Sunday, February 14, 2016

Why Beyonce Cannot Be Taken Seriously

The Beyonce halftime performance at Superbowl 50, and the subsequent aftermath were hard for me to watch without my blood boiling. My consternation was not driven by the angst of some White Americans necessarily, or the calls for an anti-Beyonce protest. Although those arguments have merit. I am one of the few black Americans who recognizes the hypocrisy of this whole mess.

Some say the Beyonce performance was an “attack” on police officers. Others say it was an effort to support the so-called “Black Lives Matter movement” and to highlight the deaths of black people, particularly black men, at the hands of authorities. Others say that it was a salute to the Black Panthers - highlighting the groups emergence in the Bay Area, 5 decades ago. It has also been described as a salute to Malcom X. Beyonce seemed to embrace the spirit of all of these ideas in post-performance interviews. That is what the song ‘Formation’ is supposedly all about. But this raises a ton of questions. I know it did one thing- it hijacked the performance of the other artists who participated that day. I found it ironic that Coldplay seemed to have a healthy, positive theme of ‘coming together’, while Beyonce seemed to bring more division, at a time when we have more than enough.

Should, or more importantly, can anyone take this woman seriously? Let me get this straight- Mrs. Thug Love is now supposed to be an activist, advocate & catalyst for social change? Mrs. Destiny’s Child is now concerned about the lives of black men & boys and believes that too many are dying in the streets? When I heard that this was the gimmick, I was beside myself. I wondered if I had entered the Twilight Zone.

Beyonce has spent nearly two decades influencing black culture, young black women in particular. She has shaped fashion, hair, makeup and culture for young women for years. Keep in mind Beyonce is literally treated like a deity in today’s black culture. I often (half jokingly) say that one of the main requirements for being a Black American is that you must love & admire Beyonce. As a consequence of her role and position she has also helped to shape the image of what the ideal mate should be for young women. It’s easier to count the number of young women of color who have not been influenced by Beyonce in some way.

If you are a Black American like I am and you don’t support “Queen B”, you are considered some sort of freak…uncool, corny, out of the loop, an oreo, etc. So her influence on today’s black culture, young black impressionable women in particular, is massive.

So what has been the image that Beyonce has promoted as the ideal mate for young women? None other than the badboy/thug. That message and theme is present all throughout her music, spanning 2 decades. Her many collaborations with gangster rappers and her marriage to a former drug dealer only reinforces this message. From the Destiny’s Child hit & signature tune “Soldier”- where she promotes the image of thugs loud & proud, suggesting, very clearly, that this is the only guy for her…. To songs like “Up In The Club” and “Thug Love” (among others), the theme is clear - she prefers thugs, and other women of color should follow suit. The message to women is…if he’s not a thug, tough guy, badass, tattooed, with “street credibility“…don’t date him. Of course, women of color in particular, predisposed to the bad boy have, by in large, heeded that call.

I cannot help but wonder how many young men have died trying to conform to this image. Black men without a doubt, already stigmatized, are under pressure, mostly from within their own communities and by black women in particular, to fit a certain badboy image, and in many cases they feel that they have to be the toughest mother_____ on the block. This has been made worse by young women lusting for men with this rough badboy image so that they can be just like their pop idols. There is no doubt that because of this pressure, many young black men had to change & conform to the thug image to fit in, even when their true personas represent something else. I have seen this in abundance over the years, both first hand, and through stories from other black men. I have personally never taken the bait and changed myself to satisfy any of these women, but it does have an impact on men of color in a more broad sense.

I recall a letter from a couple of years ago in the “Dear Abby” section of The Examiner. In that letter a young black man asks if he has to play a thug to peak the interests of black women. He was fed up by what he saw from women around him. They always went for the guy with the thuggish traits. Of course he already knew the answer to his question…. He expressed the fact that changing to fit the thug image was the only way that he was successful with black women, even though his real persona was that of an educated, nice, upstanding, funny, gentleman. I hear these stories constantly and I know this issue is real… my first hand experience has been undeniable.

So how many black men have been indirectly killed or have found themselves in prison because they are trying to live up to this thug image that Beyonce has helped to push (an image that is now supported & validated by large numbers of black women)? This number cannot be quantified, but I am confident in saying that her influence has led to more black men being harmed (pushing more black men to death or prison) than the number of unjustified killings of black men at the hands of authorities. Those of us who actually understand statistics are aware that the number of unjustified police shootings is extremely low, particularly when compared with the number of police interactions. Far more have been killed after being influenced by urban culture…cut down by black on black violence. These are young men who, if influenced differently, could have and in many cases would have, taken a different path.

Through my life experience and in my line of work, I have seen the devastating impact of the Beyonce’s of the so-called black community. The conveyor belt to prison is always full. Young black men are told that they have to be aggressive and be a bonafide tough guy in order to have a chance at dating or intimacy. In this era of feminism, where women make all the rules, men, by in large, have no choice but to conform under those circumstances. And this is what black men have been doing. If a man is constantly told, both directly and indirectly, that he has to have fancy material things…. that his manhood is tied to what he drives, he will conform. In the absence of adequate entry-level employment, even for someone with a degree, young black men (many with arrest records and convictions that preclude employment) are forced to create their own jobs to meet this Beyonce standard. They have the brains to stay in school…. but the subculture that they live in tells them that they have no time to wait.

If artists like Beyonce and Rihanna and the like proclaimed love and affection for men who stay in school, get good grades, who pursue college& graduate, and who don’t engage in criminality, there would be a seismic shift (over time) in the black community. Would it eliminate crime or improve conditions overnight? Unfortunately no. But if popular and influential artists proclaimed education to be cool….and something that is the ideal attribute for a man…. It could help to stop the downward spiral. It would certainly reduce the number of black men (by the thousands) in the jail, prison, and funeral home pipeline.

Beyonce being tied to Black Lives Matter in any way just further highlights the hypocrisy and misguided vision (or lack of vision) from within this so-called “movement”. Dr.’s Glenn Loury and John McWhorter pointed out very nicely the errors of this movement in a discussion from last year. Dr. McWhorter in particular is on point as he so often is, in highlighting the Black Lives Matter paradox. He echoes many of my viewpoints on this group. Hear the full discussion. Not a discussion to miss.

Not only is Beyonce a walking contradiction in the sense that black men are killing each other in droves often in the pursuit of meeting the standard of materialism and thuggery that she has pushed throughout her career, but she also besmirched the memory of Hurricane Katrina and all those who suffered in New Orleans, as pointed out by New Orleanian Shantrelle Lewis, in her excellent piece in Slate. (Please stop by Slate for this must read). Beyonce didn’t seem to leave anyone out in terms of offending. I thought it was ironic that part of the effort was aimed at slamming police, yet a large contingent of officers escorted her to and from the venue on Superbowl Sunday.

So Beyonce is a hypocrit. The real civil rights activists…the folks doing the real work on the ground everyday, especially those from the 1950’s and 60’s, should be outraged that Beyonce is using the imagery of their struggle to sell an album. Selling an album is all that this was really about to her. She doesn’t care about saving the livers of black men (or women for that matter). Beyonce is concerned with Beyonce…and selling units. If she cared, she would do more benefit concerts for the victims of violence in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Memphis, or my hometown of St. Louis- the nations murder capital by percentage. St. Louis has either had that top spot or has been among the top for the better part of a decade and a half. When 9 year old Tyshawn Lee was assassinated in a Chicago alley by gang members as some kind of revenge, where was Beyonce, her hive and her money? Where was Jay Z? When 1 year old Dillan Harris….a 1 year old baby boy…was killed in Chicago by thugs running from a murder scene… where was Beyonce? Nowhere to be found. She is concerned about black lives? There are countless Tyshawn Lee’s and Dillan Harris’ across the country, particularly in our inner cities. But I don’t see Beyonce stepping in the clean up the mess of the culture of thuggery and violence that she has helped to perpetuate.

If Beyonce wanted to show concern for black lives, particularly the lives of black men who have been impacted most viciously by the cycle of violence and hopelessnes….if she really cared, she would set up job training centers in these troubled inner cities. She would take her money and her hive and volunteer her time feeding and clothing those in need in these communities. If Beyonce really cared about the plight of black lives, she would change her theme…and stop perpetuating the garbage….the mental trap…that keeps so many black men stuck in a brutal cycle of violence. If the black nerd was deemed sexier than the badass…the troublemakers…who harm the community, we would soon have more young men like those in Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy…and fewer falling into hopelessness and prison. Beyonce should try flipping that message around to try to make a difference. If Beyonce really cared, she would change her outlook and values on what a good man is supposed to be (from the presentation on the outside, to his spirit on the inside). She wouldn’t poison the minds of young black folks, especially young women who listen to her music, adopt her style, and emulate her every move.

The Beyonce craze is the perfect example of how black folks will too often follow anything with a cool look and a catchy hook. Be aware of who you are supporting.

A social justice lion who will change the black community for the better? Absolutely not. There is no evidence of that…. not even on the horizon. A slick business woman who is using Black History Month and Black Lives Matter to sell a tremendous number of albums? Absolutely yes.