and gender. Kevin writes in an easy, conversational style and makes the book flow from the past towards the future really well. I thought that his research on the subject and grasp of subtle power play at work in society is excellent. This is a must-read for every young person and would make a great educational tool.