I don’t really get excited for Super Bowl halftime shows like I used to. The peak for me was watching the Black Eyed Peas halftime show in my dorm room with one of my best friends. We were both left enchanted by the bright colors and the image of Usher coming down from the sky. Two years ago, when Bruno Mars headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, I fell asleep. I don’t know what it is about Bruno Mars and Super Bowl performances, but the combination of him and Coldplay once again this year put me to sleep faster than any NyQuil or a J. Cole CD ever could.
But I woke up, watched the rest of the game and then went on Twitter to discover that Beyonce put on what some called a performance for the ages. Partly inspired by Michael Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl performance and by the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, Beyoncé’s performance at Super Bowl 50 presumably caused the word “slay” and variations of the word “slay” to be used approximately 2.5 million times over that night and the morning after.
Something else that occurred days after the Super Bowl was a swift, fervent backlash from conservatives. Many on the right thought Beyoncé’s performance was racist, anti-cop and overall abhorrent. People have gone so far as to hold protests in front of NFL headquarters and boycott anything Beyoncé related.
Throughout all of this backlash, I was just floored by the blanket outrage exhibited towards Beyoncé. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke legitimately thought it was okay to compare the Black Panthers to the Ku Klux Klan. He wasn’t alone in making this comparison either, as evidenced by the various memes floating around. I know people don’t usually go out of their way to research the things that they say, but even a basic two-minute search on wikipedia will show you this comparison is incredibly foolhardy. Her song, music video and performance were created to celebrate her own heritage and to highlight the numerous injustices done to blacks over the years.
There’s nothing racist about that.
The Black Panther Party are the literal antithesis of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK were focused on the offensive, founded to literally on stifle any modicum of black progress and empowerment whether that be through voting, affordable housing, education or even positive images of people of color. The Panthers served as a counter to this obstruction and to this overt oppression. They saw black bodies being attacked from multiple angles and took a stand to defend them. Even though I do have big issues with how the Black Panthers treated the women within their ranks, it still stands that they were about empowering the people in their communities.
Just look at the things that they did, like running for political office, grassroots organizing, handing out free breakfast and offering free preventative medical health care and sickle cell tests. They also established the concept of black power to counter the Klan’s chants of white power, which were used to empower whites at the expense of black rights and lives. Now for an apt comparison, let me just give you a recap of the things the Ku Klux Klan have done over their illustrious history. They killed four small girls in a Birmingham church bombing, assassinated civil rights icon Medgar Evers in his driveway for his wife and kids to witness, and kidnapped and murdered three civil rights workers who were just trying to help blacks exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Let’s not even go into the thousands of crosses burned on lawns and homes destroyed, bodies lynched and gone missing. It is completely illogical and downright insulting to compare that reign of terror to the Black Panther Party. I’m not going to pretend like the Black Panthers were this stalwart of non-violence because they did have storied and bloody clashes with police. But when the police exists as it did at that time as an enforcer of your own subjugation, it stands to reason that clashes will occur.
I truly believe, therefore, that if you think the Black Panthers are racist or you compare them to the KKK, you stand on the same side as they do when it comes to the rights people of color have in this country. This is not to say that you’re gonna be donning white sheets and burning crosses any time soon. I’m just saying that if you think these groups are in any way similar, you need to take a very hard look at what these organizations really stand for, and the legacy they’ve left behind.
What it boils down to is that Beyoncé and others are saying things that those up in arms don’t want to hear, hence the deflections and reaches that would make Mr. Fantastic jealous. I guess Beyoncé is cool when she’s singing about drinking and surfboards, but talking about issues relevant to her and people that look like her is where she apparently crosses the line. People react this way because they think blacks have made enough progress and they think blacks have become ungrateful. But from what I’ve experienced and seen this just isn’t the case, and there’s so much more work to be done on these issues. These conservatives can protest and boycott all they want. But I, Beyoncé and many others will continue to be in formation, saying our own truths to ensure that the injustices that have occurred in the past and present will never find their way into the future.