Nothing defines Beyoncé more than a now-famous moment from an appearance she made on The View. Whoopi Goldberg says to her, “You are Beyoncé,” and she responds, simply, with a “Thank you.” This isn’t egotism, however; if we’re being honest, the name Beyoncé has itself become a compliment, synonymous with global stardom and power. But to many people of color, she’s not just a pop star, or an entertainer, or a philanthropist, or an entrepreneur. She’s a symbol of excellence and strength.
Many people can sing and perform, but to rise to the level that Beyoncé has, it takes the ability to give back to society in other ways and try to make genuine, lasting change. Beyoncé has made a point of extending the ladder back down to other artists of color and showcasing them in a way the mainstream media often fails to do. You may have seen her on the cover of this September’s issue of Vogue, but the cover was shot by Tyler Mitchell, the first black person to ever shoot a cover for the historic American fashion magazine. It’s also been rumored that Beyoncé herself, not Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, was given creative control over the cover and shoot, and handpicked Mitchell to shoot her. An article in The Atlantic called it evidence of “the waning dominance of old-media institutions in relation to new-media stars.”
Jade Carter, an ASU student, feels Beyoncé does a good job of inspiring hope in people of color by giving out scholarships through her Formation Scholars program to students who are attending historically black colleges and universities.
“She’s breaking down that barrier and giving access to people who aren’t able to go to college financially, and that’s a lot of hope,” she says. “A lot of things you can’t do without having an education, so that’s monumental.”
Carter has tickets to see her when she comes to Phoenix in September. She hopes to see the same energy that Beyoncé might give to a place like Houston or Atlanta.
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“First and foremost, to me, Beyoncé is the epitome of black power,” Carter says. “She brings not only black people together, but she can hold an audience in front of all races …and I respect her for that.”
Halla Nelson, a filmmaker at ASU, puts her admiration for Beyoncé bluntly.
“She’s the shit,” Nelson says. “Everybody loves Beyoncé, everybody wants to be as fierce and powerful as Beyoncé.”
As a filmmaker, Nelson wants to do something similar to what Beyoncé has been able to do: put out stories and drive culture for and about marginalized people, particularly queer women of color.
“In my art, my goal is to raise those voices and to bring their stories into the spotlight, so that way it becomes more normalized and not so taboo or wild to see in society,” she says.
Nelson views Beyoncé as a someone who has been able to prevail because she was able to launch herself into a position of power by putting effort into everything she does. The singer inspires Nelson to know that she can have it all.
“She’s an inspiration in the sense that as an artist you can do it all and as a woman of color you shouldn’t limit yourself in what you’re doing,” she says.
It’s Beyoncé’s ability to show vulnerability and discuss her struggles that has earned her admirers. In her Vogue cover story, she discussed issues she had with body image after the birth of her children and her emergency C-section when she had her twins.
“My health and my babies’ health were in danger, so I had an emergency C-section. We spent many weeks in the NICU,” she wrote. “My husband was a soldier and such a strong support system for me. I am proud to have been a witness to his strength and evolution as a man, a best friend, and a father. I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later.”
In a time when women’s health and access to health care are constantly under threat, being able to see a woman at Beyoncé’s level struggle so openly with the same things that other women struggle with is empowering.
Alexis Moore, a local filmmaker, mentions how she found Beyoncé’s discussion of FUPA (fat upper pelvic area) in that Vogue story to be a powerful moment. She also says she loves the way Beyoncé is able to exist and perform in public and typically white spaces, referencing her 2016 CMA Awards performance with the Dixie Chicks. She said that in this way, Beyoncé is unapologetically excellent, which is not something she gets to see performed publicly very often.
“My favorite thing to do when I’m feeling down is watch Beyoncé yelling at people,” Moore says. “It kind of just inspires me to be the person I need to be, to be married to my own creative vision and enact it and have that confidence, and that strength, and that power.”
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Still, when discussing Beyoncé and the power she holds, one might think that she is completely above criticism. Moore points out, however, that while she is a symbol of hope for many, it’s important to also put that into the context that Beyoncé is a light-skinned black woman who is considered conventionally beautiful. This is not to say that the work she does is any less important, but it is to say that her experiences cannot be projected on to every black woman. Colorism is still a prevalent issue in the entertainment industry, and there is often a benefit to having lighter skin. It’s important to stay vigilant and conscious of the various intersections of people’s identities and how that allows them to relate to the world, especially if we consider those people to be our idols.
Acknowledging this, as a fellow artist of color, Moore sees Beyoncé as a blueprint for what she can do in her own life and she is inspired to continue working hard to make herself better. She likes the way she calls upon her culture and history in a way that still allows her to maintain ownership of those things. Moore wants to embrace those parts of herself in work as well.
“To tap into my history, the deepest part of myself as it relates to my culture,” Moore said, “and not feeling like I have to conform or mold myself to whatever the main American cultural temperament may be at the moment.”