“I’m Black y’all, and I’m Black y’all. And I’m blackety Black and I’m Black y’all.”
Within seconds of her show-stopping intro every student and alum of an HBCU watching this performance on the live-feeds paused and went, “Wait. OMG. Is she really about to do this?”
And boy did she ever – DO. IT.
Saturday night, Beyoncé served “Queen Nefertiti line-dancing at Howard Homecoming” realness to an audience full of confused rich, white kids – and it was glorious!
While fans at home lost their minds at the beautiful spectacle they were witnessing, quickly renaming the music festival “Beychella” and complaining about their edges being snatched – there were undoubtedly some contrarians on social media who for the millionth time felt the need to ask, “What’s the big deal? She’s just a singer.”
Actually, I almost feel like this article is a response to that question – even if the question was meant it to be rhetorical.
History in the making
“Coachella, thank you for allowing me to be the first Black woman to headline,” Bey said in the middle of the show. “Ain’t that ‘bout a bitch?”
And she’s right. That is about a bitch that even in 2018, we’re still having to make distinctions about there being the “first Black” anything when Black culture has pretty undeniably become the backbone of this country.
What is even more disheartening is that even people who support social activism and are quick to #BoycottStarbucks, #BoycottH&M or whatever brand is coming for our necks that day still marginalize the impact of arts in our quest for justice and equality.
Which is a damn shame because historically our grandparents knew better.
During the civil rights movement Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was all to aware of the importance of engaging with artists, actors, musicians and the like to help bring his message to the masses. Which is why comedians like Dick Gregory and actors like Harry Belefonte became such important allies to the men and women fighting on the frontlines.
At some point we need to admit that representation and visibility matter not just to “give you life” as you scream at your television set in glee, but really to send a message to the mainstream about normalizing Black culture that is actually perpetuated by Black people.
Slipping some cornrows and booty implants on the latest Kardashian reincarnation simply isn’t going to cut it anymore.
In a 2016 article, theGrio and I teamed up with CNN to extensively spell out how what we see on our screens often translates into what we see at the polls. In the story, I wrote:
“The representations of Black people in art, fashion, the media and in films set societal norms, and societal norms ultimately can end up, affecting, say, legislation.
Let me take you back to 1993 when homophobia and stigma around HIV was still at an all-time high. Back then, a little movie called “Philadelphia” was a box-office hit and was nominated for five Oscars and won two, including best actor for Tom Hanks and best original song.
These were the days where even the hint of homosexuality or a HIV-positive status could ruin someone’s life and career. Yet that movie, and the many films and television shows that followed in its footsteps, humanized a whole group of people and gave Americans an opportunity to show compassion for characters they may have previously dismissed as ‘the other’.
Now a little more than 20 years later, same-sex marriage has been legalized on a federal level and supporting AIDS charities is as socially acceptable as buying Girl Scout cookies.”
Art has always and will always be political.
Vote for Bey
Beyoncé understands just how influential her image is and has in recent years taken on more social responsibility with a ferocity we haven’t seen since the days of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, proudly declared “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Back then, Brown was shouting to anyone who would listen, including crowds of Jim Crow era white people who were just as taken aback and confused as some of the faces we spotted in the audience at Coachella this weekend.
Whether you are a Beyoncé fan or not – even her staunchest critic has to admit that she has the ability to reach a lot more people than many of us ever will. In some countries she’s literally one of the few humanized, socially acceptable representations of blackness local people will ever see.
In other words, when they clap for her, they’re clapping for all of us.
— Dear White People (@DearWhitePeople) April 16, 2018
Black womanhood – without apology
Even on domestic soil Bey’s impact still serves as a teachable moment for Americans who insist on wearing red MAGA hats and waiting for Tomi Lahren to issue her latest diss track video about all things urban and liberal.
In 1962, Malcom X once famously said, “The most disrespected woman in America, is the Black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the Black woman.” You may think this sounds familiar because it does – Beyoncé included the quote as part of her now infamous Coachella performance.
Unfortunately almost 60 years later this statement still rings true.
We are repeatedly treated like mules who are only meant to birth movements. Black women are considered at the bottom of the food-chain and therefore socialized to walk this earth quietly apologizing for being too loud, too angry, too smart, too big, too intimidating, too strong, and yes, ultimately too Black.
No matter how much we shrink ourselves to be less of a threat the message always seems to be that we’re just too much.
No matter how innovative and trendsetting we are the pushback is always that our Black womanhood is more attractive and palatable when superimposed onto the bodies of our non-Black counterparts.
Is this a grim view of the world? Of course it is, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate.
And in the midst of all that there are beacons like Beyoncé, a Black woman at the top of her game who not only refuses to apologize for her Blackness or her womanhood, but also insists on rubbing it in the face of anyone who dares look her way. The strict and oppressive guidelines of respectability be damned.
Sisters, if you have ever for even one second found yourself ashamed of how much space you take up in this world, please take note that Beyoncé just gave you all the permission you need to just stop.
She twerked and patted her weave like a “ghetto girl” with her sister, Solange and didn’t care what none of ya’ll thought about it. She brought out her homegirls from Destiny’s Child (who everyone insisted she had outgrown) just to show women how real and sustainable Black sisterhood can be. She sang the Negro National Anthem instead of that other one because – again, I’m Black ya’ll! She even shamelessly brought out her man (who she only took back after he’d gone through a ton of intensive therapy to get his mind right and finally become her equal) to join her on stage.
As Beyoncé swayed her hips and bounced to Big Freedia’s voice like a million young Black women have done at house parties all over the world she let the white gaze know that there is absolutely no part of her “blackety Blackness” that needs to be hidden from plain sight.
Who cares if they get mad.
I loveee how Beyoncé sampled ‘Everybody Mad’ pic.twitter.com/OTjfrV9U1U
— Aduziii 🌟 (@adwoapoks) April 15, 2018
Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric