09 February 2016

You guys. Beyoncé. Is. Woke.

I've never been a huge Beyoncé fan. Initially because her voice didn't move me. Then because she was so "safe black." Beyoncé was the kind of black that appealed to non-black people. She was a blond performer who, under the right filter, was ethnically ambiguous. She sang catchy songs and used her popularity to gain more popularity. In my mind, she was another Oprah - which was not a compliment. I felt they had both gained panhuman fame and used their success to stay safely loved by the mainstream, to essentially stay "safe black." They wouldn't do or say anything that would make white other people uncomfortable. To me, having the resources but choosing not to normalize the black experience was somewhat of a waste. I understand playing it safe to show "we're just like you," and I'm sure Oprah had plenty to overcome without my opinion on what should have been her cause. Still, imagine if Oprah had told her audience "it's never okay to touch our hair." 

Game changer.

Oprah is off building a different type of relevance now and I don't have cable so I don't follow. But that's not why I'm here. I'm here to eat crow, bow down and apologize to Queen Bey. I'm sorry I doubted you, Beyoncé. I now recognize your genius. You Keyser Soze'd a beautiful long con that resulted in a Black Panther lady rally on America's largest stage. You are not "safe black," Beyoncé You are "woke black." And I am solidly behind you.

This matters

If you've asked yourself why Beyoncé's Super Bowl 50 performance was so important, I'm genuinely happy for you. Your naivete tells me you didn't grow up aware of the microaggressions against black women. I did and I assure you it was demoralizing.

Think of the shows you watched growing up. How many of those shows featured no one who looked like you? My parents didn't allow us to watch shows that didn't have any black people as main characters, so I missed a lot of what friends consider old TV staples, including Full House, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Friends and Seinfeld. I would eventually sneak in some Dawson's Creek and Party of Five. And I thanked God we got two on ER. I consider myself fortunate that by the time Sex and The City became popular I had no interest in show scenarios that had no interest in me.

Representation matters. If you've always seen what could be a version of yourself, I don't think there is a way to get you to understand how a lack of representation feels. If you shared physical traits with the hero or the villain or the heartthrob or the head cheerleader or the sexy older teacher or the deli owner or the fireman then you cannot understand what it's like to simply not be there. All those multifaceted characters and my only placement was as the sassy friend. And let's be real; the sassy friend never gets a love interest. To always be perceived as ancillary in the mainstream and to never see someone like you come into her own is disheartening.

Then came 2016 Beyonce, aka Woke Beyoncé. 
Full disclosure, I became a fan of 2014 Beyoncé, aka Feminist Beyoncé. She paved the way for my imminent descent into fangirldom over Woke Beyoncé

The video

If you haven't watched the video, this is not going to make sense. (But there are think pieces for context.) She released a video for a new song on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. I didn't pay much attention. I assumed she'd be playing it at half time and that I'd hear it then. The video, more than the performance, made this a thing for me. It's beautiful and powerful. But I'm glad I missed it at first.

I watched the half time show and was so focused on the look and the choreography that I didn't catch the lyrics. Also, I felt it was unfair that Feminist Beyoncé and her crew didn't get to wear pants while all the men did. Then I noticed the blackness of it all - and by that I mean the hair. There was natural hair everywhere. (Hair, if you didn't know, is a very charged topic for black women.) And while it bounced freely, there was much precision, you could call it "militant." I heard self-aggrandizing lyrics about slaying. But I saw unconceited unity. 

I later watched the video, and was compelled me to repent. 
Beyoncé is woke. 
She has always been woke. 

Beyoncé used "safe black" to infiltrate. She sang about dating and love and sex and insecurity and generally basic topics. She helped define and uphold ethnically ambiguous beauty standards. She's been an undeniably proper celebrity - a mostly wholesome mom who is pro-woman but not anti-man. She was even welcomed back to the Super Bowl after breaking it just three years ago. "Safe black" opened the door and Woke Beyoncé walked through it. She used America's largest stage to pay tribute to Malcolm X and the Black Panthers (and Michael Jackson). During a moment when the message was supposed to be saccharine and inclusive, Beyoncé made black women the center of something special. 

We don't ever get that. 

I'm aware lots of groups don't ever get that. I hope they do. Because the feeling - the feeling of being seen as a main character on the main stage - is legit remarkable.

Beyoncé's voice still doesn't give me goosebumps or pull emotion from my soul. But she will continue to get my support. She's given us the best thing since The Wiz, Live. We have lyrics celebrating afros and wide noses. We have a video asking cops not to shoot us. We have a partially politicized Super Bowl halftime show. And we have all the eyes that have been trained to fall on Beyoncé. 

It's like xoxo.