The Broncos took the rings, but Beyoncé changed the game on Super Bowl Sunday.
Her halftime performance of “Formation” wasn’t just about her beauty and flawless dance moves. It was an homage to Southern black culture and to activism.
And the pundits went wild with outrage.
Beyoncé and her dance squad owned the football field in black leather costumes, with definite Black Panther inspiration.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
How dare she promote black power and self-defense, her critics cried. How dare she relate the latest deaths of unarmed black men and women to the death of 21-year-old Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, killed in his sleep by cops in 1969. How dare her dancers form an X, seemingly in tribute to Malcolm X. But I guess no one wants to study the great civil rights leader in his entirety. They take only the inflammatory pieces of his story that fit the “dangerous and black” narrative. But we’re supposed to ignore the raping and thieving ways of Christopher Columbus? OK.
Beyoncé is a pop queen, known for universal music and a million-dollar brand, so I guess she isn’t allowed to also be black and proud.
Listen when she sings: “Earned all this money but they never take the country out me. I got hot sauce in my bag — swag.” It’s a declaration that she, not corporate America, owns herself. This Texas woman, a daughter of an Alabama man and Louisiana Creole woman, is unapologetically her Southern black self.
And for that, accusations that she is anti-police and racist flooded social media. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani called the performance “ridiculous.”
“This is football, not Hollywood, and I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” he said on Fox News. “And what we should be doing in the African-American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers.”
A day before the Super Bowl, Beyoncé released the “Formation” video. It was also announced that husband Jay Z’s global music and entertainment platform Tidal is donating $1.5 million to Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations. Right-wingers like New York Congressman Pete King are calling the video shameful.
In it, a little boy dressed in a black hoodie dances in front of officers in riot gear. In the end, the boy raises his hands as if to say, “I am here and I am harmless.” The cops raise their arms and surrender to that idea: Blackness itself does not equate to danger.
Also in the video, Bey sinks a police cruiser in the metaphoric waters of Hurricane Katrina. She also drowns with it. A graffiti message briefly flashes: “Stop shooting us.” The message: If we don’t submit to the humanity of one another, we are going to drown.
How is this disrespectful to cops? Shouldn’t the people who enforce the law also want justice? Yes, all lives matter. But black lives aren’t valued. Children like Tamir Rice are killed upon sight. That should offend you. When you hear black lives matter you shouldn’t get mad, you should get on board.
As Beyoncé says in the beginning of her song: “Y’all haters corny.”
Some call her racist and mad. So because she embraced black beauty and encouraged black pride and economic empowerment (You just might be the black Bill Gates in the making) and spoke out against police brutality, that makes Beyoncé an angry black woman?
Ah, the double standard. I should have expected that. I mean, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is called trash and all kinds of racial slurs because he didn’t want to talk to the media after his loss Sunday. But when Peyton Manning stormed off the field after his Broncos lost to the New Orleans Saints in 2010, some called him a poor sport but most defended his competitive fire.
Let me break this down. When Beyoncé sang, “I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afro, I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils,” she is speaking intimately about the hate against the curly hair of her daughter, Blue Ivy (who, during the halftime performance, was happily playing with her mom’s bestie, Gwyneth Paltrow, in the stands). Bey is speaking directly about the way people talk about Jay Z’s big nose. She celebrates these Afrocentric attributes.
The use of the word Negro? Well, America, look around at the injustice. We are transported to the days of whites and coloreds. Why are you so offended she used the word Negro, really? Are you mad because you want to say it, too? Context, y’all.
Or is it her willingness to openly speak about her own power that bothers you: “I dream it, I work hard, I grind till I own it. I twirl on them haters.”
Maybe it’s too much empowerment. It’s so very James Brown “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open up the door, I’ll get it myself).” But this isn’t just funky pro-blackness. It’s sexy pop protest music. It’s an intersection of epic sociopolitical, musical and cultural proportions that defies the rules of what activism looks like. This is a black woman saying she works hard and loves herself. She slays. And self-worth can change the future for oppressed people. Maybe that’s what scared the audience.
Too bad. Have a seat or get in formation.