The following post is not related to college admissions- skip this if you don’t want to read an amateur think piece on the state of racial identity as seen by a first-generation American black woman (still a teenager, but still). Proceed at your own risk. If you are easily offended by black awareness, discussion of social justice, and other related issues, skip ahead. (Or read and blast in the comments, because that’s what you’ll probably do anyways).
Lemonade, and its top single “Formation”, were immediately lauded as cultural symbols and testimonies on black womanhood, and the intersecting, complicated details of it. However, internet trolls, racists, and the usual cast of “I Hate SJWs” backlashed against Beyonce, especially after her Super Bowl performance, crying out against Bey’s purported politicalization of a “family-friendly, wholly-American” event, through her music, black berets, militant-inspired choreography, and the iconic power fist symbol- apparently reminiscent of the Black Panther movement.
I would be lying to you if I said that there were absolutely no correlations or influences of the general theme of black power movements in the performance. The Formation video itself definitely speaks to a politicized, tense racial atmosphere on the heels of multiple shootings of black, unarmed men- most recently and notably Philando Castile (who had not yet been shot at the time of the video), especially with the sinking car and direct references to such shooting. But is Beyonce’s anger and artistic response to such tragedies truly outrageous, inappropriate, or over-political? Is she wrong?
I got into a tiff with a friend over the matter (shout out to my girl Abby). While she believed that the performance was a political statement, I vigorously disagreed. I felt, and still feel, as if defining her performance as a political statement detracted from the very real anger, trauma, and truth that these events have on the black conscience. People can interpret anything as political, regardless of its intent (Super Bowl LI, the Harvard meme kids, Reddit, Pepe…the list goes on)- but that doesn’t mean it’s political. Political statements are entirely dependent on intent. Intent defines and characterizes political statements in a highly particular fashion, simply because of the amount of impact and function of design required to execute a successful political statement, that simply does not happen per happenstance. The Super Bowl performance was just that- a performance. It was a celebration. It was spectacularly dazzling, yet simply a function of the music industry, not her political point of view. She had a single to promote, a crowd to wow, and hundreds of millions of worldwide Super Bowl watchers to impress (not to mention an album and national tour to promote). It was just that. The only politics that made an appearance was the debate over capitalism. Beyonce taking the time to celebrate the history of one of the most marginalized racial groups in America amidst a very contemporary battle for sociopolitical justice through symbolism of its most powerful, resonant movements does not make her some kind of vigilante, SJW, or anything else people decided to name her. It makes her a person.
People will always celebrate their backgrounds. As small as Christmas traditions, as big as Mardi Gras festivals, resonant in tattoos and tributes, poetry and patriotism, every one of us has a past. We all belong to something bigger, more beautiful, more complex and longer-standing than us- either a family, a country, or a racial group. Beyonce happens to belong to a racial group of Black Americans. We don’t attack Native Americans for choosing to live on tribal reservations; we don’t criticize Americans for their grandiose Fourth of July celebrations as messages of ‘white supremacy’, ‘neocolonialism’ or ‘American exceptionalism’; we don’t denigrate Christians for choosing to wear the cross, or families for cherishing time-honored traditions and heirlooms, regardless of their contemporary representation. So why is it that whenever a black person decides to affirm their identity and celebrate their culture in any meaningful, public way, they are somehow making a political statement? Why can’t a Super Bowl performance which revolves around Beyonce’s black identity and history just be that- a performance?
It’s also careless to make that assessment, in light of the political statements that Beyonce does make, which she makes with such palpable, blindingly-obvious directive, to assess that her small reflection of culture was a political event.
Beyonce is an icon of American, and Black, culture. Her album Lemonade, both its music and visuals, are carefully selected and crafted to convey an image, statement, and message about the status of American black womanhood, intergenerational racial and romantic trauma, sexual and emotional intimacy, love, infidelity, marriage, and everything else, all over again. Lemonade is an album that was not created with artistic passion, but an artistic-political vessel crafted with needle-point precision to elicit a response and provoke thought from every medium through which its rhythm rebounds. Beyonce does not rely on subtlety to make statements. She takes too much pride to throw such a statement in a 6 minute performance at the Super Bowl.
What Abby said about perception vs. reality when it comes to cultural affirmation was incredibly thought-provoking and valid. When it comes down to it, she’s right. Regardless of what Beyonce intended, if something different was universally received, then it becomes difficult to attest or invalidate its political significance. Politics exist within the plurality of the people, and depends on “the wisdom of the crowds”. Yet, this is simply a symptom of this consistent issue that black bodies are deemed incapable of pride if not beset by a political agenda. Even the incredibly controversial Black Panthers, based on the ideals of black nationalism, are consistently slammed for their militarization, while their core concepts of black pride and interdependence are largely ignored. Yet, people empathize with the KKK’s white pride and feeling of “threats” by the black community? The Black Panthers used guns, and Texans fought at the Alamo. Only one of them is remembered as rightfully culturally memorable, iconic, and dignified to the members of their respective groups.
Being black, and being proud of being black, is not a political statement. It is natural human behavior. Even further, with a black community constantly told that we should be ashamed of our color, culture, past, appearance, desires, status (the list is never-ending), celebrating our culture is a proverbial middle finger, a reclamation of what has been taken away from us. Black people deserve to be proud, and being proud, being black, and being both, is not political, and with respect to our culture, should not be regarded as such.
When the American public chooses to trust and believe that black people are not trying to be aggressors or pushy protestors in the name of a cause, when they accept and respect our culture as independent and worthy of celebration, when they recognize our checkered pasts as just elements of our history and not reasons for shame, then black bodies will not be monolithic, hollow caricatures, but viewed as whole, multidimensional beings. When that happens, we will no longer be seen as political, but people.
Because my skin is no more a political statement to me than the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism to a
racist proud Southerner. Jokes aside, my skin is not a political statement. It is part of who I am. So is my history, and the symbols of my culture. So let them exist as such.
Black and Proud,