Black History Month, as Told by the Superbowl

A student offers a personal view on the significance of Black History Month, in addition to an analysis on Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance in relation to black culture.

Imagine having a beautiful story to tell, but having no control of how your narrative is received. Imagine having to bounce back from such cycles of negativity, in addition to having to, despite everything, practice being okay with this reality. Now imagine having to explain to a sea of your peers why and how injustice lives, thrives and procreates within the social, political and economic systems already in place. Then imagine trying to fit that into 800 to 1200 words. It’s not exactly easy. 

Black History Month, a month designated by the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, has historically informed youth enrolled in public schools of the contributions by Blacks within both American and international spheres. The intent of Black History Month was to put Blacks into the normative narrative even if it is only for a short period of time. Therefore, let’s be clear: Black History Month was never for Black people in the ways we like to assume. There is never a time when Black people are not black or not actively unfolding the history of those who have come before them, having toiled for Blacks to have better days.

Today, Black History Month is a solid attempt to remind the general public that Black culture is about a lot more than slavery and rap music. It is the time when people who believe they understand the capacity of Black culture to learn something greater. The essence of Black History Month can easily be said to be illustrated in the Super Bowl 50 halftime show that featured Coldplay, Beyonce and Bruno Mars.

How? Because an American platform, essentially an American holiday, was used to bring up American history and American issues.

Black History Month in its educational nature is a means of recap in the hybrid form of a tutorial and a game of “Where’s Waldo?,” pointing out all the places Blacks have turned the other cheek only to watch that too be smacked. The frequency at which Black and Brown men, women and children that were killed by the hands of the police has been shifted past an issue within small Black communities here and there, to an issue of national concern.

So when Beyonce steals the stage in black leather, with an army of natural haired black women, during the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, at the game in which the Carolina Panthers were playing with the Black starting quarterback Cam Newton seemed like no big deal, it was.

Beyonce experienced a coming out of sorts that many Blacks are experiencing for the very first time. For many youth of this generation, this is the very first time we have had to collectively work toward anything. This is the first time our generation’s lives may depend on the work done, or rather the work which remains undone. Seemingly apolitical Beyonce, throwing her hat in the ring of a political fight directly affecting Black lives is certainly a symbol of the times, and we ought not overlook it.

Although chastised for the lyrics to her single “Formation,” it is important to pay attention to what it is Beyonce aimed to do regardless of whether you believe that she could have done more, been louder or that she was too loud altogether. Beyonce gained the platform of the general public to celebrate a culture that cannot be killed or wiped away; even despite what seems to be a very strategic effort to do just that, by means of senseless acts of violence that has painted Black communities red with bloodshed.

When you look at art, from any time or any culture, you see what mattered to a person. You come to see what people understood to be either beautiful or problematic. When looking at political art, especially in the context of Black history, pay attention to three things: where it was placed, what was said and what was omitted. The platform being Super Bowl 50, what was said was a blatant celebration of life and culture, and what was omitted was that her celebration was not to come at the cost of the appreciation of other cultures. Black pride does not equate to white hate.

The performance was astute in its intentional symbolism, and in its timeliness during a time of crisis in Black and brown communities. It demonstrated an urgency to engage in the dialogue of cultural issues that, up until recently, have seemed entirely voluntary. For years both those living within these communities experiencing these acts of terror, and those outside of it have decided whether or not to get involved. Now it seems like not getting involved is a clear act of forfeiture and a submission to the powers that deem such terror legal. The art produced for the halftime show, and the history celebrated during the month of February, reminded me that in the year of 2016, there is still no perfect time to bring these issues up. These issues will seem awkward for as long as there is a demonstrated need to discuss them. Therefore, the time to make statements which protect lives and livelihoods is, without question, right now.

By: Zaniyyah AshBey ’16

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