Beyonce’s Superbowl Controversy

Black Lives Matter is present and resilient as ever. The movement is rapidly growing in its visibility and prominence, and nothing is more indicative of this than Beyoncé’s Superbowl Half Time performance and ‘Formation’ video.

The video featured some black political imagery, including a young black boy in front of a wall with the words ‘Stop shooting us’. Her performance included back up dancers dressed as Black Panthers. Imagine a white girl singing along to her admiration of “baby hair”, “afros” and “Jackson 5 nostrils”. It is unapologetic and prideful. It’s cultural Blackness. And it is mainstream.

Some of the public have framed this as the setting apart of Beyoncé’s white audience, adopting of an aggressive anti-police stance and ‘glorifying’ the Black Panthers. The backlash is particularly ardent, with harsh criticism from Rudy Giuliani and Fox News.

There have also been criticisms of Beyoncé from the black community, with some eager to point out how convenient this surge in media attention is for her career. She has a new tour to promote! Huffington Post Black Voices writes “what is even more saddening is that such pro-blackness in the video seems to further a more capitalistic agenda more than a sincere output of creative expression.”

I think Beyoncé’s assertions are brave. The performance was very obviously anti-police brutality, not anti-police. I think it’s by no means an accident that her song and show were positioned perfectly to promote her tour and capitalise. Does this take away from her message? Yes. Also, if ‘activism songs’ were shoes, ‘Formation’ would be kitten heels. It is subtle. As calculated and controlled as all Beyoncé’s public moves are, she’s clearly been subtle on purpose. I can’t fail to applaud her, but part of me questions Beyoncé’s commitment to legitimately helping this cause, rather than just paying lip service.

If ‘activism songs’ were shoes, ‘Formation’ would be kitten heels. It is subtle.

However what was helpful? Firstly, the boundless exposure of the issues at hand allows the discussion to spread. And secondly, the public abashment of a section of society that seemingly expected black A-list entertainers to remain passive is satisfying.

Many right-wingers have reacted strongly, making way for well-informed members of the movement to display their refusal to desist, as illustrated in this debate with Tomi Lahren (one of the first and most damning critics).

It is emotionally stirring to see so many standing up to be heard amongst those who would rather we kept quiet. What I would say to Beyoncé/Black Lives Matter naysayers is this:

Stop deflecting the issue. Wilful ignorance is the only issue that will prevent all communities from healing. If you want equality, so do we. Nobody black who is sensible and sane wants white people to suffer for our issues, and the fact that you try and demonise the black agenda to make it into that is ridiculous and dangerously misinformed. No black movements have ever set out a course of violence at will, only as a form of self defense.

Stop disregarding what Black Lives Matter is really about. It is not about the historical racism in the West, it is now. We are not making an issue of Jim Crow or slavery. We are not here to rehash the issue of segregation. Black Lives Matter is about dismantling racism.

Racism has not ended, and here’s why: The dictionary definition of racism is “prejudice plus power, when those in a position of power use that power to manifest their discrimination as a pervasive cultural, institutional or social phenomenon.” Culturally: Black people are still portrayed stereotypically in media, underrepresented and castigated as villains. Institutionally: We know this one. Police killings, routine stops and difficulty getting hired. Socially: Blacks are sometimes subject to microagressions, racist chants at football matches, physical aggression and verbal abuse.

 

Black Lives Matter gives a voice to criticisms of this society, and to criticise something is healthy and helpful when that criticism is honest. The movement is not here to cause trouble. We only want racism to end. And as of now, until power renounces its prejudice, this is not the case.

 

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