Beyoncé performance about empowerment, not politics


Show of hands: Who was offended by Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime performance?

Let me ask me you this: When did your outrage begin? Were you watching with an open jaw when Beyoncé and her dancers emerged in black leather outfits and berets, reminiscent of the uniform of the Black Panthers Party, a black power organization from the 1960s? Did you emit an audible gasp as they formed the shape of an “X,” referencing civil rights activist Malcolm X?

Or was it when you read a viral blog post on your Facebook feed the next day that blasted Beyoncé for her “racist” or “anti-cop” performance and told you why you should be angry too?

Chances are, many of the people professing to be outraged by Beyoncé’s “shocking” or “disgusting” performance on social media missed the allusions while actually watching it live (if they watched it at all). And the rest of us were likely too captivated by Chris Martin’s singing, Bruno Mars’s dance moves, or the-Beyoncé-fall-that-may-or-may-not-have-happened to notice or even care about any “hidden symbolism” during the show.

But to some, Queen B’s song and dance represented something much more sinister. Soon after the game, the hashtag “#BoycottBeyoncé” began trending on Twitter and plans were made for an anti-Beyoncé protest outside of the NFL headquarters. Even former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, expressed his disapproval, calling the performance “outrageous.”

Much of the anger has been directed at the performance itself. The “Black Panther” outfits bore the brunt of the criticism. In addition, a picture (allegedly unscripted) emerged after the game featuring some of the dancers making a “black power” salute and holding up a sign that said “Justice 4 Mario Woods,” a young black man recently killed by police officers in San Francisco.

In addition, the “Formation” music video, which was surprise-released just a day before the Super Bowl, included scenes such as Beyoncé and her crew dancing in plantation owner attire, images of Katrina-stricken New Orleans, a sinking cop car, and a young black kid in a hoodie dancing in front of a line of riot police, with the words “stop shooting us” scrawled on a wall.

Though the video certainly makes her sentiments more explicit, it would certainly be a stretch to label her or her work as “anti-cop.” Lyrically, “Formation” seems relatively innocuous. With lines like, “My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana/You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama,” and “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making,” the song features a bold, fierce Beyoncé unapologetically celebrating her unbridled success, her southern heritage and, yes, even her race. But to view that as “offensive” is entirely misplaced.

Of course, it’s worth asking whether the Super Bowl halftime performance is an appropriate venue for political activism of any kind, regardless of content. Would we have been so supportive if an artist promoted a message we didn’t agree with? Say, an appeal to restrict gay rights, or an impassioned endorsement of Donald Trump?

But, all art is inherently political. And besides, Beyoncé’s message isn’t necessarily partisan at all. She isn’t calling on people to vote a certain way or support particular legislation. “Formation” is about empowerment, not hate. It is a song, written by a strong black woman, calling on other black women to “get in formation.” It was never meant for angry white people to decide what it means at all.

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