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On the Blackness of Beyonce

Happening Now

On the Blackness of Beyonce

Munje Foh

Beyonce sent the internet, the media and middle America into a frenzy with her halftime performance at Superbowl 50 this past weekend.  Although the superstar has said little about the performance aside from a backstage statement that she "wanted to make people feel proud," many people have come to their own conclusions about the meaning behind the performance, including quite a few negative interpretations.

Former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, called Beyonce's performance "really outrageous," stating that she used it "as a platform to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her and protect us."  Giuliani suggested that African-Americans and all other communities should instead focus on "building up respect for police officers."  The former mayor is joined in his sentiments by some other citizens of New York who are planning an anti-Beyonce rally to take place on February 16th at the National Football League in New York City.  The National Sheriff's Association reported that they boycotted the performance by turning off the television during halftime, and the Chicago Code Blue protested the performance via their Facebook page.

Of course Beyonce has the faithful BeyHive, who will defend her for much less than the gravity of the allegations mentioned above, but what about us regular folks?  You know, the over thirty crowd who won't religiously stan for anyone (except maybe Michael Jackson but hell we are human) and who remain able to view situations objectively regardless of the magnitude of the celebrity involved.  I can't speak for all of the ordinary people out there, but I applaud Beyonce's performance and video.  Before you judge me, consider the fact that I'm not a consistent fan of Beyonce's music.  Her juxtaposition of Chimamanda Adichie's amazing TedX talk about women's empowerment to a pop refrain telling all the 'bitches' to 'bow down' made me queezy.  I've waxed and waned on love for Queen Bey's music, depending on whether her message (and the music of course) resonated with me at the time, which is the rightful duty of any music lover, I think.

I applaud the performance because it was the essence of what I admire in womanhood.  A person who has perfected her craft and built a solid platform, using that platform and every other asset that she possess to promote her beliefs or a cause that she is passionate about, is the type of person that I aspire to be.  I am not bothered by the fact that Beyonce has received criticism as a result of her message, but I am bothered by the basis for the criticism.  Some have suggested that Beyonce wears weaves and is very light-skinned, so it it impossible for her to make a credible artistic statement regarding black issues.  Others have said that since Beyonce is a pop star and has traditionally made music that favors form over substance, she is not to be trusted or believed now that she has chosen to address a civil rights issue.   Yet others suggest that "Formation" cannot be a larger statement about blackness because the lyrics were particular to Beyonce and her circumstances.  Here are some examples:


       you need HER to speak...because, that wasn't HER on the song..ok

          mindless entertainment...that you're still thinking about...days later...

                                                                  what in the hotep hell?

So look people, one thing we have to do is be logical in our criticisms.  If you believe that it is an injustice for people to be judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character, then you cannot logically assert that a woman is less or more qualified to address an issue because her hair is weaved or natural, long or short, natural-in-color or dyed.  Beyonce's appearance is not an indicator of her beliefs and I really cannot even believe we are forming conclusions based on hairstyles.  Next, Beyonce has traditionally performed pop songs, but let's consider context here.  The woman started singing in her teens as part of a girl group.  Pop music was par-for-the-course in terms of her career trajectory.  Because she's been highly successful, we've followed her growth in the spotlight and if we're honest, we'll recall that she was criticized when she began to address more mature musical topics such as sex.  Now, she has decided to spotlight police brutality through strategically placed graffitti, sinking cop cars and back-up dancers dressed as black panthers.  She also paid homage to freedom fighters like the black panthers and the original pop-provocateur Michael Jackson (remember "Man in the Mirror," "Heal the World" and "They Don't Care About Us")  and we take her progression as an indication that she's not sincere?  Let's think this through.  Beyonce, as powerful and rich as she may be, still has a lot to lose, even more to lose than if she didn't have her resources.    It's no secret that performers and their productions (i.e. concerts) are backed by numerous sponsors.  Beyonce knew that her message would fly in the face of mainstream America and could cost her some sponsorship but she took the chance on delivering her message anyway.  Influential political figures and news outlets are now labeling the pop-princess with a formerly pristine image, as anti-police and radical.  Not only could this jeopardize some of the relationships that support her funding, it could cost her some of that precious teeny-bopper, middle American, boys-in-blue loving fan-base.  I hope no one sincerely believes that Beyonce's millions are made solely from selling tickets to black people.  That's not how world tours are set up.  I don't think Beyonce needs to jeopardize her sponsorship and her following to promote her tour, she's Beyonce, she'll always get attention.  I think she chose to perform this song at the Superbowl because she cares about the message and she wanted it to have a huge audience for maximum impact.  I also take issue with the folks who either ignore, or fail to inform themselves of the fact that Beyonce has provided financial support to the effort to bring justice to the murders of Trayvon Martin & Freddie Gray, to rehabilitate New Orleans after Katrina and to give the black lives matter movement momentum.  Do you think she quietly funded those efforts for attention too?

Finally, let's not be dense.  Yes, the reference to Jackson Five nostrils was specifically about Jay-Z and the reference to loving afros was about Blue-Ivy, but are we really going to pretend that Beyonce isn't slapping us in the face with the idea that WE, black people, are beautiful just as God made us?  Don't make me explain this any further folks, let's all just hold hands and accept this point.

Please don't misunderstand me, I respect differences of opinion but let's base our criticisms of Beyonce's art on something substantive.  I will not debate the correlation of hair texture to social awareness.  I will not!  It doesn't matter whether you agree with Beyonce's message or imagery as long as the art made you feel something.  Whether you felt proud, validated, empowered, angry, uncomfortable, confused, bitter, resentful or provoked, if the art moved you into an emotion that you weren't feeling prior to viewing it, then there is a chance that it can help bring about change.  I believe that all change evolves from feelings of discomfort or love, so I have always been at peace with making others uncomfortable.  As always, thanks for reading and be good until the next post.

 *Edit all opinions are stated in the spirit of wholesome and humors debate. No offense intended and I pray none will be taken.