It was loud, beautifully choreographed, insistent, flawlessly executed and a testament of faith, monochromatic, spelled out in Helvetica Bold – a font so clear, unequivocal and easy to read – an affirmation that no matter how many violent and oppressive acts are inflicted upon them, black people in America stand strong, un-submissive, not white and as related to us as closely as blood coursing through our jugulars.
Black History Month: Slay!
“I did not come to play with you hoes, haha
I came to slay, bitch
I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch
Oh, yes, you besta believe it”*
It was Black Solidarity Sunday on hallowed NFL turf, which as late as the 1960s embraced owners like George Preston Marshall of the Washington Redskins, who not only refused to sign African-Americans but who also pressured other owners to do likewise.
“We’ll start signing negroes,” Marshall asserted, “When the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”
Beyoncé slayed Marshall, he who changed the name of his team from Braves to the racial slur Redskins.
Beyoncé launched Black History Month with her paean to #BlackLivesMatter, Black Power, Black Panthers and a tribute to Michael Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl appearance.
“Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated”
An unrepentant Black and Beautiful feminist, comfortable in her identity and sexuality, challenged our worldview on Feb. 7. Queen Bey affirmed her creative and political genius and repudiated through the power of her beauty and truth those here in New Hampshire who resisted Martin Luther King Jr. Day, slapped across the face those who would unfurl the Confederate flag in public spaces and kicked in private places those who believe in a white supremacist nation.
“I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it
I twirl on them haters, albino alligators”
The lessons of Black History Month, Bey reminded us, are that we must remain alert to haters, be vigilant in resisting their power and privilege and resist all attempts to whitewash black history in order to define white experience as normative American.
“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper”
In response Rudy Giuliani fumed, “A bunch of people bouncing around and all strange things. It was terrible.” Congressman Peter King perhaps revealed more than he intended commenting, “Beyoncé may be a gifted entertainer but no one should really care what she thinks about any serious issue confronting our nation.”
Fox’s Stuart Varney asked, “Is there anything in America which can exclude race? I mean, why is race brought into the halftime show at a Super Bowl game, why?”
It was resounding repudiation of anti-feminist Rush Limbaugh who opined that Beyoncé represents “the cultural decay and the political decay and the social rot that is befalling our country.”
Tomi Lahren, on Glenn Beck’s Blaze network, argued “First it was hands up, don’t shoot. Then it was burning down buildings and looting drug stores, all the way to #OscarSo White. And now, even the Super Bowl halftime show has become a way to politicize and advance the notion that black lives matter more.” Beyoncé, Lahren said, was “ramrodding (sic) an aggressive agenda down our throats, and using fame and entertainment value to do so.”
“Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper”
It was a salute to Zora Neale Hurston, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X – and, in the end, whether he embraces it or not, a tribute to President Obama, who rose Phoenix-like from decades of segregation, Jim Crow and establishment repression to become white America’s commander-in-chief.
“Black racism,” James Cone wrote, “is a myth created by whites to ease their guilt feelings. As long as whites can be assured that blacks are racists, they can find reasons to justify their own oppression of ‘black people.’”
America does oppression well, Beyoncé reminds us: Montgomery, Selma, Watts, the assassination of MLK Jr., the rise and fall of the Black Panthers. Ferguson. Baltimore. Flint. Voting rights suppression. Marginalized inner-city communities.
All done well!
Thank you, Beyoncé, for enlightenment, for your salute to Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who were banned for life at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics for their Black Power salute, and to Jesse Owens, who finally realized “that militancy in the best sense of the word was the only answer where the black man was concerned, that any black man who wasn’t a militant in 1970 was either blind or a coward.”
“I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it
I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it”
Listening to Beyoncé is listening to 12-year-old Tamir Rice crying out from the grave, Guernica-like, in outrage in response to his family being billed $500 for “emergency medical services rendered as the decedent’s last dying expense.”
“I watched (Beyoncé), it’s just disgusting to me,” conservative radio host Sandy Rios said. “It’s not only stoking the fires of racism, just stoking hatred, black hatred towards whites and towards policemen, it’s also just crass sexually. It’s like you need a bath. What is this beautiful girl doing, doing this?”
When I told a colleague I was writing about Beyoncé and Black History Month, he asked, “So when’s white history month?”
“Look around, “ I answered. “White history month is the whole year – it’s every month, every day.”
Beyoncé’s feminist tribute to her American identity is, should we be open to see it, an invitation to bear witness to the black experience through the prism of a brilliant American artist and for that I’m thankful.
Accept Beyoncé’s invitation: It enriches us all.
“Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh . . .
“My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas ’bama
I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag”
*All lyrics from Beyoncé’s Formation (2016).
This column first appeared in the Concord Monitor.