I used to think Black History Month was a good thing. I’m starting to question that, but not for the reasons that most anti-BHM arguments cite. This isn’t a woe-is-me whine of “But where’s Irish-German-English-and-a-smidge-of-Native-American-that-no-one-can-identify History Month?” This is a case of “Why can we only talk about Black History during the shortest month of the year?”
Even though we dedicate a measly 28 to 29 days of our annual calendars to African American achievements and contributions — all of which are more impressive considering the amount of barriers the black community has had to overcome — one of the loudest and most retrogressive parts of the country still found a way this February to discredit or shame an already discredited and shamed race. The very race we’re supposed to be celebrating.
This year’s target: Beyoncé.
I’m not requesting anyone feel bad for Bey, as she’s richer, fitter and more talented than I’ll ever be and doesn’t deserve (nor ask) for peasants’ pity. I wasn’t remotely a fan until a few years ago. What drew me to her wasn’t necessarily her music but the force behind everything she does. I’ve never seen her half-ass anything — not a performance, dance number, video or album. She’s the executive-office feminist with paychecks, power, partnerships and pride, and for someone who’s always sought to achieve those things (me), she became someone to watch, regardless of her music. Turns out the music is pretty darn good, too.
That respect for her has grown, especially in the last month. Beyoncé’s “Formation” video brought her into the race conversation that many critics thought she was too reputation-savvy to enter. In a five-minute music video she comments on police brutality, the treatment of post-Katrina New Orleans and perceptions of what successful people of color should leave behind when they become wealthy (hot sauce, collard greens, cornbread, etc.).
Of course, when you have a reputation like Bey, you don’t really care about the haters.
Most of the vitriol spewed at Beyoncé has to do with her nonverbal Black Panther “endorsement” during the Super Bowl halftime show. A lot of people threw flags because this was a “family event” where political statements like this weren’t welcome.*
*Note that the aforementioned family event revolves around men body-slamming each other to the ground, sometimes causing head injuries that result in chronic and fatal illnesses. So go Broncos and pass the corn chips, please.
I’ll admit it was gutsy to sing a 24-hour-old song without a dance hook while marching across a football field toward an unsuspecting Chris Martin. But a later listen — OK, several later listens — proved that “Formation” might be the most important song of Beyoncé’s career in that it says “I am a Black woman, and I am proud.” It might not describe surviving to adulthood in Compton or New York as other key musicians like Kendrick Lamar or Beyoncé’s own husband, Jay-Z, but it does emphasize the singer’s Creole blood and Alabama, Louisiana and Texas origins.
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils,” she sings. Why wouldn’t she when, to borrow a different song’s lyric, “I woke up like this?”
This celebration of Blackness can be very uncomfortable for part of our country’s majority, and I think some of it has to do with the stereotypes related to the African American community. On one side, the politically correct “I’m not racist: I don’t see color” mentality has flipped into a “If you see color, including your own, your must be racist.” It’s Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” version of racial equality — you must ignore differences for equality to exist. In reality, equality exists when variety is acknowledged, accepted and even encouraged. That’s called “diversity and inclusion.”
On the other side are close-minded people who assume most black men are druggies, criminals and/or unemployed freeloaders (Romney’s 47 percent, anyone?) and that most black women raise multiple children from different fathers on food stamps. No wonder they see pride in being a person of color as flouting traditional (white) American values. Celebrating Blackness becomes an attack on whiteness.
The same goes for other minorities that flaunt their identities. Gay pride is an attack on being straight, married and a parent of 2.5 children. Although masculine women are anti-man, being a feminine woman makes you an anti-feminist, and displaying femininity as a man is an attack on heterosexuality. Celebrating a single racial identity — Asian, black, Hispanic, Native American, and yes, Caucasian too — is an attack on all other races.
Of course not everyone’s method of rejoicing in their identity is harmless to others: Embracing Islam by targeting non-Muslim populations or celebrating Aryan genes by donning a swastika and khaki, for example. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t see Beyoncé wielding an AK-47 in Levi’s Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, no matter how many pundits want that to be the truth when discussing her stilettoed homage to the Black Panthers. The only threat she makes in the lyrics of “Formation” is to take her lover to Red Lobster if he performs well, and I’m not sure how much an incentive that is for a fun time between the sheets.
I’ll admit that on a selfish level I’m a tad jealous. Celebrating Caucasian-ness is a matter of just getting up and going to work every day without dealing with institutional discrimination. So instead of being able to sing along with “Formation” like it’s my own personal anthem, I’ll have to settle for white privilege instead.*
*For those not fluent in sarcasm: This is entirely sarcasm. White privilege exists; I experience it every day; and while I’m not proud of that fact, I’m aware that there’s little that I can do about it without pulling a Rachel Dolezal.
So relax, white people. Stop losing your minds at a Black Panthers reference when African Americans routinely face slanted legal, judicial, economic, social, political and educational environment and, as the last few weeks have shown, the reluctance to let a woman stand loud, proud and Black.