BY GENEVIEVE KURTZ
Here in the midst of Black History Month, today’s most iconic African American artist uses a record-setting audience to tackle race relations in America and express strong opinions in song and dance.
Beyoncé caught the world by surprise on Saturday evening when she dropped her newest single and video, “Formation.” While Beyoncé has been known to drop bombs on her fans, this one was especially significant because it came the day before the Super Bowl where she then performed it at half time.
The single was released the day after what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 21st birthday and the day prior to the birthday of Sandra Bland, who was found hung to death in a Texas jail cell last year.
Besides being the 50th Super Bowl, it is also 50 years since the creation of the Black Panther Party – which started in the Bay Area, where the Super Bowl was held this year.
The song, and video in particular, served as a tribute to Beyoncé’s southern heritage and black female empowerment and nodded toward the Black Lives Matter movement.
In one scene, an unarmed black boy dances freely while facing a lineup of police in riot gear. The screen then flashes to a wall with “Stop Shooting Us” written in graffiti. In another scene, Beyoncé sits atop a New Orleans cop car as it sinks in flood waters, recalling the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.
The references to hot sauce in her bag, her “negro nose” and “baby hair and afros” are all a part of her unapologetic blackness.
Some conservatives nationwide have taken issue with the bold song and provocative video, claiming that it is anti-police. Many flocked to Twitter urging the nation to boycott the half time show Sunday with the trending hashtag #BoycottBeyonce.
Even public figures like former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, are speaking out against her halftime performance, in which she and 30 black female dancers were clad in outfits styled after 1970’s Black Panthers.
In an interview with Fox News, Giuliani called for “decent, wholesome entertainment” rather than using the Super Bowl “as a platform to attack (police).”
Beyoncé’s decision to perform “Formation” at such a widely-viewed event was a bold, thought-provoking move that has been controversial for a lot of Americans at a time when there is deep racial tension in the country. But it also shows how times are changing for the better.
In previous years, other adored celebrities have had the opportunity to use their status to take a stand on political and racial issues and have declined to do so.
During the 1990 North Carolina Senate race, basketball star Michael Jordan – the most famous and loved black celebrity in America at that point, who had grown up in North Carolina – was asked to endorse a progressive black Democrat, Harvey Gantt, who was running against the openly racist, white Republican senator, Jesse Helms.
Jordan refused to endorse Gantt, allegedly telling a friend that “Republicans buy sneakers, too” – referring to his partnership with Nike and not wanting to offend any potential customers. So in this instance, he missed an opportunity to become much more for the black community, rather than just being a great athlete.
Now Beyoncé has taken an opportunity and has not been afraid to stick her neck out. It shows that even in a country that is still dominated by white people and culture, prominent black figures can take a stand on politicized issues – even get some criticism – and it does not threaten their career.
Beyoncé’s fearlessness in “Formation” is a sign of solidarity and progress.
Though there are many African American celebrities who now use their status to make important political statements, it would be amazing if more followed in Beyoncé’s footsteps.