FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Lessons From Beyoncé

by

shutterstock_166148054

It is very infrequently that popular culture offers us a pedagogical moment we can truly learn from. Beyoncé’s Formations, followed by her half-time performance at the Super Bowl was one such moment.

Superbly timed with the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in 1966, Formations linked the contemporary violence against African Americans to the long assault on African American lives from slavery to Jim Crow to the carceral state bringing to light what scholar Saidya Hartman has called “the afterlife of slavery,” a devaluation of Black lives “by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago.” Beyoncé forces her viewers to confront this devaluation not from a comfortable space where non-Blacks can simply view her images through a righteous pity or a morally cleansing shame that can right the wrongs of structural racism in America.   Images of plantation homes, quadroons dressed for balls, the ghost of Trayvon Martin in a dancing hooded boy, the flooded homes in New Orleans, a line of police officers, and Beyoncé sinking into the water in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina all confront us in a continuous present we will always be part of. These images combined with those of Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy Carter in an afro, the lyrics celebrating the Black body (“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils”) and the refrain “I Slay” empowering Black women spell Beyoncé’s refusal to separate African American history from the celebrity that is Beyoncé and who has arguably the largest following by youth of all races.

But Beyoncé’s brilliance was in connecting Formations to the halftime superbowl performance where the women wore black outfits with berets reminiscent of the Black Panthers, formed a X in tribute to Malcolm, and Beyoncé herself sported a golden X. Beyoncé’s performance implicitly called for a need for radical Black activism, saluted the Panthers, and put women at the center of activism in a way the Panthers had not. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin (born Michelle Maglalang) , and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani were incensed and issued statements about Beyonce politicizing the superbowl, disrespecting the police, and glorifying the violence of the Black Panthers.

However what truly enraged them was Beyoncé’s centering of Black American activism in the heart of mainstream American nationalism. The superbowl is, in fact, a highly politicized event. Rush Limbaugh had it right when he said “you have in the Super Bowl, you have the pregame, which features the anthem, with a giant American flag spread out over the entire field. You have military, uniformed military all over the place.” Into this jingoistic display which cannot admit the racial fractures of America, Beyoncé celebrated the Panthers.

In light of Beyoncé’s tribute to the Black Panthers we would do well to remember that the Black Panthers were wiped out through COINTELPRO an illegal covert FBI operation through which many members were shot; that they patrolled the streets of Oakland and, in what is widely recognized as a precedent for the Miranda rights, began reading intimidated citizens their rights; that many of the demands of the Panthers’ Ten Point Program such as those for decent housing, decent education, employment, and being tried by a jury of one’s peers have not yet been made.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 01, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Four Morning Ducks
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail