Beyonce’s controversial Super Bowl performance marks a significant shift in the building cultural conversations about race. Photo courtesy of Arnie Papp.
It wasn’t until my first year of college that I started realizing the importance of Black History Month. Sure, it made for a funny tongue-in-cheek Saturday Night Live short, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of African-Americans and look back on how far we’ve come as a race and plan for the future.
In elementary school, the entire month was centered around the Civil Rights Movement. Growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, the heart of the movement, made everything all the more real.
As a child, I felt a certain amount of pride knowing that I’d grown up in a place rich with history. In middle school, we started learning about the Harlem Renaissance and the contributions African-Americans made to the arts.
In February of 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot. I was a sophomore in high school at the time and had a hard time coming to terms with it. A kid innocently goes out to buy Skittles and an Arizona drink and ends up getting shot because he was considered a threat.
People protested, blacked out their profile pictures on social media and wore hoodies in remembrance. There was a huge media fanfare from start to finish. Nevertheless, after George Zimmerman was found not guilty, everything died down. The only thing that survived was a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.
Black Lives Matter has grown from a hashtag into a movement within itself. It was there when Mike
Brown was shot while his hands were up. It was a rallying cry when Eric Garner died on a New York
street from being held down by police officers. When you say that Black Lives Matter, it doesn’t mean that other lives don’t. It’s simply speaking out against the injustice facing African-Americans and the idea that their lives are not seen as valuable.
The founders of the movement have been quoted saying the following: “#BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important–it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole.”
Earlier this month, Beyonce released a music video for her new song, “Formation,” where she proceeded to astound people by proudly embracing and displaying her blackness.
From the camera panning across graffiti reading “stop shooting us,” highlighting multiple aspects of black culture, to having a child dancing in a black hoodie in front of SWAT officers with their hands up, the entire video screams Black Lives Matter proudly.
The next day, at the Super Bowl halftime performance, she and her dancers performed the song dressed like Black Panthers.
A week later, Kendrick Lamar used his Grammy performance of “The Blacker the Berry” to make a statement about the incarceration of black men. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), African-Americans are jailed almost six times as much as whites. It was a performance that America needed to watch.
Lamar walked on stage with chains attached to his handcuffs and a black eye painted on his face. “February 26, I lost my life too,” he rapped, referencing the day Martin was shot.
Two separate, but similar, occasions where the country has been forced to acknowledge injustice, to the discomfort of some. Both were needed and are steps in the right direction.
As the month draws to a close, I feel two things: a beautiful shift in music tackling not just the Black Lives Matter movement, but all social injustice issues, and a resurgence in pride for my race and the struggle that is not yet over.