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:
January 18, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Destabilizer: Trump’s Escalating Threats Against Iran
John W. Whitehead
Silence Is Betrayal: Get Up, Stand Up, Speak Up for Your Rights
Andrew Day
Of “Shitholes” and Liberals
Dave Lindorff
Rep. Gabbard Speaks Truth to Power About the Real Reason Korea Has Nukes
Barbara G. Ellis
The Workplace War: Hatpins Might Be in Style Again for Women
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Sickness in May’s Britain
Ralph Nader
Twitter Rock Star Obama’s Silence Must Delight Trump
John G. Russell
#Loose Lips (Should) Sink … Presidencies … But Even If They Could, What Comes Next?
David Macaray
The “Mongrelization” of the White Race
Ramzy Baroud
In Words and Deeds: The Genesis of Israeli Violence
January 17, 2018
Seiji Yamada
Prevention is the Only Solution: a Hiroshima Native’s View of Nuclear Weapons
Chris Welzenbach
Force of Evil: Abraham Polonsky and Anti-Capitalist Noir
Thomas Klikauer
The Business of Bullshit
Howard Lisnoff
The Atomized and Siloed U.S. Left
Martha Rosenberg
How Big Pharma Infiltrated the Boston Museum of Science
George Wuerthner
The Collaboration Trap
David Swanson
Removing Trump Will Require New Activists
Michael McKinley
Australia and the Wars of the Alliance: United States Strategy
Binoy Kampmark
Macron in China
Cesar Chelala
The Distractor-in-Chief
Ted Rall
Why Trump is Right About Newspaper Libel Laws
Mary Serumaga
Corruption in Uganda: Minister Sam Kutesa and Company May Yet Survive Their Latest Scandal
January 16, 2018
Mark Schuller
What is a “Shithole Country” and Why is Trump So Obsessed With Haiti?
Paul Street
Notes From a “Shithole” Superpower
Louisa Willcox
Keeper of the Flame for Wilderness: Stewart “Brandy” Brandborg
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Sinister Plan to Kill the Iranian “Nukes” Deal
Franklin Lamb
Kafkaesque Impediments to Challenging Iran’s Theocracy
Norman Solomon
Why Senator Cardin is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning
Fred Gardner
GI Coffeehouses Recalled: a Compliment From General Westmoreland
Brian Terrell
Solidarity from Central Cellblock to Guantanamo
Don Fitz
Bondage Scandal: Looking Beneath the Surface
Rob Seimetz
#Resist Co-opting “Shithole”
Ted Rall
Trump Isn’t Unique
January 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Democrats and the End(s) of Politics
Paul Tritschler
Killing Floor: the Business of Animal Slaughter
Mike Garrity
In Targeting the Lynx, the Trump Administration Defies Facts, Law, and Science Once Again
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Hong Kong Politics: a Never-Ending Farce
Uri Avnery
Bibi’s Son (Or Three Men in a Car)
Dave Lindorff
Yesterday’s ‘Shithole Countries’ Can Become Classy Places Donald, and Vice Versa
Jeff Mackler
Lesser Evil Politics in Alabama
Jonah Raskin
Typewriters Still Smoking? An Interview with Underground Press Maven John McMillan
Jose-Antonio Orosco
Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy
David Macaray
Everything Seems to Be Going South
Kathy Kelly
41 Hearts Beating in Guantanamo
Weekend Edition
January 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
George Burchett
Wormwood and a Shocking Secret of War: How Errol Morris Vindicated My Father, Wilfred Burchett
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail