The first time I was blown away by Beyoncé was in high school. She performed a medley of her solo songs on the MTV VMAs, descending from the ceiling upside down and singing with more power than most singers can muster rightside up. If ever there was a person born to sing and perform it was her. My friends and I tried to learn her “Crazy In Love” choreography (I still remember a few steps), but we couldn’t hit it like she could. It’s funny that all these years later Beyoncé still inspires imitation, however it’s in a way I hadn’t anticipated.
It was subtle in the beginning. The “Deja Vu” music video was set on a sprawling Southern plantation, where she performed an African dance – forgive me for not knowing the specific culture – in contrast to the history of murder and oppression intrinsic to the environment. Next, “Single Ladies” hit the scene, showcasing not only some serious Bob Fosse inspiration, but also three black women performing intricate choreography for the female gaze rather than male. I can’t think of anything like it before or since. Then “Grown Woman” popped up, which was a West African love-fest covered in resplendent ferocity. By the time the Lemonade album rolled around everyone should have known Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter is not interested in being remembered for vocal runs or her body. Rather, we’re witnessing an artist curating a record of her awakening to her inherent magic in an era that wishes to either drain it or erase it.
It all came to a head with her black-as-hell Super Bowl performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Of course there were detractors. Folks who didn’t get it, and others who absolutely couldn’t handle the level of deliberate blackness Beyoncé was serving. I would wager a bet that Mrs. Carter learned something I am still coming to terms with: blackness is only acceptable when it’s easily digestible; when it makes you feel good, not when it makes you face our horrid history and current treatment. I would bet again that she stopped giving a damn about the feelings of the willfully ignorant.
Seeing Beyoncé, a beautiful woman with a radiant voice and oodles of money, be assaulted for publicly claiming her blackness has revealed a brutal yet necessary truth to me: no matter what you have, look like or do, there will always be people who want to see you fail if you challenge their world. They will rage against your joyful existence. There will surely be those lurking in the shadows whom will spring forth with glee in the event you miss a step, especially if you happen to be a person of color.
In between watching snippets of Beychella – the name her performance has rightfully garnered after rendering all other acts mute – I watched footage of two black men being arrested and removed from a Starbucks for merely existing in the space. The two gentleman had been waiting for a friend in a place that is advertised as a place to do just that. Thankfully, they had white allies in the space who spoke up, recorded the incident, and are now protesting, yet reading about the event juxtaposed against Bey’s performance was entirely too real. For years I tried to shrink myself, to appear less threatening in predominantly white spaces. I learned the skill – code switching – very early on. You keep your head down, make them laugh, maybe learn a country song all in an attempt to stay safe. But no amount of hiding will change the fact that black bodies, black folks, still aren’t seen as human. The two men hadn’t been trying to hide their blackness, they hadn’t done anything at all, but they still weren’t left alone to live in peace. It’s clear that we can’t escape from the realities of our existence. I have found that the markers of my identity( black, woman, descendant of slaves and immigrants) carry the kind of weight that doesn’t hold you down but strengthens your step. So, why hide it? Why relegate the power of your identity to the dark? No one is going to appreciate your facade more than your bold truth.
After the Beychella performance, I was overcome by the voices of people on Twitter talking about living their truth, giving themselves 110% , and being proud of what sets them apart from the crowd. That’s special. Not many people inspire those emotions, but here we are. I’m thankful for Beyoncé, because she makes me groove, feel, and dream about what my life can be if I’m true to myself in every way. The world isn’t kind to black folks, so we have to be good to ourselves. We also need allies lifting us up and protecting us, encouraging our risks and sheltering our rights.
Today I want to encourage you to live as you are in your heart. Don’t think about what other people are going to do or say, because you can’t make everyone happy. Some hate to see others make it, so be petty and make it. Make your life what you want it to be. Shout your truth. You never know who you might inspire.