Photo Courtesy of SuperSelected.com Art created by Shoshanna Weinberger and T’Air Carroll.
Eight days ago, I came across a picture of an African woman. A mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt; and possibly a wife—she was in pain. She was covered in batik. Her veins were no longer dormant; they were alive, distinct and attempting to cut through her face. Spit had taken residence in the corner of her mouth. She was crying so hard, the hurt was so genuine, so consecutive that no tears could come.
On January 30, 2016, Boko Haram attacked and killed some 86 people in Dalori, a Nigerian village. And my heart tightened. I screamed expletives after expletive. I thought to myself, when will it be safe for us to stop crying? When would peace be revolutionary? I wanted to console this woman, but what does that sort of comfort even look or feel like?
We are to believe that as early as April of 2014, government officials on the state and local level knowingly poisoned Flint residents. Mario Woods was shot and killed on December 2, 2015, by more than 15 rounds by five officers of the law. February 5th was Trayvon Martin’s birthday. February 7th was Sandra Bland’s birthday. She would have been 29 years old. He would have been 21. There are tragedies that are nameless and unpublicized that are plaguing black communities throughout the diaspora.
On Saturday, February 6, 2016, Beyoncé dropped a video for her first new song since 2014. She was set to co-star with Coldplay and Bruno Mars for the Super Bowl 2016 this past Sunday. I sat in my sister’s living room, after having an unproductive day (not of my doing) and clicked play. And in seconds, in seconds; I was revived. I hadn’t even taken a sip of my South African, red wine. For clarity, not like oil rubbed on foreheads or even submersion under water. My confidence was renewed instantly. I don’t want you to think religion; I want you to feel spirit.
Like in 1991, when Whitney Houston sang “A Song for You” for the returning troops from Desert Storm. At one point she leans back while sitting in the chair and hits this note that I swear God is tap dancing up my back. Beyoncé told the world that black women are magical, that blackness cannot be contained.
Apparently, Beyoncé does not deserve complexity. And I took offense because if she can’t neither can I. As a community, a litmus test has been created to prove if you’re conscious enough to wax poetic about our collective pain. Men are to be however they want and “intelligent,” it seems. And women are to be silent, fully clothed, fist raised and ready. Any divergence from these boxes and guidelines you are unsuitable to express or create for blackness.
The video is hawt. The images are piercing. The fashion is there. The cameos are there. The message is there. The historical references are there. You mad because you didn’t think to create a black power trap song geared to push black women toward their greater potentials, even if in small steps. A seed was planted; all it takes is a mustard seed. Why not call Beyoncé prophetic? Can’t I quote Toni Morrison, twerk in 5-inch heels and take shots of top shelf liquor with no chaser and love my people? Can’t I wear blonde weave, subscribe to Vogue, light incense as I listen to Project Pat while writing an inspirational speech for black girls at Timbuktu Academy and have tattoos of Africa and Adinkra symbols on my buttocks with Fanon, Diop, Welsing and hooks residing on my bookshelves? Can’t I knuck if I’m buck, drink Cabernet Sauvignon, donate to families in need and be ready to protest on anybody’s Michigan Avenue, with fire engine red locks? No!!?!
Tupac Amaru Shakur has been on both sides of the law, throughout his celebrity. Some of 2pac’s lyrics are misogynistic; however, he still found the fortitude to pen “Brenda’s got a Baby” and “Dear Mama.” Shakur often spoke of the greatness of African people. His opinion was never in question; his behavior never negated his philosophy or love for his people. Folk is waiting on the third day right now, for his resurrection; some don’t even believe that he is dead. King’s adultery still allowed him to have a dream and be a supreme leader for both our human and civil rights. James Brown domestic violence, tax evasion, alcoholism can’t nick the legend that he is or those he inspired. Brown made it hipper to be black, at a time when blackness was synonymous with expiration dates. There’s these invisible rose colored glass when it comes to consciousness and masculinity.
Otis Redding wrote “Respect,” for Aretha Franklin. Franklin can play the piano. Aretha is the queen. Smokey Robinson wrote for The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5 and himself. Are these artists still legendary? I thought so. “Remember the Time” was co-written by Teddy Riley, Michael Jackson and Bernard Belle. Stevie Wonder also wrote for Michael Jackson, a number of times. Michael is the kang. Jackson was a lot more vocal about the mistreatment of Black people than most know. Many believed that his physical appearance was a testament of self-hatred except he had discoid lupus, vitiligo, and contempt for his father. Michael Jackson was proud of his heritage. Do you remember a time when ancient Egyptians were not white?
The idea that an artist is superficial if they have managed to have profitable careers is ludicrous. From “Urban Hang Suite” to “BLACKSummer’s Night,” musically Maxwell has evolved; for that change to occur one must grow and experience new and different things as a person. Editorially, let me just say after child birth your world view changes, fear becomes a lie, everything that you are or are not is magnified and your new mission becomes to become who you are meant to be the best way you know how and see fit.
Everyone wants to reminisce about the good old days when music was “authentic”—a time when everybody wore afros. We can’t speak of that golden era without being honest about the sexism and the fact that our organizations were able to be infiltrated; which led to many of our leaders being assassinated. Everybody smells like roses is what the debates and think pieces tell me. To be black is to be good and respectable. The symbolism of the visuals in the video and the countrified lyrics was an honest celebration of what it is like to be a black woman, generally speaking of course and without definition of course. It’s okay for black women to embrace our sexuality, to pronounce our beauty; hence, the white negligee B was rockin’. The visuals were supreme blackness for me. A carnival of the vastness that is to be black, to be a woman—she gets to speak on it because she is those things. The hair styles, the confrontation against police brutality and enslavement, outdated standards, gender roles, the pain, the survival and the “fed-upness.” We’re so conditioned to having to provide evidence of our humanity, that naturally, we doubt each other.
You don’t have to like Beyoncé as an artist. You don’t have to buy concert tickets or albums. You don’t even have to agree with her business acumen. But you can’t deny her agency to express herself and her own means to define womanhood, blackness, music or to confront social constructs and the mistreatment of people. Beyoncé donated over $250,000 to help to create a fund for the victims of Hurricane Katrina back in 2004. Her personal image is all about the empowerment of women. It might not be Mahalia Jackson regalia but it is most definitely a little Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Donna Summer.
We’ve bought into the exclusionary practices of that when one of us speak or does something; it speaks and represents all black people, too. The beauty of blackness is that it is everything. The alfa na omega baby! The spectrum is so omnipotent that to define it, is to disgrace it.
Beyoncé is not a child. I do not expect her music or the images she portrays to raise my daughter. What I will do is have real conversations with my daughter about sexuality, language, objectivity, her thoughts and we’ll design what being a black woman is together until it is her time to define it for herself. She knows that she is beautiful, smart, and strong; and that she’s of African descent and proud of that. She is one-year-old. I’m currently defining blackness for myself. I have the respect for my people to disagree with them without degrading them.
The Super Bowl performance was the trinity of divine femininity. A homage to the Black Panthers, Michael Jackson and Malcolm X, was history in the now. For the record, I applaud Beyoncé for having Blue Ivy in the video. It would be a disservice to hide who she is from her daughter. It is a disservice to hide your femininity from your daughters.
But clearly, only shake ya ass. Might start a revolution. There’s power in our hips. I’m blackalicious and loving it. I have danced to mourn the deaths from the attack on the Dalori village. You should too, gone head twerk a little.