Beyoncé Backlash

Pro-Black or Anti-White?

Posted Feb 25, 2016

Raymondclarkeimages/ Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Source: Raymondclarkeimages/ Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

The backlash to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance has been swift and critical by mainstream White America especially among certain institutions like police unions and politicians who feel the Black Panther-like outfits she and her dancers donned in front of a national Super Bowl audience was a message of violence against police and white establishment.

Police unions have gone so far as to tell officers not to accept security positions that become available when she tours in their respective cities as a way of sending a message to the singer that her message crossed an artistic threshold.  But where is the line and who determines it?  Or better yet how did White and Black America interpret it? 

As an Asian-American psychotherapist and diversity trainer focusing on multicultural issues, I have Black clients who tell me the Black Panthers of the 60’s symbolize strength, honor, and pride in African-American culture as opposed to White Americans who view the Black Panther party as a violent threat to their physical well-being.

So did Beyoncé cross the line?  I don’t think so, because neither her Super Bowl performance or the video from the song, “Formation” contained any lyrics or messages of hate towards white America.  If anything her video hints at the systemic injustices facing African-American such as the government’s responsiveness to New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the long-standing concern and distrust Black communities have with police.  In her video there is an image where you see graffiti that reads, “Stop shooting us” as well as a young Black boy dancing fervently in front of white police officers wearing riot gear. 

Instead of a message of inciting violence against police, more than anything, African-Americans feel the video is a poignant testament to the beauty of being Black.  In other words, they see it as a positive and pro-Black message.

An African-American blogger who goes by the name of Bitter Gertrude says the video is a reaffirmation of the beauty of Black America, “The line of riot police surrendering to the power of a beautiful dancing child is not ‘anti-white’ or ‘anti-police’. It is pro-hope, pro-life, pro-art, and pro-Black.”

African-American author and speaker Austin Channing also commented on the vagueness and interpretive nature of Beyoncé’s video.  “Now, I cannot tell you what Beyonce intended for this video. I wasn’t there as she made each choice. There are some references that are clear—'I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros' doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis… Beyoncé has given us a powerfully defiant anthem that challenges us to rethink who is respectable, dignified, worthy.”

Despite the lack of clarity on the meaning behind Beyoncé’s wardrobe selection and the content in the “Formation” music video, members of the white establishment (i.e. police unions, police chiefs, and politicians) feel the message is unequivocally anti-white.  Do you see the cultural bias coming from White America’s powerful elite?  And now they want their bias to influence the NFL to ensure nothing of this nature surfaces again.

But this is more than about race.  It’s also about art.  Because art is oftentimes interpretative, it should not be suppressed, banned, or hidden from mainstream America.  If anything, I believe it can help different cultures come to the table and express their concerns as a means of reaching understanding and empathy.

My interpretation of the Black Panther uniforms and the video was Beyonce’s way of expressing her own frustration and the collective pain African-Americans have faced at the hands of mainstream authority, government, and culture through the years.  Her defiance which White America views as too threatening and needs to be squelched and silenced is yet another reminder of systemic racism at play.

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