fighting for pro-blackness in the midst of formation
In a month meant to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of African Americans, we are once again reminded of America’s great intolerance of pro-blackness.
Three days after performing her latest single “Formation” at the Super Bowl, Beyonce continues to face harsh criticism from viewers who say her performance was a “racist” demonstration against police. Donning a Michael Jackson inspired bullet vest and accompanied by an all-black dance crew dressed as Black Panthers, Formation’s racially charged lyrics (“I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”) managed to only add to the controversial performance.
The song’s video, released just one day before her Super Bowl performance, is arguably even more racially charged than its lyrics. In it, a clearly unbothered Beyonce sits atop a marked police vehicle as it slowly submerges underwater. In another scene, the camera pans across a graffitied wall that reads “stop killing us” while in another, a young black boy in a hoodie dances in front of a group of white police officers with their hands raised.
The last image is a direct reference to the “hands up, don’t shoot” phrase commonly used throughout the Michael Brown protests in 2014.
In typical Beyonce fashion, Formation was released without promotion or advertisement (her last album was dropped this same way in 2013). Though the superstar singer has managed to continuously evolve with each release, few could have predicted the evolution this latest single would bring. Deviating from her usual sultry and suggestive music, as well as her tendency to remain quiet in the midst of controversy, Formation is Beyonce’s first public step into the ongoing conversation about race in America.
Whether she deliberately released the single during Black History Month remains unclear, however what is clear is how much America continues to hate pro-blackness.
And that hatred is deeply rooted.
At the peak of the Black Panther Party’s fight for black power in the early 1970s, the group (by then widely seen as a guerilla extremist organization) was the subject of significant lethal force administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The party had begun as a peaceful group but in the face of increasing racism and brutality, had grown into a revolutionary group that often resorted to violence in its demands for socioeconomic freedom for African Americans. Deemed “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States” by the FBI, the bureau made every effort to ensure the Party’s obliteration, using tactics like sabotage and lethal force until its defeat in the early 1980s.
Almost four decades after its dissolution, the Black Panther Party’s legacy remains widely shrouded in hatred and racism. Among many whites, the Black Panther Party is seen as a militia group that resorted to violent tactics. But among blacks, the Party is largely remembered for its advocacy for empowerment, and the pivotal role it played in the Civil Rights Movement. It is remembered for the way in which it collaborated with progressive whites (rather than excluding them from the fight as did many pro-black groups at the time) and for the contributions it made to the black community during its early years.
Moreover the Party is praised for always being unashamedly and unapologetically pro-black.
In continuing what the Black Panthers started- albeit in a drastically different manner- many modern day pro-black activism groups continue to fight for their freedom. The Black Lives Matter movement (which began in 2012 following the death of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin) is perhaps the greatest example not only in its efforts, but also in the very ways it is continuously demonized by white America. Its members are often referred to as violent and aggressive while its goal of black liberation has been delegitimized time and time again.
In all of its offense, the “All Lives Matter” expression created in response to the movement is further affirmation that nearly 40 years after the Black Panthers Party, “Formation” is needed more than ever. Beyonce’s performance is not only an uncomfortable reminder to white America that the Party’s legacy lives on, but it’s also a painful reminder to blacks that their racial pride still remains widely unaccepted.
In the only month of the year in which blacks can celebrate their own history—one that is of enslavement, struggle and perseverance—they are being confined to strict and oppressive that dictate whom they can and cannot celebrate.
It is perhaps one of the greatest injustices of today’s society.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.