Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the Importance of Beyoncé: "There is Power in Pop Culture"

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sat down with French magazine Le Monde in Paris for the Le Monde Afrique Conference.

Adichie was, of course, asked about Beyoncé's latest singe Formation, and the writer, who many first encountered when her TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” was sampled in the song “Flawless,” offered some important observations about the way that Black culture is consumed.
The author says Beyoncé is breaking down a new barrier in her career by putting her Blackness as the forefront. "There is something about American mainstream cultural production that says you cannot be too black,” Adichie says. “I think Beyoncé’s success until now, in many ways, has been based on the idea that she’s vanilla – I mean the flavor that appeals to the largest number of people. And to do that in the American mainstream means that you have to be racially ambiguous. You can’t really be too black."

That Blackness, though frequently commodified, makes mainstream viewers nervous. “I think now that Beyoncé has decided to take a position, it’s made many people uncomfortable. And it’s a discomfort that I don’t understand because I find myself thinking, ‘How can anybody not be outraged by what’s going on in the US?’ It’s not that what’s going on is new, it’s that what’s going on is now being talked about. The black men who are being killed, that’s been going on for a long time.”

Adichie is a leading voice in contemporary feminism, but she admits that she is “not very cool with music” – “I’m actually quite old-fashioned and boring.” But it seems she has no choice but to be versed in Beyoncé because the two will forever be connected in their pursuit of equality, and she makes her admiration of the star known.  

“There is power in pop culture,” Adichie says. “Beyoncé has stepped out of her comfort zone – and it was easy to be there; it’s easy to be racially ambiguous, if you’re black. It’s more difficult to take a position. And it comes at a risk, because there are consequences.”

Photo Credit: Elise Barthet