The revolution has not been televised (and it damn sure wasn’t at the Superbowl)

Panthermontage

Full disclosure: I’m not a Beyonce fan. Spoiler alert: And a lot of folks won’t like this post.

Am I the only one who does not see Beyonce’s Superbowl performance as revolutionary or consider her song, Formation, a social justice anthem? Because I don’t. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say I find both of them self-serving, appropriative and honestly, denigrating. I definitely don’t think the halftime show was any kind of tribute to the Black Panther Party. Allow me to explain:

  1. The Panthers believed BLACK is beautiful.

The word ‘negro’ — which Beyonce uses several times, from describing her daddy’s heritage to claiming the Jackson Five’s collective, presumably pre-plastic-surgery nostrils — would make Huey Newton and Malcolm X turn over in their graves.

Even though the pejorative term, ‘bamma’ — a countrified, backwoods person lacking style, taste, or class — is the polar opposite of the image Beyonce has created for herself, she has as much reclamation right to it is as Black people have to ‘nigger.’ But is she reclaiming ‘negro’ too? Or did she even think that hard?

Spanish and Portuguese slavers had to call the Africans they kidnapped from Africa something. Lacking both respect and creativity, they settled on their word for black, ‘negro’. Eventually, the adjective morphed into a lower-case noun, bringing with it all the negative stereotypes Whites ascribed to the people so named. Rejection of the term by the people so named started with the slaves themselves and continued all the way to…wait for it…the Black Power movement led by the Black Panther party! Rejecting the slave-given name Beyonce so proudly throws around was a basic tenet of the organization she supposedly paid tribute to. Here’s how the late, great Ossie Davis talked about it:

I am a Negro. I am clean, black and I smile a lot. Whenever I want something–to get a job in motion pictures, for instance, or on television or to get a play produced on Broadway, whenever I need a political favor–I go to white folks. White folks have money. I do not. White folks have power. I do not. All of my needs — financial, artistic, social, my need for freedom — I must depend on white folks to supply. That is what is meant by being a Negro. 

Malcolm X used to be a Negro, but he stopped. He no longer depended on white folks to supply his needs — psychologically or sociologically — to give him money or lead his fight for freedom or to protect him from his enemies or to tell him what to do. Malcolm X did not hate white folks, nor did he love them. Most of all, he did not need to tell them who he was. Above all, he was determined to make it on his own. That was why Malcolm was no longer a Negro. Malcolm was a man, a black man! A black man means not to accept the system as Negroes do but to fight hell out of the system as Malcolm did. It can be dangerous. Malcolm was killed for it. Nevertheless, I like Malcolm much better than I like myself.

Then there’s the colorist crap: “I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it.” She glorifies light (i.e., White) skin in the lyrics, then plants her yellow-boned, straight-weaved-blonde-braided self queenly amid a host of dark skinned and/or dark-haired afro wigged (i.e., psuedo-natural haired) dancers. Just in case you were confused about the hierarchy.

2. Black Panther women were ass kickers, not ass shakers. 

Pantherwomen

Real Panther women rocked real afros as a power statement, the embracing of a Black aesthetic with the rejection of the White one. That was revolutionary. Afro wigs and platinum blonde weave is not.

Real Panther women wore black leather and berets because they were the official party uniform, not because they translate well into booty-shorted revolution porn. They didn’t support stereotypical hyper-sexuality by twerking for the masses, they defied gender roles by becoming strong, gun-toting revolutionaries.

Real Panther women supported Panther men. Let’s face it: The BPP had real problems with misogyny, problems that played a role in its demise. However, ultimately, the strength of the movement rested in the strength of its women. I don’t agree one bit with the BPP’s gender hierarchy and hyper-masculinity, but I understand the historical emasculation of Black men from whence it sprang. Many a strong Black Panther woman fried chicken for the revolution, but they damn sure didn’t reward some man for a good lay by taking “his ass to Red Lobster.” Buying a man substandard suburban chain restaurant seafood and overpriced vanity sneakers at the mall — after driving his ass there — does not mean you ‘slay.’ Real Panther women manifested their power — even if it was limited at times — in local-level activism, providing food, housing and healthcare in Black communities. They slay all day, okay?

3. And don’t get me started about New Orleans and Katrina. 

Plaçage-wear, police cars and poor people — Beyonce had them all, sandwiched between images of surrounding and subsuming water. I love New Orleans.  I cried at Katrina and raged as the subsiding floodwaters exposed the naked underbelly of America’s racism. But I didn’t claim that pain, because it wasn’t mine to claim. Personally, I’m not comfortable with Beyonce claiming it, either, especially not for her profit. The images are there, but nothing in the lyrics of that song have a damn thing to do with Katrina — unless you count that whole Red Lobster thing. I mean, seafood is a thing in New Orleans. But to superimpose those images and with them, the memories, on such trite words as “I slay, okay, all day, okay”  looks and feels like exploitation to me. How does Beyonce’s self-proclaimed ability to slay help anyone in New Orleans? How does it help anyone other than Beyonce?

Beyonce didn’t prove she was Black. Beyonce proved she is and always was Beyonce. Beyonce has always been Black. Without a doubt. White appreciation is not always a direct result of White pandering. Beyonce also has always been about Beyonce. So, now she puts some overtly Black imagery in her show and video, albeit in a completely misguided form.  White people are apoplectic because they think she’s being accusatory. Black people are ecstatic because we think she’s being revolutionary. How about this — She’s being Beyonce. Formation is no more about Black power than Single Ladies is about female power. Both simply are Beyonce on Beyonce. Queen Bee ascendant.

We do have Beyonce to thank for this, though:

BPP-search

We’re so used to bad news about Black people, we elevate Beyonce to Black revolutionary simply because she, for one brief moment, used her commercial success to ignite a discussion. Never mind how she did it or why, using images that evoke things we are proud of — our culture, our beauty, our resilience, our strength — got people talking. And for people whose voices are too often suppressed, even a whisper becomes a shout.

Correction: It seems “take his ass to Red Lobster” actually has something to do with oral sex, based on the oft-quoted instructions for eating crawfish. If so, then I’m even more irritated by this song. Although, given some of Beyonce’s past work, I’m not in the least surprised. And this is what we call revolutionary?

 

2 thoughts on “The revolution has not been televised (and it damn sure wasn’t at the Superbowl)

  1. Dear Janet,
    Brilliant analysis. You illuminate this feeling of dis-ease I’ve been carrying about Beyoncé ‘s performance, video, and the press it has received. I’m not one of the white people who “didn’t get it” because her performance wasn’t about me or aimed at me. I reveled in the fact that it was not. In the next breath, I was stupefied and overwhelmed by the false representation, understanding and, as you say, the “appropriation” of the BPP
    and other cultural and historical events. In the end, it seemed only like a giant mashup of all of that for the purpose of entertainment — Beyoncé using her many talents as a performer to deliver a very confusing message. I wish it had been more than that.

    Hurry up and get your daughters grown up so you can turn your full attention to your soul work! I know you’ll rock us all with your incisive reasoning and dynamic presentation!!
    Sincerely,
    Ellen

    Like

  2. I was very confused by the Red Lobster line. I thought the video was entertaining, though I am not really a Beyonce fan. But, I also felt like it might simply be a way to exploit a community for monetary gain. What I think is pretty much irrelevant but I appreciated your point of view.

    Like

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