Rutgers Professor Kevin Allred, who teaches a course titled Politicizing Beyoncé: Black Feminism, U.S. Politics, and Queen Bey, has a beanie, tattooed knuckles that read “Wild Seed,” and a whole lot to say about Beyoncé.
“People assume I’m teaching Beyoncé dance moves in class, but this is a women’s studies course,” Allred said.
When Stony Brook University’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance club invited Allred to teach the students what his course is all about, Allred found Humanities room 3018 was a room with only seven students in it, not a full class like the ones he is used to. Despite having two members of the Audio and Visual Services inform them that they did not have prior approval to use the room, the FMLA was allowed to continue hosting the lecture.
Although Allred uses Beyoncé as a subject of study to help him attract students, what he really wants them to learn is how to think critically about the world and the media that they consume. In his course, Allred uses the same type of tactics others have used to interpret the hidden meanings in novels to break down and analyze Beyoncé’s songs and music videos.
Allred’s analysis of Beyoncé’s works often involves side-by-side comparisons of her music videos with black feminist works, one such example being the connections between “Kitty Kat,” and Gloria Jean Watkins, aka bell hooks, “Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace.”
According to Allred, Beyoncé is referencing Watkins in her video by placing herself near a giant black cat, which stands as a metaphorical vagina/pussy, stating that an African American women’s sexuality is larger than the woman herself in society’s eyes.
But during a New School discussion titled “Are You Still A Slave: Liberating the Black Female Body,” Watkins criticized Beyoncé and called her “a terrorist, especially in terms of the impact on young girls” when it comes to the oversexualization of women in the media and impossible beauty standards.
Part of this came from the way Beyoncé depicted herself in a music video for “Partition,” where Beyoncé dances and dresses in explicitly sexual ways. Allred argues that “Partition” cannot be fully recognized without “Jealous,” the song that follows “Partition” on the 2013 album Beyoncé.
“At the end of ‘Partition,’ she wakes up and we move into ‘Jealous,’” Allred said as he follows the narrative of the two videos that are linked together.
He explains that in “Partition” Beyonce embodies the sexual fantasies that society has of her because it is the only way for her to get attention, and in “Jealous” she finds herself alone when she acts like herself.
These two songs are part of an album that Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance member Rachelle Powell says is “feministic” as evident in the song “Flawless,” which inserts a speech from Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “We should all be feminist.”
Whether Beyoncé’s work explores feminism or not, Allred continues to teach his course at Rutgers, which is now in its fifth year, and speak at multiple colleges about Beyoncé’s take on feminism.
“People think there’s no academic quality in what I teach,” he said. “But I teach critical thinking and analytics.”