Beyoncé and The Black Panthers: More American Than The Super Bowl

Now that I have offended every Buffalo Wild Wings in Alabama, let’s take a moment to critically examine the most ambiguous concept in our culture; what it means to be American. Was Beyoncé’s performance at the Super Bowl really an affront to American values, or does her message strike the core of what the founding fathers fought for?

For those who are not aware, Beyoncé used her platform at the half time show to pay tribute to Black Lives Matter, the Black Panthers, Malcom X and a history of Black resistance to police brutality. The conservative white demographic erupted with outrage over this reference. Talking heads and the back woods rednecks with a Facebook account were comparing Beyoncé’s performance to a tribute to the KKK. While the majority this country understood that Beyoncé wasn’t a terrorist, there was still quiet disapproval of her performance.

“I mean, I get that black lives matter, but does she really need to shove it in my face?”

“I love Beyoncé, but she really overstepped her bounds on this one. If she wants to get her message across, she shouldn’t sound so angry and violent.”

This sentiment fails to understand the true patriotism behind her message. Her demonstration of strength in the face of brutal oppression is quintessentially American. The failure to recognize this distinction represents a double standard.

We love to criticize the angry protests in Ferguson and riots in Baltimore, but we forget that our country found her independence on the backs of similar protests. Before you tell me that these were, “peaceful assemblies” check your history books. Looting, vandalism and parading naked men covered in boiling tar and feathers is not what you consider peaceful. In labeling groups like the Black Panthers as violent criminals, we easily forget that armed militias were formed to resist policed occupation from the British.

The similarities are uncanny.

The Black Panthers even had the equivalent of a Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Only, their history of oppression puts the Declaration’s list of grievances to shame. Despite this disparity, the Black Panther’s use of violent resistance pales in comparison to the United States of America.

Let’s take a moment to revisit the romanticized history of the American Revolution.

Most historians agree that the underlying reason for outrage in America was the lack of political representation in parliament. Americans were not upset because they simply had to pay taxes, they were upset that they had no political say in the taxes that were being imposed on them. As the unpopularity of this legislation grew, Parliament sent more soldiers to police the angry mobs and enforce the new taxes.

(It is funny how an increase in police presence is never successful in subduing political unrest.)

The heavier police force only proved to incite more outrage. Britain continued to disregard the rights of Americans as it increased military presence, and enacted more laws without their consent. This tension reached a boiling point on March 5, 1770. A small mob of protesters began to verbally harass British soldiers. As tension grew, the mob began throwing objects at this police force. This prompted the soldiers to fire into the crowd, killing 5 men and injuring 6 others. Within days the whole country was talking about what would be called, “The Boston Massacre.” This was the spark that inflamed the wild fire. People were motivated to action. They would not stand to see their men shot down by an occupying police force. For many, a violent revolution became a justified and necessary cause.

So let’s recap.

We have a group of Americans that believed that their voice was not being represented in government. They saw the police force of this government as a brutal abuse of power, and they witnessed this police force shoot unarmed men down in the street.

I think that you can see where I am taking this.

Are we not witnessing the very same injustice unfold in black communities? One of the very first demands of the Black Panthers was to stop shooting unarmed Black men. We are seeing the very same demand from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many argue that the shootings of Michael Brown, Rodney King and Trevon Martin are anecdotal pieces of evidence. They argue that these few bad cops don’t represent the state of the criminal justice system. The Boston Massacre was one piece of anecdotal evidence that fueled support of a violent revolution. This one event changed the hearts of men and women all across the country. How many dead unarmed black Americans will it take for you to make a stand?

Not only are there shootings of unarmed Black men and women, but the Criminal Justice system is organized to dis-proportionally suppress the political voice and economic opportunity in lower income black communities. Black Americans are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. Actual crime rates do not indicate that this disparity should exist. The leading reason for incarceration among black men is drug related. What is deeply unsettling is that while drug use and distribution is more likely among white people, black Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. This disparity has a profound effect on black communities. A criminal record restricts economic opportunity and forbids voting. This effectively results in a disenfranchised population.

These grievances are deep, and as a country we cannot ignore them. I think that it is important that we understand that Beyoncé, like the Black Panthers, is not advocating a violent revolution. The Black Panthers scared the U.S government because they were not afraid to use self-defense against police brutality. Sometimes this self-defense was even fatal. Unfortunately, the U.S government decided to label this self-defense as “guerrilla warfare.” The very government that used organized militias to win its independence from tyranny, gave the label of “terrorists” to an organization seeking to protect their neighborhoods from police brutality.

The irony is painfully grave.

The point of this post is not to defend or criticize the use of force in this effort of freedom and equality. I believe that this is an important discussion; however, it is a discussion I’m not meant for. As an outsider to this movement, it is not my place to criticize or defend its strategy. The point of this post is to highlight the hypocrisy of so many others choosing to criticize these movements. Regardless of your philosophical stance on force and when it is necessary, you cannot deny the stark patriotism of these causes. The beauty of the Independence movement is that the ideals of human dignity, freedom and equality are not owned by its racist slave holding architects. Like the child of a tyrant, their purity remained unstained by the hands that penned them. These were ideals that this country would continue to vigorously fight for, well beyond the revolution. My American pride is not in our military might, nation’s wealth or a culture of Football and cheap beer. My unwavering pride lies in the vigorous struggle of making freedom and equality a reality for everyone. This was a virtue that Beyoncé unashamedly stood for in her Super Bowl performance.




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