Beyonce recently posted a photo on her Instagram page of her holding her new twins – a boy named Sir and a girl named Rumi – in a similar veil-and-a-bikini getup to how she posed when she was still pregnant. The Left finds this imagery pregnant with political and religious messages. The Washington Post published an overwrought analysis on Friday by Katie Edwards, working for the University of Sheffield’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies in England.
The Post tweet promised a look at “How Beyoncé’s Virgin Mary imagery challenges racist, religious and sexual stereotypes: Her re-appropriation of Virgin Mary iconography offers a biting critique.”
The Virgin Mary is traditionally represented in art as a white woman. Often her complexion takes the palest possible hue, apparently connoting holiness and innocence. Cultural critic Richard Dyer showed that “in Western representation, whites are overwhelmingly and disproportionately predominant, have the central and elaborated roles, and above all are placed as the norm, the ordinary, the standard. Whites are everywhere in representation.” Whiteness, then, occupies a position of cultural hegemony as “normal” and neutral, and religious iconography that — quite literally — represents whiteness as divine, is a means of reproducing white power and superiority.
Beyoncé’s re-appropriation of Virgin Mary iconography offers a biting critique of this supreme exemplar of feminine whiteness and the ideology that constructs and perpetuates it. At a moment when white supremacy is echoed in the “America first” slogan of President Trump, Beyoncé simultaneously dislodges “white” from its central place in religious iconography and Trump from his recent monopoly of press headlines.
No one seems to ask Beyonce what her intentions are – whether she intends to offer a “biting critique” of white America or Christianity. It’s not likely she’s doing all this to please cultural Marxist professors, although she probably doesn’t mind when she’s worshiped on television by academic analysts like Melissa Harris-Perry….when she still had a program.
The Post is certainly not interested in a biting critique of Beyonce, suggesting that she’s comparing herself to the Mother of Christ, just like another pop star….Madonna. Couldn’t it be that simple – Beyonce is announcing herself the Queen of Pop of her era, like Madonna once was?
A Christian could at least contemplate a different unintended consequence: that the Virgin Mary imagery leads people back to pondering Christianity, that a pop diva could be paying a quiet tribute to virtue, instead of a repudiation of it.
Edwards noted Beyonce also borrowed from Marian imagery in her 2013 video for the song “Mine,” veiled “to recreate Michelangelo’s Pietà, literally surrounded by whiteness, to subvert the racist and sexist ideas around ownership and black women.”
Forget the black Christians of America. Edwards claims Western/Christian culture equates whitness with beauty and purity:
Christian imagery offers prescriptive images of socially approved women. As Kelly Brown-Douglas argues, “positive images define what female ‘goodness’ looks like and urges women to imitate the qualities of these images.” Images of the Virgin Mary are central to Western culture as a symbol of ideal femininity that equates whiteness with beauty, purity and virtue, and artistic representations of the Mother of Christ have helped to define how women are publicly represented.
But Beyoncé doesn’t simply create a powerful and iconic image of black femininity in her pregnancy announcement images. Images of the Virgin Mary usually depict her fully clothed, including a head covering. The Virgin Mary’s attire must suggest chastity, purity and (sexual and spiritual) virtue. Beyoncé also subverts this ideal by posing in mismatched lingerie, cradling her pregnant belly, and in doing so fuses elements of the “Jezebel,” one of the most prominent stereotypes of black women, with Virgin Mary imagery. This boldly challenges concepts of “acceptable” female sexuality and racialized stereotypes.
Black women came to be associated with Jezebel, another stereotype based on a biblical character, during slavery when “the Black woman as Jezebel was a perfect foil to the White, middle-class woman who was pure, chaste and innocent.” The Jezebel stereotype was used to rationalize sexual atrocities against black women and its insidious influence persists in contemporary culture.
Perhaps the veil and the bikini/lingerie are simply trying to plow again the ground of Madonna, combining the good girl and the deliciously bad girl in way that sells albums and concert tickets. It would be quite the biting critique of Marxism to discover all this imagery is designed simply to build a million-dollar marketing machine.