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When am I my sister's keeper? My take on the Beyonce-Ledisi controversy

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When am I my sister's keeper? My take on the Beyonce-Ledisi controversy

Tamesha Derico

In case you missed it, Grammy-nominated R&B and jazz vocalist Ledisi performed "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" on the Selma soundtrack and as Mahalia Jackson in the movie.

Yet for some strange reason, Beyonce requested to perform the song at this year's Grammys,  even though Beyonce had no connection to the movie or soundtrack/no logical reason to sing this song at the Grammys. While Ledisi sat in the audience.  And both were nominated for Best R&B Performance. The situation was awkward and inconsiderate at best. And at worst, a crass attempt by Beyonce to steal another artist's shine. 

Ledisi admitted to being "disappointed," but gracefully chose to focus on the positive instead: 

...I had to look at the positive and empower women...We have to empower each other. It’s a great thing. And one day I’ll be on that Grammy stage. Every artist wants to be on the Grammys stage. That’s part of our career is to be there. So my time will come when it’s time.
— Ledisi (ABC News, http://abcn.ws/1DVPiwQ)

I can't pretend to know whether Beyonce meant it as an intentional snub to Ledisi - or whether she considered Ledisi's perspective at all. Either way, Beyonce's choice to perform the song was in poor taste and inconsistent with her "feminist" brand if that brand implies supporting women, and fellow female artists in particular. 

Beyonce has released some generic and unsatisfying comments about her motivations, claiming that she wanted to sing the song to honor her father's pain of living in the desegregation era, and honor "some of the families that have lost their sons." But what about our sisters? If Beyonce loved the song so much, why didn't she use the performance as an opportunity to lift Ledisi by performing it with her, giving some exposure to a brilliantly talented yet underrated colleague? (And let's not even talk about how eerily similar the performance staging and wardrobes were to her sister Solange's wedding photos...) 

Controversies like this come and go, but this struck a chord with me because it made me wonder,

should women have each other's backs more often? 

On one hand is the argument that women are stronger and more successful when we support each other. Groups like Lean In Circles are built on the principle that women are more confident and accomplish more with a network of like-minded support. 

On the other hand, some industries are cutthroat and have clear winners and losers. Why shouldn't women compete and self-promote as much as men do? Do women automatically have to support each other, even to the detriment of our own success? Arguably, the assumption that women should be "supportive" and "nurturing" works against us in competitive environments. We're often judged more harshly than men when being assertive.

In full disclosure, I have a Helper personality type, so I'm all about helping a sista out, or at least trying to find win-win solutions to problems. I was that kid in high school who didn't mind telling my friends which scholarships I was applying to, or lending them a quarter for the vending machine (as long as you didn't ask for one of my chicken tenders...). But perhaps these qualities cause me to judge others too harshly when they choose to follow their own dreams without the added responsibility of taking care of every one around them. 

Are we our sisters' keeper?

Tell me what you're thinking - about the Beyonce-Ledisi controversy, or the topic of women supporting each other in general - in the comments.