Why those that criticize Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance deserve the most criticism
In a tight leather outfit and high heels, Beyoncé was the most talked about artist during her Super Bowl halftime cameo. Queen Bee performed her latest track “Formation,” which had dropped online — unannounced — earlier that weekend. For the performance, Beyoncé wore black, had black dancers and sang a track that presented social commentary on being black. This performance and music video worked to pay homage to movements of black pride and cover the issues associated with why these movements had to happen.
Unfortunately, this performance, which could be related to the idea of black solidarity, did not go over too well with conservative white audience members. Ratings agency Nielsen reports that the Super Bowl is one of the most watched American television events. The agency found that Super Bowl 50 reached an audience of 111.9 million and “72% of U.S. homes with televisions in use were tuned into the Super Bowl 50 telecast — the highest household share since Super Bowl XVI in 1982.” As soon as Beyoncé’s performance ended, many Americans turned to social media to address their complaints and grievances by using the soon-viral hashtag #BoycottBeyonce.
Twitter user @TNKingsKid1 tweeted, “NFL should be ashamed that it is going to let Beyoncé sing a song that smears police officers. #boycottbeyonce.”
The negative backlash of Beyoncé’s performance from uncomfortable white people even received its own Saturday Night Live sketch on Feb. 13. The short, titled “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” is set a day before the Super Bowl. The video opens with clips of people performing their daily routines as a voiceover says: “For white people, it was just another great week. They never saw it coming. They had no warning. Then, the day before the Super Bowl, it happened.”
White Americans run around in shock as they watch the music video and learn that Beyoncé is, in fact, black. As havoc breaks loose, a confused white office worker (Bobby Moynihan) tells others, “Maybe this song isn’t for us.” Unfortunately, this satire is painfully accurate.
So what exactly were white people scared of? Some viewers claimed the video, which alludes to a post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and has lyrics like “You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas ‘bama,” and features a young black child standing before riot police juxtaposed with a background proclaiming the words “stop shooting us,” somehow insinuated a call to violence.
New York Republican Rep. Peter King posted a lengthy rant on his Facebook immediately after her performance. King posted: “Beyoncé may be a gifted entertainer but no one should really care what she thinks about any serious issue confronting our nation. But the mainstream media’s acceptance of her pro-Black Panther and anti-cop video ‘Formation’ and her Super Bowl appearance is just one more example of how acceptable it has become to be anti-police … Yet the big lie continues by Black Lives Matter, by pandering politicians and now by Beyoncé who gets star billing at the Super Bowl.”
However, those who criticize Beyoncé’s homage to the Black Panther Party have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the party was. In October of 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. It is imperative that people learn about the second half of this organization’s name, for it was formed in order to prevent further oppression of people of color. And, as can be noted in cases of police violence against people of color, this oppression continues today.
And this oppression will continue to go on if white Americans feel like they should not be analyzing and understanding why this oppression happens. In 1965, James Baldwin published “The White Man’s Guilt” in Ebony magazine’s special issue that focused on whiteness. Baldwin’s essay, still relevant 50 years later, presents the argument that white Americans claim to live in a colorblind society, but this idea of colorblindness ends up becoming an excuse to ignore, rather than solve, racism in the U.S. Baldwin suggests that in order to change the present, people need to be willing to talk about and take responsibility for the past — even if they do not feel personally responsible for the past.
This lack of responsibility explains why some white listeners feel uncomfortable with the messages conveyed in Beyoncé’s latest song and performance. These white listeners want to ignore and disprove Beyoncé’s message, rather than listen to what she has to say. This phenomena is shown in a 1999 study by Patricia Hults, manager of technical services at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, titled “Black Students/White Campus: The Pervasiveness of Racism.”
In this study, Hults points out how the passing of the Voting and Civil Rights acts did not magically lead to the equality of all races. Hults demonstrates how racism subconsciously and consciously impacts Americans. She finds that if privileged individuals want to perceive themselves as not racist, they choose to ignore the clear patterns that demonstrate racism in modern U.S. society. This lack of discussion is what enables this racism to continue and what makes people feel uncomfortable to have these types of discussions about very real problems, such as the ones Beyoncé brings up about continued racism in the U.S.
Listeners should have these discussions. White listeners should understand why Beyoncé wrote a track like this. Twitter user @LookAtDustin says it best: “Beyoncé made a video that will be seen by millions and includes factual statements that people need to think about. And it’s the jam.”
Elena Piech is a freshman journalism major with a minor in criticizing conservative America. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.