You are on page 1of 10

Black Women, Beyoncé & Popular Culture

ENGL 3613/AAS 4013/WS 4953

Dr. Kinitra D. Brooks MB 2.468 Office Hours: M 3:00-5:00 pm and by appointment

Course Description

Beyoncé Knowles’ 2016 audiovisual project, Lemonade, has become a movement. Professor Harry M. Benshoff, a film scholar at the University of North Texas, proclaims that Beyoncé got the entire world to watch a 55-minute avant- garde film. Lemonade is a meditation on contemporary black womanhood. The purpose of this class is to explore the theoretical, historical, and literary frameworks of black feminism, which feature prominently in Lemonade. We will use Lemonade as a starting point to examine the sociocultural issues that are most prominent in black womanhood through black feminist theory, literature, music, and film.

Required Texts:

Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Radicalism, Patricia Hill Collins Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture, Janell Hobson Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spirit Work, and Other Such Hoodoo, Kameelah L. Martin Sula, Toni Morrison Mama Day, Gloria Naylor Binti, Nnedi Okorafor Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans, LaKisha Simmons Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Warsan Shire Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class, Lisa B. Thompson

Course Organization:

This course is designed to group the most intensive reading and writing assignments at the beginning of the week. The intensity will taper off as the week continues.

1. Mondays – Theoretical Readings

a. These are your heaviest readings of the week. They are intensive not so much because of their length but because of the depth of the ideas with which you will be wrestling.

b. Your critical commentaries will center on your engagement with your theoretical readings.


These readings are important because they will provide the foundational ideas with which we will engage the work.

2. Wednesdays – Literature Readings

a. These readings will be of varying lengths but will cover the fictional

texts we are engaging throughout the semester.

b. Your weekly reading quiz will center on your familiarity with the literary texts.

c. Please bring index cards to class for this quiz.

3. Fridays – Blog Readings

4. This format is subject to change due to speakers planned throughout the semester

Grade Distribution:

Critical Commentaries Final Project Final Exam Reading Quizzes Participation






Final Grade



As professor, I reserve the right to alter this syllabus at any time and in any way I determine will serve the course goals. If you have concerns about the course, the professor, or other students, you are invited to express them in a proactive manner to me. I am always open to suggestions as to how participants’ needs and interests might best be served.

The tone and language used in this course will not be sugarcoated. I will intentionally provoke you in order to stimulate conversation and challenge your comfort zones. This is by no means a way to attack your personal beliefs or character; rather, my intentions are to force you to think about issues and concerns from various viewpoints outside of your own.

My ultimate pedagogical purpose is to aid you in developing and strengthening your own critical framework and testing its boundaries.

Course Guidelines

1. You will work harder in this course than you ever have before. Be ready to read, write, and think in challenging ways. You will be reading the equivalent of a little less than a book a week.

2. Please make sure you are ready, willing, and able for this type of rigor.

Studying race, gender, class and pop culture theory is incredibly fun

incredibly hard. Do an internal check for your maturity and ability to handle


such a self-directed course. There is no shame in deciding you are not ready.

3. You do not have to be the smartest, most well read student in the university. You do not have to be the best writer. You do not have to be member of the Beyhive. I simply ask that you are willing to be uncomfortable--to have your thoughts and ideas challenged--and then to work/read/write your way through that uncomfortability in order to become a stronger critical thinker.

Critical Commentaries:

Each week, you are to develop a critical, thoughtful, reflective discussion question(s) based on your theoretical readings along with a critical commentary (500 words, double-spaced). Submit your CC to me in Blackboard Learn as an attached Microsoft Word file by 10:00 AM on Mondays. Your question(s) may address the following issues:

Points of clarification of issues that appear ambiguous.

Specification of directions in which certain topics could be elaborated or evaluated.

Points of contention related to conceptual, experiential, or research issues.

Other research findings that are relevant to issues raised in the readings, especially in conjunction with class discussions.

New applications of knowledge to personal, social, cultural, or educational issues.

Critical Commentary Goals:

Demonstrate your level of learning and understanding of the assigned texts and course content;

To provide thoughtful synthesis, critique, and analysis of literary theory and course texts;

To interrogate ideas and ask informed questions;

To contend with your subjectivities and self-expression in a critical way that recognizes and complicates your frameworks;

To engage the content, context, and implications of literary theory;

To connect literary theory and the course texts to your research and teaching realities;

To contextualize your experiences in and out of class with respect to literary theory and culture and

To reflect on your learning and understanding weekly and over the course of the semester.

As such, each CC should build on previous texts (e.g., your own commentaries, class discussions, reinterpretation of experiences, outside readings, etc.). Your

commentaries will be graded on a 10-point scale and I will drop your two lowest scores.

N.B.: If there are parts of your CC you DO NOT want to share with the class, please indicate such in the CC.

Final Project:

You will complete a three-minute film with an 8-10 page critique of your film in groups of two. You will present your film and analysis in a presentation at the end of the semester and will be judged by a panel of experts. More information is forthcoming.

Final Exam:

The final exam will take place on Monday, December 12 at 12:30 p.m. My exams are composed of any mixture of three question types: identification, short answer and essay. Please note that my exams are rigorous but there are no tricks involved. I want you to do well on this exam, but it will take hard work. There will be an in-depth review session before the exam. Course exams are taken individually and they are not open book. Please bring a Blue Book to the exam. YOU MUST BE PRESENT TO TAKE THIS EXAM. YOU MAY NOT MAKE UP THIS EXAM BECAUSE OF ABSENCE. I urge you to consider these dates before making travel plans.

Class Etiquette:

Please conduct yourself with common sense and home training. Do not spend my entire class on your phone or playing on your computer. I can always see you—you are not as surreptitious as you think you are.

Cell Phone Usage:

If you forget to put your phone on vibrate and it goes off, you can either choose to leave for the rest of the class or bring snacks for everyone the next class.

Late Paper Policy:

I prefer to have all papers turned in to me on time. Unfortunately, I do realize that life happens. I have instituted a strict policy for turning in a paper past its due date. I must have 24 hours notice if your paper will be late. You will receive a 24- hour grace period after which your grade will decrease by one letter grade each day it is late. I will not accept a paper after three (3) days. You may only use this service once during the semester, so choose wisely.

Absence Policy:

Class attendance is mandatory. You are expected to arrive promptly and there are no early departures. Three tardy arrivals count as one absence. If you

decide to leave class early, it will count as an absence. If you miss more than four classes, your final grade will be drop one whole letter grade (e.g. your final grade of a B will drop to a C). If you miss more than six classes, you will receive an F as your final grade. All absences count towards this number, both excused and unexcused. I do not distinguish between the two. Yes, I am anal about this.

Office Hours/Email:

My office hours are listed above. During those times, you will find me in my office waiting to help you. Please do not hesitate to come by with concerns about your writing or the class, or if you just want to discuss the readings. You won’t need an appointment during that time; however, if you’d like to make one I’d be glad to do so. Remember, I’m here to help you, so don’t be shy about stopping by!

Everyone will have a conference with me in early October to discuss the final project.

You are also welcome to email me with concerns or questions, with one condition: do not expect a same-day response after 9 PM. Late night inquiries will be handled sometime the next day.

Concealed Carry – Not in My Office!

Pursuant to HOP 9.48, Carrying of Concealed Handguns on Campus, my private office (MB 2.468) is a designated exclusion zone. As set out in Section 30.06, Penal Code (trespass by license holder with a concealed handgun), a person licensed to carry a Concealed Handgun under Subchapter H, Chapter 411 Government Code (handgun licensing law), may not enter this property/office with a concealed handgun.

De conformidad con HOP 9.48, Llevar Armas de Fuego Encubiertas en el Campus, mi oficina privada (MB 2.468) es una zona designada de exclusión. Conforme a la sección 30.06 del código penal (trespasar portando armas de fuego) personas con licencia bajo del sub-capitulo H, capitulo 411, codigo de gobierno (ley de portar armas), no deben entrar a esta propiedad portando un arma de fuego.

University Academic Dishonesty Policy:

Scholastic dishonesty includes but is not limited to cheating, plagiarism, collusion, and the submission for credit of any work or materials that are attributable in whole or part to another person. Plagiarism is using someone else’s words or ideas without acknowledging the source. It is essentially stealing. Don’t do it. Any student who commits an act of scholastic dishonesty is subject to discipline. Unpleasant, painful, and potentially embarrassing happenings shall ensue. Outside sources you consult for assignments in this course (including

your papers and your discussion leading material) must be properly cited in MLA style. If at any time you have any question whatsoever about how to attribute something, or even when to attribute something, please, please, ask! Which leads me to

The University of Texas at San Antonio Academic Honor Code

A. Preamble The University of Texas at San Antonio community of past, present and future students, faculty, staff, and administrators share a commitment to integrity and the ethical pursuit of knowledge. We honor the traditions of our university by conducting ourselves with a steadfast duty to honor, courage, and virtue in all matters both public and private. By choosing integrity and responsibility, we promote personal growth, success, and lifelong learning for the advancement of ourselves, our university, and our community.

B. Honor Pledge In support of the ideals of integrity, the students of the University of Texas at San Antonio pledge:











C. Shared responsibility The University of Texas at San Antonio community shares the responsibility and commitment to integrity and the ethical pursuit of knowledge and adheres to the UTSA Honor Code.

Course Schedule*

*Subject to change and adaptation

August 24

Class Introduction / Lemonade Reactions


August 26

“Beyoncé as Conjure Woman: Reclaiming the Magic of

August 29

Black Lives (That) Matter” by Janell Hobson “Getting in Line: Working Through Beyoncé’s Formation” by Red Clay Scholar

“Our Religion and Superstition Was All Mixed Up”: Conjure,

August 31

Christianity, and African American Supernatural Traditions” or Chapter One from Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau (available as an e-book at the library) MAMA DAY Read in 40-page increments

September 2

“Black Secret Technology: Beyoncé’s Formation” by

September 5

Nettrice Gaskins “Toni, Beyoncé & Kendrick: The Art of Flight by Nettrice Gaskins

September 7

“Africa Was a Land a’ Magic Power Since de Beginnin’ a History”: Old World Sources of Conjuring Traditions or Chapter Two from Black Magic: Religion and the African (available as an e-book at the library) American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau MAMA DAY


September 9

“All the African Influences in Beyoncé’s Visual Album,

“Lemonade,” Explained” by Cynthia Okoroafor “The Afro-Caribbean Connection in Beyoncé’s Lemonade You Might Not Have Known About” by Alex Alvarez “Followers of the Yoruba Faith Reflect on the Impact of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” by Amanda Alcantara

September 12

Chapter Three: “Troubling the Water: Conjure and Christ”

September 14

from Conjuring Moments in African American Literature by Kameelah L. Martin *LONG* MAMA DAY

September 16

“Single, Saved, and Sexin’: The Gospel of Getting Your Freak On from The Crunk Feminist Collective “The Seeming Impossibility of Being Black, Loving God, and Having Sex” – Podcast from The Establishment


September 19

Chapter Four: “The ‘Batty’ Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the

September 21

Black Female Body” from Venus in the Dark by Janell Hobson MAMA DAY

September 23

“Essence Celebrates #BlackGirlMagic Class of 2016 on

September 26

February Cover” by Essence “I Have A Problem with #BlackGirlMagic” by Linda Chavers “There’s Nothing Wrong with Black Girl Magic” by Ashley Ford “Dr. Linda Chavers on #BlackGirlMagic and the Article that Started a Firestorm” by For Harriet

September 28

Chapter Five: “Mirror, Mirror: Framing the Black Female Body for Still and Motion Pictures” from Venus in the Dark by Janell Hobson Discussion with Janell Hobson

September 30

*please bring two pre-written questions from your CC* MAMA DAY

October 3

DON’T HURT YOURSELF Chapter One: “Thou Shall Not Suffer a Witch to Live”:

October 5

Women and Spirit Work” from Conjuring Moments in African American Literature by Kameelah L. Martin *LONG* READ: “Beyoncé’s Lemonade is Black Woman Magic”

October 7

by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley Discussion with Kameelah Martin *please bring two pre-written questions from your CC* SULA – Read through 1921

October 10

SORRY Chapter Four: “The Geography of Niceness: Morality,

October 12

Anxiety, and Black Girlhood” from Crescent City Girls by LaKisha Simmons SULA – Finish Part One

October 14

Discussion with LaKisah Simmons *please bring two pre-written questions from your CC*

October 17

6 INCH Chapter Two: “Staging Black Female Desire: The Drama of Race, Class, and Sexuality” from Beyond the Black Lady:

October 19

Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson SULA - Read through 1939

October 21

“Beyoncé’s Other women: Considering The Soul Muses of Lemonade” by Emily J. Lordi “Meet 9 WOC Behind Lemonade That Aren’t Beyoncé” by Grace Shutti

October 24

DADDY LESSONS * Chapter 5: “Booty Call: Sex, Violence, and Images of Black

October 26

Masculinity” from Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins SULA – Read to the End

October 28

Discussion with Regina N. Bradley *please bring two pre-written questions from your CC*

October 31

LOVE DROUGHT* “Why Don’t We Love These Hoes? Black Women, Popular Culture, and the Contemporary Hoe Archetype.” by Mahaliah Ayana Little (Blackboard)

*Halloween Wear a Beyoncé-themed costume for Extra Credit!*

November 2


November 4

through “Fire” Class taught by Poet Vocab Sanderson Discussion with Reverend Theresa Thames *please bring two pre-written questions from your CC*

November 7

Chapter 3: “Prisons for Our Bodies, Closets for Our Minds:

November 9

Racisim, Heterosexism, and Black Sexuality” from Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins *In Class Viewing * NO! The Documentary

November 11

*In Class Viewing * NO! The Documentary

November 14

SANDCASTLES/FORWARD Chapter 6: “Very Necessary: Redefining Black Gender


November 16

Ideology” from Black Sexual Politics by Patricia Hill Collins TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH - Finish

November 18

Class taught by Poet Vocab Sanderson “Bittersweet Like Me: When the Lemonade Ain’t Made for

for Fat Black Women & Femmes” by Ashleigh Shackleford “Pop Stars Like Beyoncé Leading the Conversation about Feminism: A Discussion Between Two Concerned Scholars” by Patricia Leavy and Donna Y. Ford “Beyoncé is Fighting the Patriarchy through Pop Culture” by Tami Winfrey Harris

November 21


November 23


November 25


November 28


November 30


December 2


December 5

Beyoncé and bell hooks

December 7


December 12

FINAL EXAM 12:30 3:00 pm

*Daddy Lessons and the first week of Love Drought MAY be switched due to speaker availability