This is kind of a “Dear White People” piece. Certainly, this is not for all white people, just those confused or angered by Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance. Let’s start with something basic: When you witness or see a show of black pride, hear me once and for all, it does not come at the denigration, diminishment or at the risk of violence against people who are white. It is the antithesis of the KKK or any such group that promotes anti-blackness as its core agenda. To make it simple, I don’t love me to hate you. I love me for my uniqueness just as anyone should. The issue at hand is that historically, my kind of beauty, my skin and my heritage have not been represented fairly or equitably in the media. Why? Because people who don’t look like me own much of the media, and, as a result, it feeds a narrative that suits those owners and the culture they understand.
When Beyoncé released her new single, “Formation,” a few folks who happen to also be white, got a bit itchy in their drawers because Bey stepped away from her “Single Ladies” and “Halo” repertoire to remember her roots and celebrate them. She wore the costume of the Black Panthers to the Super Bowl. The Black Panther Party she paid homage to is not the New Black Panther Party founded in 1989 and were historically not anti-white but interested in self-preservation and protection from police violence. In that celebration, Bey addressed not only pride but a call to end the persistent issue of police violence against black people. She celebrated herself and connected to her community in ways not unlike Irish folk do on St. Patrick’s Day. She made a declaration and raised a fist. Irish folks applaud their homeland and raise a beer. So Go Bey.
During the time of the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast and other food programs, many poor white families ate alongside of poor black families. This was not a group that was predicated on hatred. Perhaps the fact that there are two different groups at play is the reason for the confusion and upset. One is a separatist group and the other is not. When watching Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, it is best to be informed about that distinction. She was celebrating the 50th anniversary of a group that gave black Americans a strong sense of self-love.
Let’s get back to the issue of anti-blackness and what is most often associated with “white pride.”
In the Western world, where the media, the history books, and the standards of beauty have been set to reflect the dominant culture, there is essentially no need to seek white representation. There is no need to declare “white pride” or change Bey’s lyrics to reflect blue eyes or blonde hair because the predominant culture in our nation does that plenty in every facet of media. Look at any magazine stand and who do you see?
I do not forget, however, that there are whites who feel that mass media and the country do not reflect them and that any introduction of diversity is a sure sign that whites are being eradicated. Despite the fact that representation of diversity in media has remained little changed for much of the last 40+ “integrated” years, the anger these white people feel is real and it is integral to the debate we are having about race. It is, I think, as important as the conversation about diversity and representation.
Why are whites angry about race? My assessment says fear of retribution for past wrongs and a general anxiety about change sit at the root of this discontent. My white husband claims that it is general nosiness and a need to intrude.
For black people to see Beyoncé, who is without a doubt the most visible and internationally recognized black superstar, say bluntly that she likes her “negro nose” and her “baby heir with baby hair and afros,” she affirmed herself and other black people. With joy, she centered attention on blackness, particularly two pieces of blackness for which we have taken much grief.
Because I love me, celebrate specific things about me, and say it publicly, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like you. It doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate with me or that I won’t celebrate you. It just means that I see what society has offered and I’m not willing to wait for my self-love to begin when white media says it’s OK.