*It’s funny when people believe race has been thrust upon them.
Throughout American history the likely way this happened was a person of color who lived without having their ethnicity be a major factor in their everyday life until one day it becomes an issue. “Wait. You mean I can’t do _________ because I’m black? That’s not right!”
Today it is almost the exact opposite. Beyoncé, a singer-actress who is one of the most popular entertainers in the country, has found herself in the middle of a controversy because essentially, she reminded everyone she is black by her performance at the Super Bowl. I say this even while acknowledging that people of all racial backgrounds (even entertainers) have spoken up about issues that disproportionally affect African-Americans but when Beyoncé opens her mouth it becomes a big deal and the only difference is her race/ethnicity.
The controversy exists because of the quality of social studies and history education in our country. The primary story of American history is one that argues how English settlers came here with the purest of intentions: to escape religious persecution. Who could argue with that? Then the country was established with the idea that “everybody” is equal and should pursue their goals. Who could argue with that? Then more and more people got included in “everybody” and who could argue with that? This narrative explains how the country is always getting better but the downside of the narrative is that it is hard to re-examine any growth we have made because that growth is old news. In simpler terms, no one wants to talk about the Civil Rights Movement except to say “Isn’t it great that we’ve moved beyond that time?!”
Beyoncé committed the cardinal sin of reminding the country that: 1. Things were incredibly racist in the past and 2. Racism still exists. Those reacting negatively to her performance want to ignore the first point and deny the second. If we did a better job of showing that American history wasn’t only a story of constant improvement but also ebbs and flows, less people would freak out when confronted with the idea that the country has never been and isn’t perfect now. The negative reactions to Beyoncé are from people who don’t want to admit that the country still has work to do. But this is where the controversy gets silly because no one thinks the country is perfect.
It is noteworthy that Beyoncé is being criticized for her performance because of her standing in society. She is a beloved celebrity who rarely speaks out about potentially controversial topics. However the Super Bowl performance is one in which she must have known people would react. So it should be asked why she would go forward and risk her reputation and potential earnings. The answer is that police perpetrating violence has become so much of an issue, particularly violence against people of color, that it has become too hard to ignore. The controversy should be how police are being trained because it is their training that is leading to the increase in violent encounters.
Beyoncé did not advocate overthrowing the government. Beyoncé did not say the police should be killed. She did not promote breaking the law or break the law herself (unlike other protesters who occupied government buildings). She simply spoke about an issue that was important to her. Isn’t that supposed to be the American way?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.