Ellis Cashmore: 'Beyoncé proves that racism is no longer an impediment'

From a lecture by the professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, delivered at the Celebrity Culture conference at the University of Paisley

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But the most valuable commodity she trades in is a singular view of the USA that sells to white Middle America. It is a view of a society that has solved what was once called the American dilemma - a land of opportunity in which a racial divisions were the most prominent feature of the landscape.

America has struggled, often vainly, to deal with its most lacerating problem, though since the 1980s and the advent of celebrity culture, a solution of sorts has offered itself. Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and the plethora of black celebrities collectively presented a new image of talented, determined and noticeably wealthy African-Americans who resisted grumbling about racism.

As the most conspicuously glamorous and globally fêted black celebrity of today, Beyoncé effectively demonstrates how racism is no longer an impediment. Her importance can be understood in the context of a small but highly visible group of black celebrities - including Sean Combs, Snoop Dogg and Will Smith - who display opulence, desist from deliberating on racism and whose credibility remains colossal because rather than in spite of this.

Some years back, Whoopi Goldberg attested that she wasn't an African-American: she was an American. This prompted at least one critic to agree in part, but add that she was actually a "different kind of white person". The same could be said about Beyoncé. Today we observe celebrities operating in a culture that has rendered whiteness plastic, melting, stretching and shaping it in a way that accommodates new meanings. Beyoncé might be seen in this light: as part of a new type of whiteness that makes the racial hierarchy invisible or at least opaque.

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