I know I’m a week behind the rest of the world, but in my defense, one of my kids woke up in the middle of the Super Bowl halftime show and I missed Beyonce’s performance. I also hadn’t watched her new music video or heard the song until ten minutes ago so I only had a vague inkling of what all the fuss was about. Now that I HAVE watched it, I’d like to add my two cents to the conversation. Because that’s what this world needs, more opinions. (Especially mine.)
(If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, you can check it out here, but be advised that the lyrics are explicit and therefore might not be safe for work or appropriate for young children.)
I loved the song, and I loved the video. I know a lot of (white) people didn’t, and that’s okay, I’m used to my musical tastes being disagreed with and even ridiculed. I can’t tell you what the song/video “means” because I’m not the creator. However, I can use the skills I learned in AP English and art criticism classes, and I can listen to what other people (specifically: Black people, the people this song was written for) have said it means to them, and I can offer what I think is a valid interpretation.
I imagine that in 2016, a Black person in America would be tempted to see their race as a liability. I imagine that it’s terrifying to hear story after story of unarmed Black men, women, and children being killed and their murderers walking away without even a slap on the wrist – and to know that could happen to my husband, wife, child, mother, father, sister, brother, friend. I imagine that it would be tempting to hate who I am and what I look like because it puts me in danger.
And I imagine that it would be so refreshing to hear this song and hear Beyonce declare proudly that she loves who she is, she loves her features, she loves her family, and she’s not about to apologize for anything about herself that someone might think is “ghetto.” I imagine it would feel so good to sing along with a song that says, “I am who I am and I don’t care what you think,” in a way that is specifically, explicitly, Black. To see my identity as an asset, something to be celebrated, instead of something to be ashamed of.
But for some reason that seems to bother (white) people. Even though decades ago Barbara Mandrell sang “I Was Country (When Country Wasn’t Cool)” and David Allan Coe wrote the N word into the chorus of “If That Ain’t Country.” For some reason it’s okay for white trash to be proud of being white trash, but we don’t want Black people to look like “thugs” (i.e. wear hoodies or saggy jeans, things that middle-class white boys do ALL THE TIME and don’t get, you know, killed for) or wear their hair in braids or dreadlocks or talk about how their lives matter. For some reason America is supposed to accept the Confederate flag as a piece of history, not a symbol of hate, but it’s NOT OKAY to have a Black performance artist dress up as a Black Panther.
Do you hear what I’m saying? If not, I’ll simplify it into two words: Double standard.
A complete and totally different issue here is the fact that people flip out over provocative words and images in pop music, forgetting that music is still art and art isn’t always supposed to give us warm fuzzies. Art should challenge us and get under our skin and make us think. Some art will give one person a warm fuzzy and totally piss off another person. Does that mean the artist has done something wrong? No, that means the artist has done something RIGHT. As a white person, yeah, I find it uncomfortable to talk about racism – especially about how it’s still very real and very dangerous in America in 2016. But artists like Beyonce remind me that being uncomfortable is a good thing sometimes. Being uncomfortable means my assumptions about the world are being challenged and that I have an opportunity to learn something. After all, my reality is not the only reality.
For further (better) reading on this subject, I recommend Awesomely Luvvie’s About Writing While Loving Blackness and Hurting White Feelings and Everyone Wanted to Be a Black Girl until Beyonce Dropped Formation at The B3 Chronicles. Both express what Beyonce’s song and video mean to them as Black women. And since Black women are (presumably) Beyonce’s target audience, I’d say that their opinion on the song is ultimately the only one that matters.
Oh, and by the way, this blog is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship. I pay the web host, so I get to decide what comments stay and what goes. So if anyone leaves a comment that I think is in poor taste, I reserve the right to delete it. If you think that’s not fair, please feel free to get your own website (it’s easy! it’s cheap!) and talk about what a jerk I am over there.