White People: Shut Up About Beyoncé

After the release of her game-changing, brilliant video, Formation, and the stir her Superbowl halftime show caused with dancers dressed like Black Panthers, Beyoncé is blowing up everyone’s feeds everywhere. And one thing I am shocked/notshocked to see is white outrage about both.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a Beyoncé fan. I’m not a fan of any of the pop divas. I don’t have anything against them; it’s just not music that interests me. So Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Madonna, Mariah, Adele, I apologize, but I’m sure you and your massive success could not possibly care less that I would rather be listening to punk or classical. The only reason I’m pointing this out is to make sure you know I’m not a Beyoncé fan. This is not about defending a beloved star.

Let me tell you what it IS about.

The vast majority of Black people in the US are descended from people who were dragged here against their will and forced to live in a culture that shut them out completely from mainstream artistic production for 400 years. For 400 years, Black people were living in a culture where their pain, their culture, and their art were appropriated and sanitized for white consumption, or, more often, shut out of the narrative entirely, replaced by racist caricatures or rendered invisible. For 400 years, the stories of Black people on this continent were untold, belittled, or made the tools of white narrative and white profit.

Now we’re in a cultural moment where there are powerful, mainstream Black artists telling Black stories that may or may not include white people, may tell uncomfortable truths about white people in Black lives, or may use white people as metaphors. For 400 years Black people were used as metaphors in white art, so my sympathy for “not all white people” and “that’s not fair” is somewhere at the bottom of a pile of Magical Negroes, Gone with the Wind, and token Black friends.

In this cultural moment where powerful, mainstream Black artists like Beyoncé are telling their stories on their own terms, the white people who controlled the narrative– including how and when Black stories have been told– for the past 400 years need to sit back, shut up, and listen, listen, listen. You don’t like how white people are being portrayed? Spend some time thinking about why Black artists are portraying white people that way instead of demanding they adjust their stories to conform to your self-image as “the good guy.” We are not the heroes in these stories. We are not the intended audience. We are irrelevant, and there’s nothing people in power hate more than to be made irrelevant, but the fact remains that these are Black stories, by, for, and about Black people. You don’t like it? Don’t watch. But I recommend that you do, and give it some real thought. This is their truth. You do not get to dictate how Black artists see or portray their own lives.

And if the image of the tiny child dancing in front of a line of police officers, who then surrender to him, does not move you after little Tamir Rice (and so many others), you have no soul.

Formation-surrender

The line of riot police surrendering to the power of a beautiful dancing child is not “anti-white” or “anti-police.” It is pro-hope, pro-life, pro-art, and pro-Black. If you don’t like the metaphor of the line of white police officers here, I suggest you spend some time thinking about why Beyoncé chose it.

The Formation video and the Superbowl show are examples of a powerful Black woman at the top of her game brilliantly telling Black stories for Black people, brilliantly seizing the narrative and asserting the beauty, power, and truth of a people who have been stringently and deliberately silenced for centuries in this country.

The call for Black women to get in formation, get information, and celebrate their power gave me chills. You hear a lot about “Black excellence,” and Formation is a potent reminder that Black excellence isn’t something created by white people congratulating themselves for bending down to hand out opportunities. Too many of us define “white ally” as “someone who is desperately needed by Black people to help them, and therefore deserves all the cookies.” Black excellence is already there, has always been there. It doesn’t need white validation, and the lack of fucks Beyoncé has for white validation from the center of her Black power is giving some white people fits.

beyonce-formation-video-696x385

Beyoncé, I hope you’re bathing in a marble tub full of white tears this morning.

My fellow white people: Listen. Listen. Listen. This is a Black moment, rarer than rare in this culture. If you don’t like the way Black artists portray white people, work on changing the impact of white people in Black lives, not on telling Black people they’re wrong about their own lives.

SIGNAL BOOST: “We Slay, Part I” by New South Negress is an excellent analysis of Formation.

IN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTIONS:

  1. No, the title is not meant literally.
  2. No, I am not an angry Black lady, but thank you for the compliment.
  3. No, capitalizing “Black” does not reveal a secret plot for racial superiority. Capitalizing the word “Black” in reference to people is a linguistic thing. “White people” has a squidgy definition and refers to a hodgepodge of people from varied ethnic groups, all of which are capitalized, such as “Celtic people” or “Swedish people.” “Black” as shorthand for “The people of the African Diaspora living in the United States” is rightly capitalized as “Black people” in the same way we say “French people.” “African American” is linguistically and historically troubled because “Africa” is a continent with thousands of disparate cultures, and the people we label as such were forcibly separated from most aspects of their cultures of origin when they got to the US, creating an entirely new, coherent culture best described as “Black.” Of course, the word as an ethnic descriptor has other applications (“Black people in Germany,” for example), but this is the one I’m using in the article. Not all linguists agree, but that’s my position.

 

 

 

 

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126 thoughts on “White People: Shut Up About Beyoncé

  1. Jen says:

    I loved the performance as a work of art but missed all the deeper meaning. (To be fair, I hadn’t seen the video and usually have to read lyrics to catch most of them.) Thank you for this post. I read another analysis today, too, that beautifully stated much the same thing. These are helpful and important reminders that art is about the artist’s truth, first and foremost. I’m grateful to all the artists who open my eyes.

  2. bdharte says:

    I support 100% about what beyonce sings about and why it’s important for all people, both black and white to be listening. However I find it ironic that she is singing about black pride and black history wearing a blond weave and clearly lighter makeup just again conforming this white version of beauty. I would have loved seeing her in natural hair and not such white washed makeup.

    • Mrs.Mia says:

      Black people have colored their hair and painted their faces for thousands of years. Doing such is not an indication of white beauty standards.

  3. Paige says:

    The amount of white people hating on this article further belies the author’s point. Clearly you all missed the part where the author wrote, LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN.”

    Stop talking and listening. Stop acting like you’re an exception. I’m sure the author, who is also white apparently, isn’t some overt culture stealing racist, and yet they managed to be introspective. Why do some of you guys refuse to be?

  4. AP says:

    Please stop addressing things to White People- I’m white, black, gypsy, Jewish, Russian, and German. But my skin looks white. And I’m so, so tired of people grouping ethnicities together based on color. Doing so is Primitive. Doing so is ethnically presumptive. And doing so is an unexamined, unhealthy way to go about making a statement. The sooner All People come to see one another as Human more than Any Particular Color, the better. I respectfully ask that people bear this in mind and discontinue the use of any color-based categorization of humanity. Doing so does very little good in moving us collectively in a positive, inclusive direction as a society and a Species. Which, if any of you are telling the truth about your intentions, is rather the point of the dialogue, right? To promote peaceful unity rather than spread shame and divisiveness? So… Mind the way you communicate.

    • Gchan says:

      That’s because society has done this…. It decides who is *perceived* as white and non-white. You can identify however you want, but at the end of the day, society will group you into “white” or “not.” Instead of complaining that people perceive you as white, why don’t you try breaking down that systemic barrier instead of complaining about it?

    • mia says:

      AP that wont change until the government and all major forms stop putting black white options on in their race categories. Sorry but it will be very long before that happens. We try and dissimilate before we just recognize the issue but good try though

  5. Thank you! Thank you! THANK YOU!

  6. Tom Hoef says:

    When a person of color tells me the story of their cultural experience, whether or not they are painting an ugly image of those who share my whiteness, I listen. Because if you are American you have to realize that our nation was built, quite literally, on a foundation of institutionalized racism. It lies in our nation’s DNA and the active awareness of that ugly truth, told through the stories of those who suffered it, should always be at the forefront of our national consciousness.

    But when another white person wants to yell at me that I don’t “get it” (“it” being some ill-defined aspect of the African-American experience) because I’m not black, here’s what I want most to say to them: Guess what? NEITHER ARE YOU. And no matter how much you proclaim that you DO get it… you really don’t. And neither do I. And we never will. Because we’re not black.

    The difference between you and I seems to be this: I’m fully aware of the limitations my ethnicity imposes upon my perception of the very race-particular struggles undertaken by all American people of color. You, on the other hand, seem to perceive yourself as all-knowing in regards to issues you can not possibly have personally experienced.

    While I always hesitate to speak for anyone else, I’m reasonably certain the African-American community neither needs nor wants you to ride in on your white horse and speak for them with the presumption that other whites won’t listen to THEM, but will only listen to YOU. And I can, again, only speak definitively for myself, but other white people screaming about how great they are because THEY ARE THE ONLY WHITEZ WHO REALLY, REALLY UNDERSTAND BLACK PEOPLE… these people come across as perhaps the most clueless lot of all.

    The African-American community has for half a century spoken loudly and proudly for themselves. They certainly don’t suddenly need YOU in all your glorious whiteness to do it for them.

    Frankly, you probably owe them an apology.

    P.S. – I didn’t even realize those were supposed to be Black Panthers with Beyoncé. I thought she was doing a RHYTHM NATION homage.

    That would have been dope.

  7. Reece says:

    Melissa, I find the lyrics and video for ‘Formation’ to grossly offensive, but not for the reasons put forward in these comments.

    “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros.
    I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils”
    Beyoncé’s message of black empowerment might have more validity if the video didn’t feature her wearing straightened blonde hair and lighter-than-light makeup. She is naturally light skinned, but looks even more so in this video. The fact that her dancers DO have afros makes for a bizarre contrast.

    “I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
    I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces…
    …I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay…
    …You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
    Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper”
    Is this Beyonce’s message of empowerment to Black America – crass materialism? The vast, vast majority of Americans – black, white, Asian or Latino – will NEVER be able “rock a Givenchy dress” because, as the late, great George Carlin put it “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” If you just work hard enough, Beyoncé croons, you too can have a fierce and fabulous life, just like her! Only, you can’t. And you won’t. And in the main part, who benefits from Beyoncé’s unadulterated worship of corporate America? Yep, you guessed it – Rich White Men!! In short, ‘Formation’ heaps lavish praise upon a cruel hypercapitalism, under whose influence Black Americans suffer disproportionately.

    One last thing Melissa…before extolling Beyoncé as some kind of progressive hero, it might be wise to cast our minds back to November 2015, when HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) was defeated at the polls. HERO would have barred discrimination on the basis of race, age, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity and 10 other categories. In the lead up to the poll, the twitter hashtag #Beybeahero went viral, as thousands of Houstonians (Black and white) begged Beyoncé to come out in favour of the ordinance. As the HERO movement was covered extensively in the national Press, Beyonce’s support could have given an enormous boost to the campaign. Instead, she remained silent. She said NOTHING and did NOTHING to support a law which would have improved the lives of all minorities in her home city, a city to which she claims great kinship in ‘Formation’

  8. Himten says:

    Should we also tell the Indian people to shut up about Beyoncés cultural appropriation in that Coldplay video lol

  9. Dhenning says:

    Ok I must raise my hand and ask a question. Have I missed somthing? I’m so confused after reading the article and most of the comments. Why are we bringing up things like salvery in our generation? Are we planning vengeance or retribution on those families? Are we going to sue them? In 2016 are we no better then our past? Sins of the father and all. Yes, we should all learn history, the truth not some biased version, only the truth and learn from it, but honestly we shouldn’t be judging anyone. Instead of dwelling on the past we should learn to forgive and move forward. Yes there are things that have happened recently that can never be taken back anD they are painful and disgraceful. But we live in a multicultural diverse nation. It shouldn’t matter if your skin is black, white, brown purple, green or blue. What matters is that we should all be working together to make this nation the best we can be. We should offer equally, school, support, jobs, money and not racially profile anyone. Taking people at their word, and not judging by ethnic group. Yes, we have sucked at fairness for a while now, but we need to focus on our future, we don’t need to be fighting each other we need to be protecting each other. Everyone has a right to their own opinion including Beyonce if this is what she wants to make records about then it’s her Choice. Music has told a story about everything around us for generations, it’s not going to change, if you don’t like it then don’t listen.

  10. Thisguy says:

    Wait. As a white person, can I still say that Beyoncé is baller?

    Is that okay?

    Cause I think Beyoncé is baller.

  11. Kimberly says:

    Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

  12. Tai says:

    Can I just say, this knocked my socks off!!! Beautifully put and truer than true!

  13. David Canoy says:

    I’m a white male in my 40s. I liked the halftime show. I didn’t find Beyoncé to be too anti-cop or anti-white. I didn’t find Bruno Mars offensive. I didn’t find Coldplay to be too colorful or gay. The overall message seemed to be a good one. Maybe the level of easily offended whiner babies is not so concentrated on the liberal side as Fox News would have you believe. I watched a good football game wherein 2 teams both played well. Commercials were decent and not too outrageous… still both amused and disturbed by #puppymonkeybaby . And there was a show in which 2 artists pushed new song/albums/tours and 1 sang and danced like MJ without the pedophilia. No nipples slipped and you can still talk about how loving Jesus is while treating everyone less fortunate than you like a pestilent human waste of air. Let it go Elsa, you don’t know the struggle.

  14. For every white person talking crazy on Twitter, there are 300 buying the music. You can believe that. How many artists would be multimillionaires s on our dollars alone?
    Broke people sit on Twitter and Facebook all day, not spenders.

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