I am not a sports fan, nor do I watch many mainstream award shows anymore, so I had to find out after the fact what all the commotion was about regarding two recent performances by Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar.
In both cases, according to what I was reading in my social media feeds, you would have thought these two artists had killed a young white family holding a box of puppies the way some folks were losing their minds. Once I finally saw what Beyonce and Lamar did my first thought was,"Oh, they're expressing their blackness and being unapologetic about it. I understand now."
Let me give you the CliffsNotes on both performances in case you didn't see them. Beyonce delivered a performance from her "Formation" video which payed homage to the King of Pop and The Black Panther Movement; specifically the women involved in that movement. One of the reasons we still need Black History Month is so that everyone understands the origin and intent of organizations like the Black Panthers, which was formed to protect and serve the black community. It was not a hate group, as it's been characterized in the media. Beyonce's "Formation" is an anthem that motivates folks to become more conscious while simultaneously celebrating the richness of black culture.
Kendrick Lamar followed suit with his amazing performance at the Grammy Awards on February 15. Lamar galvanized the crowd when he entered the stage shackled in chains and performed songs from his 11-time nominated album To Pimp a Butterfly. Lamar's performance continues to highlight themes explored in his music like the industrialized prison system, racial inequities and black culture.
Sadly, in this country the mainstream has been OK with famous black folks as long as they are not too black. Everything is fine as long as black stars, entertainers and athletes are performing, playing ball and entertaining the masses, but heaven help them if they use those platforms to be political or honor and celebrate black culture. (Keep dabbing, Cam!)
And this is not a phenomenon restricted to only the rich and famous. If you ask any black person who has to successfully navigate predominantly white environments, most will admit to "monitoring" their blackness so they do not make other folks uncomfortable. I have been in meetings where a white male will slam his fist, scream and froth at the mouth without anyone raising an eyebrow, but If I even lean forward and slightly raise my voice folks begin looking for the nearest exit.
An era of pacifying the mainstream has lulled us into a sense that things are better than they are and has also yielded some pretty confused black folks. We have seen an era of the self-proclaimed "New Black." Folks like Common, Raven Simone and Pharrel claim they are beyond color and have evolved to a higher state of consciousness while the rest of us drag our metaphorical knuckles along the ground because we, as mere mortals, are still bound by racial signifiers. They believe that their exceptional achievements were done by their own merit and had nothing to do with the collective sacrifice of folks who went before them to open doors. The thing that many such folks do not want to address is that their wealth, fame and status allow them to live insulated lives where such ideology can exist without being challenged.
I have seen this suppression of culture played out when attending and teaching at predominantly white institutions. Black students who walk around campus not even speaking to each other – much less a black educator – seemingly too concerned with fitting in rather than celebrating their unique identity.
So to have a new era of young, gifted black folks unapologetically embracing their black culture is not only refreshing, it is revolutionary and empowering. But this bold celebaratory attitude seems to scare some folks to death like the police unions that want to boycott Beyonce's concert events.
For whatever reason, when you say you're pro-something we immediately think it means anti-something else. Just like one can be a feminist and not be anti-men, one can be anti-police brutality – as was expressed in Beyonce's "Formation" video – but still be pro-police. Congruently, one can be pro-black without being anti-white.
And for you Lamar haters and Beyonce boycotters, how do you get to benefit from an oppressive system then have the unmitigated gaul to tell someone how they should express themselves while negotiating said system? You do not get to editorialize my experience!