First of all, I feel like I need to apologize for not posting last week. I’m sorry guys, it’s been a bit of a rough go. Maybe I’ll write something beautiful and poetic about it when it’s over, maybe I’ll just create the largest pile of empty wine bottles the world has ever seen, who knows? I’m not gonna limit myself. But in any case, I’m sorry, and I promise it won’t happen again unless I’m like dead or something. In which case, we got bigger fish to fry, ya know?
Now onto the order of the day: Beyoncé. (duh)
A lotttttttt of people were mad about her newest video for “Formation” and subsequent Super Bowl Halftime performance where she dressed her dancers like members of the Black Panther Party.
“It’s anti-police!” they said.
“She’s using racist imagery!” they said.
“What if a white performer had gone out there with dancers in white hoods and cloaks?! There’s a double standard!” they said.
*SIGHHHHHHHHHHH* okay y’all.
Let us begin with the definition of racism. Racism describes a system, say it with me, a SYS-TEM of power in which certain groups of people are purposefully disadvantaged based on their race. It is not limited to just the belief that some races are better than others, though that is included. Some might argue that the definition I’ve presented is not the “dictionary definition” of the word, to which I would ask, as Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum did in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, “Who wrote the dictionary?” *sips tea* Sociologists are using the systemic definition of the word, and since they’ve actually studied this shit, I’ll take their word for it. Tim Wise actually describes it perfectly in this handy-dandy little FAQ about racism, I highly recommend reading it.
Okay, so racism is a system of power. In this system, certain groups have been given more power because of their race (we’ll call them the dominant group) which means that other groups of different races have been allotted less power (the subordinate group). Because of this set up, and the definition of racism that we discovered earlier, it is impossible for members of the subordinate group to be racist. Please hear me. IMPOSSIBLE. Can they be prejudiced? Yes! Assholes? Certainly! A combination of the two? 100%! But to be racist means to be in a position to wield the power. And members of the subordinate group will never have that power to wield, unless they somehow become the dominant group. (Also quick side note here: “dominant” does not mean “increasing in number”. Just because non-white populations are increasing does not mean that they now wield more social power – look up “Apartheid South Africa” for more on how numbers mean nothing in that regard. Had to clear that up for all you “In 2030 white people will be the minority!” assholes. Shut up.)
This is not to say that all members of the dominant group are doing better than all members of the subordinate group. As Fox News loves to remind us, Jay-Z is rich, Oprah is one of the most influential people on earth, and our president is black. I’ll even throw myself into the mix, I’ve experienced certain privileges that some white people, perhaps in a lower socioeconomic class, have not. As with literally any other thing, there are no absolutes. But there ARE overwhelming trends that point to the existence of a system of power in which certain groups of people are purposefully disadvantaged based on their race. The election of President Obama does not negate the fact that if you drive through most American communities, the richer neighborhoods are predominantly white and the poorer neighborhoods are predominantly black and Hispanic. Oprah’s success does not annul the fact that black and Hispanic men are incarcerated at an alarmingly higher rate than their white counterparts. There are success stories, but those stories in no way undermine the existence of racism, which again by definition cannot be inflicted by the subordinate group upon the dominant group.
So I don’t know if you guys know this but Beyoncé is black (SNL has a really great skit about it if you need to get caught up). All of her dancers were black. The Black Panthers were black. So already, if you’re sitting on your couch saying something about how the Black Panthers were racist, or Beyoncé is racist for dressing her dancers like the Black Panthers, you’re wrong. You’re already wrong. If you don’t understand why, please return to the top of this post and begin again. To say that dressing up as a Black Panther is the same as donning the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan is again, WRONG. And not just “this is my opinion” wrong, I mean “2+2=5” wrong. Lacking factual support. The Ku Klux Klan is a TERRORIST ORGANIZATION founded on the premise of White Supremacy. They got together way before the Black Panthers (WHICH SHOULD REALLY TELL YOU SOMETHING) because they felt like black people should still be owned as property and now that we weren’t, we were ruining “their” country. To “fix” that, they lynched, shot, beat up, or bombed us at any chance they got.
The Black Panthers, by contrast— look, I’m just gonna straight up grab a quote from Wikipedia, zero shame: “the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality in Oakland, CA. In 1969, community social programs became a core activity of party members. The Black Panther Party instituted a variety of community social programs, most extensively the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and community health clinics.” Let me paraphrase: The Black Panthers were created because they were like “We’d like the police to stop killing us” (sound familiar?) “so we’re gonna create an armed patrol to defend ourselves. Hey while we’re at it, why don’t we feed some poor kids?” That was it. And of the two (the KKK and the Black Panthers), guess which one was called a threat to national security and got disbanded by the government? Hint: it wasn’t the white guys. #America.
I think the most difficult critique of Beyoncé’s performance for me to understand though is the claim that it, or she, is anti-police. LOL pardon? As I saw on Tumblr the other day, “If ‘Stop killing us’ is anti-police, what is pro-police? ‘Keep killing us’?” It’s a good goddamn question. Shouldn’t we all be weary of the unnecessary killings of unarmed black men? Shouldn’t we all want to check police brutality? Shouldn’t the police themselves be included in that group?
Honestly the issue goes beyond all of this. It’s bigger than Beyonce or the KKK or the Black Panthers or police brutality. The issue is slavery, and America’s piss poor job of reconciling her history. The book I’m reading right now is called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and it’s based on the importance of becoming an emotionally mature human being so you can form healthy relationships with God and all your friends. Chapter 5 is called “Going Back In Order To Go Forward”, and talks about how in order to be emotionally mature, you have to deal with your past. In order to deal with your past, you have to not only look at it but dive into it. Examine all of the painful parts of your history and draw connections to how those painful parts might be affecting your present behavior and relationships. Let me tell you, it’s not fun. No one wants to talk about how their alcoholic father got when he was angry, or how much they struggled making real friendships because they moved so often, or how their mother abandoned them. But unless you learn about yourself and your history and connect the dots when it comes to the present, you’ll be doomed to repeat it (surprise plot twist!) You’ll continue to be unable to form close relationships, or not understand why you can’t get your anger under control. And looking at your past doesn’t mean you dwell there, nor does it mean that once you’ve done it, you’ll be “cured”. Overcoming our baggage is a lifelong process, so much so that I don’t even like the word “overcoming” there because that’s impossible. More like “working with”. It will never be gone but learning to deal with it will make you better.
I don’t think this concept is far off the mark when it comes to America. There is this AWFUL history behind us and we don’t want to look at it. Sure we teach about slavery in schools, but it’s for like a week and at the end of it we get graduates who think the KKK and the Black Panther party are the same thing, or if you’re in the South, people saying things like “I mean, was slavery really THAT bad? People were taken care of!” I mean the confederate flag is still everywhere – EVERYWHERE. And people maintain that the Confederacy was created and the Civil War was fought over taxes and states’ rights, despite the Vice President of the Confederacy’s OWN QUOTE stating “Our new [government’s]… corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” Like if anyone knew what the Confederacy was about, it would have been that guy. And his government’s flag is currently still being sold as an iPhone case on Amazon.
There has been such great effort put towards underestimating, rationalizing, and brushing off America’s racism problem instead of facing it. Diving into it. Understanding the many painful parts of it so we stop triggering each other. And much like personal baggage, our country’s baggage is not going to go away. There will never be a time when we won’t live in the shadow of slavery, when it won’t inform every interaction between white people and black people. But ignoring it makes it worse. Contrary to idiotic belief, talking about racism doesn’t somehow “increase racism”. To be honest I can’t even find the logic behind that sentence and I’m too tired to try. But I have seen in my own life that talking and learning about my baggage has made me better. And again, it’s uncomfortable. It’s going to take a lot of listening when you want to yell, vulnerability when you want to be defensive, and open mindedness when you want to be myopic. But we have to go back to go forward, and we we have to look back to heal.