Natasha Tinsley

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

The Department of African and African Diaspora Studies will offer a class spring 2015 titled “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” which will highlight how the actions of these women reflect aspects of black feminism. 

Natasha Tinsley, associate professor in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, created the concept for the class and will teach it. She said she chose these two women to be the focal points of the course because she believes they are currently the two most quoted women in the world, and they have the capability of reaching a larger audience than any other activists. 

“Their words reach around the world in a way no other African-American or Afro-Caribbean woman’s currently does,” Tinsley said.

Beyoncé and Rihanna have both sold millions of albums worldwide and are ranked in the top eight of Forbes’ “The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities” of 2014 list. 

According to Tinsley, a course on the feminism of women of color is important because it serves as a reminder that this topic offers insight on race, class, gender and sexuality, which are applicable to everyone.

“Since black women’s voices have traditionally been excluded from the academy, it’s important to offer courses that feature those voices so that students can have access to the rich analytical tools black feminism offers,” Tinsley said. 

This course is one of many offered by the University whose curriculum is focused on popular culture. Mary Beltrán, associate professor who teaches “Film & TV Stardom” in the Department of Radio-Television-Film, said it is important to teach classes about popular culture because it reflects what is relevant in our time period. 

“I think that it’s helpful for people to consider that pop culture reflects our culture and cultural values and our ideas about race, gender, class and social power,” Beltrán said. “It can be a way to study American history and what was important in our culture during that time.”

Another course offered by the University that focuses on this theme is “Advertising and Popular Culture” in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. Finance sophomore Adrian Robison, who enrolled in the course last semester, said he took the class because he thinks it is important to understand what we are exposed to on a regular basis. 

“I took the class to learn where pop culture comes from — how it’s created,” Robison said. “It helped clarify some of pop culture’s diverse range of origins — some of its ambiguities — and how we interact with it.” 

Tinsley said she hopes the course can provide students with an understanding of what feminism looks and sounds like. 

“I hope, first, that they will take away the idea that theorizing is something that black women do everywhere and all the time,” Tinsley said. “Feminism isn’t about hating or detracting from anyone but about cultivating respect and love.”

Omise’eke Tinsley, an associate professor in African and African Diaspora Studies, talks about Haitian American performance artist Mildred Gerestant at a colloquium in Gebauer Monday afternoon. Tinsley delved into various aspects of Gerestant’s performance work as a Drag King.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Drawing inspiration from Carribean fiction and queer authors, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, associate English professor at the University of Minnesota, talked to students about sexuality and religious concepts within Haitian Vodou. She described Ezili Freda, a force that protects both the female and male genders, as well as individuals who don’t identify as either gender, while discussing her upcoming book. 

The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies sponsored the talk Monday afternoon at the Gebauer Building.

Tinsley said her unreleased book analyzes concepts of gender within historical Carribean works through the use of complex metaphors. She said she currently draws inspiration from Haitian-American contemporary performance artist MilDred Gerestant.

“Even though I hadn’t finished my first book, I was suddenly inspired to research a new second project: an analysis of 21st century Carribean fiction by queer writers,” Tinsley said. “This dream project dealt into historical novels that imagined complex genders and sexualities through the metaphor of time travel.”

Upon researching the works of queer authors, Tinsley said she discovered there was never mention of the terms queer, lesbian or transgender. Instead they talked about manifestations of these concepts and about spirituality and Afro-Caribbean religion.

“I wanted to reflect on Ezili as spirit but also on Ezili as archive,” Tinsley said. “That is I wanted to evoke the corpus of stories, memories and songs of Ezili as an expansive gathering of the history of gender and sexually variant people of African decent.”

According to Tinsley, the musical style of MilDred Gerestant has recently moved from hip-hop to Haitian Vodou. These performances draw on Hatian divinities including Ezili, in order to mediate on culturally specific imaginations of gender fluidity.

“Her performances integrate masculine and feminine variations in order to creatively embody the limits to global northern vocabularies of transgender,

suggesting an alternative in transcender,” Tinsley said. “That is an engagement with the submerged epistemology of Afro-Carribean religion.”

Tinsley said MilDred’s deceptively simple discussion of Haitian Vodou expresses in her own radiant style a submerged epistemology of gender variance that recasts dominant white opinion.

“All people have the possibility to be simultaneously man and woman, not because gender is constructed or performative but because they are surrounded by male and female spirits at the same time and may temporarily become those spirits at anytime,” Tinsley said.

African and African Diaspora Studies associate professor Lisa Thompson attended Tinsley’s talk. 

“The talk was very eye-opening for me,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a part of her new book and it’s going to be really ground-breaking in terms of making us think about gender in new ways.”