Fewer times in my life have I been so obsessed with a celebrity, and to be sure, it's not that I am obsessed with Beyoncé, but rather the attacks on her since she released "Formation."
I fully expect comments like this one from Fox News's Lou Dobbs: "Beyoncé's nostalgic glorification of Malcolm X and Black Panther militant thuggery was too much ... for most viewers and utterly out of place."
After all he's a White man in his White world where "most viewers" to him means most misinformed viewers. However, the militant "thugs" Dobbs refers to is the highly organized group who:
- At their peak had 45 chapters
- Boasted a membership of 5,000
- Served breakfast to some 10,000 kids before school
- The FBI, working with local police, either murdered (many in their sleep) or jailed on trumped up bullshit charges nearly all prominent members
If these were just a band of thugs, as Dobbs contends, why did J. Edgar Hoover, former president of the FBI, see The Black Panther Party as: "...without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country"?
(I go into more about The Black Panther Party in the book I co-authored with Bryony Sutherland, called Being Biracial: Where Our Secret Worlds Collide, as my earliest memories are of the influence a Party member had on me. The Black Panthers were not a group of thugs. To quote founding members Huey Newton and Bobby Seal, The Black Panther Party were "a party whose agenda was the revolutionary establishment of real economic, social, and political equality across gender and color lines.")
But what kills me is the discourse that's occurring among non-Whites (namely within the Black community).
The first thing I read this morning was a blog on the online publication Color Lines. In it are the thoughts of Dr. Yaba Blay who describes herself as a dark-skinned, New Orleans-bred scholar who researches skin color and identity politics. I don't say this flippantly. Dr. Blay is a highly respected scholar and expert on race and politics. I actually hold her in the highest esteem, but I also disagree with her position on this.
It's hard enough to read lies, half-truths and misinformation by racists like Lou Dobbs, but when people in the Black community see this as yet another reason to create a divide rather than join together, I have to speak up.
Dr. Blay takes exception to Beyoncé's reference to herself as being a Texas Bamma, the result of mixing a Negro (her father) with a Creole (her mother). Blay cites the hurt she felt being a dark complected Black women living in New Orleans who continually was discriminated against—not just by Whites but by light complected Black people and in particular, Creoles. And that hurt is real. I am not making light of it, but I do believe it colored her perspective.
Thankfully most people who left comments saw through her personalization and said so. Expressed one woman, "...People are projecting too many of their own issues onto this thing that is a piece of entertainment, not a manifesto. Looking at the screen shot of the three children, nothing indicates that the darker girls are dressed as old ladies hiding from the sun. Nor is this message communicated in the second screen shot where both Bey and the darkest-hued sister have on long sleeves. So I call foul on the color politics argument. Also, I find it a shame that a cultural scholar would try to police a multicultural person's right to inclusive self identification."
Unfortunately many didn't. This one sums it up for me, "This is not something I noticed—and frankly, I'm not sure it's something I would have come to notice if it weren't pointed out to me. Now that you mention it, though, it seems so ... intentional."
There's a deeper message in that comment. She's saying, "I was fine taking the video at face value, until you planted in my brain otherwise.. and now I am angry, too."
Not cool, people!
My position is this: While Beyoncé may have brought up old hurts among New Orleanians and many darker complected Black people, I do think her ultimate message was one of inclusiveness and being one with her darker complected brothers sisters.
I live on an island not unlike New Orleans in the respect that Puerto Ricans are a mixture of west African (slaves), Taino (indigenous) and White (Spanish who originally colonized the island before the US, which still does).
There are people here who are decidedly in two camps:
- Those who vehemently reject the notion they are part Black, despite being darker than I am and straightening their hair
- Those who proudly identify as equal parts of all three
The first camp I reject out of hand and refuse to talk to. They're closed-minded and go in for self-hatred, which they'll eventually visit on others and me.
The second camp are like me; they're like my husband (who's much darker than I am) and they're like all of us who are the descendants of slaves: mixed, thanks to miscegenation. That my parents and grandparents (my dad was White and my mother was Black and Japanese) took it a step further by mixing it up is a different story. I'm talking before that. Before that, my husband's and my Black sides are the same.
I think Beyoncé is, yes, distinguishing herself, which is fine: she is who she is, but then she's standing tall with her sisters and brothers. And in looking further at the stanza that has Dr. Blay upset: "My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas Mama" all she's doing is self-identifying, which has become my anthem of late, we all have the right to do.
Let's not forget that Beyoncé's chosen to marry a Black man and Jay Z ain't exactly a Black man who denies who he is: he's out and he's proud. Say what you want about him or his music, but he's not shying away from those conversations. If Beyoncé truly wanted to distance herself from her Blackness, she picked the wrong man to marry to try that crap.
Beyoncé chose him. She wasn't coerced or naive. She not only chose him but she chose to have a baby with him and not relax her baby's hair (much to the criticisms of many).
She may have invoked her creole early on in the video by saying this is who she comes from, but she sets it up from the jump when she says, "you mix that negro with that creole..."
She's slamming the establishment of both today and during slave times, by pointing out the self-hatred among them and the obvious, "I'm better than you because I am lighter with 'good hair'," among all light complected Black folks who deny they have the same roots as their darker complected brothers and sisters. So much so that she ties it together nicely several times throughout. I am baffled that people keep missing this, the shout out to the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X, the Black Lives Matter movement and Katrina all the while she's calling out the continued cop on Black killings taking place.
But then again, people see what they want to see and are routinely blinded by their truth. I'm no different and I appreciate it when people call me out on it.
Was Blue Ivy being sassy in the video? Was she as well? Yes, she reminds us who she is: a descendant of folks who think of themselves as better ... but she has a transformation in the house and brings them all into her world and is now dancing with them.
Darker complected Black slaves weren't allowed in the house, don't forget! She brought them in and that's when she makes the switch and aligns with them.
Like I say in my first blog about Beyoncé's "Formation," folks be looking at this video and listening to the lyrics and either not getting the obvious connection or they're seeing the two through the narrow lenses of their own truths.
This isn't the truth of Dr. Blay, yours or mine. This is Beyoncé's truth. And while I get that it "triggered" feelings of rejection and anger, that's not the point of "Formation" and it's not Beyoncé's truth.
And maybe I get it because as the only one of my parents' kids who "passes" and who could easily get away with saying I'm White, I not only never once have, I have fought to see life through the eyes of the weary, tired, abused, angry and let's not forget, proud Black person ... and I married one.
Lastly, I'd just like to point out that I am tired of the divisiveness within the Black community. In the same way darker complected Blacks feel light complected Blacks and Biracial people look down on them, feel superior to them and don't get them, the reverse happens where light complected Blacks and Biracial people don't feel the love and acceptance because we're not fully of them. That neither / nor thing for Biracial people and "you ain't really Black" for both light complected Blacks and Biracial people.
I don't imagine Beyoncé and / or her video are going to magically make racism disappear. I think we need to get out of our comfort zones and talk. We all have past hurts that need to be acknowledged. They don't need to be the source of divisiveness between us, however.
Black Panther Party poster photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
Featured image photo credit: Instagram