Let me preface this riff by saying I am not a giant Beyoncé fan. I don’t dislike Beyoncé; I just don’t know a lot about her music, mainly because I grew up listening to whatever records I could pilfer from my baby-boomer parents or pick up for a quarter at thrift stores, and I haven’t done a great job of expanding my musical interests since then.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have to know every word of every song Beyoncé ever recorded to respect her work or appreciate her talent. And you don’t, either.
You don’t have to like her music. It’s OK if her style isn’t really your bag. But there’s a big difference between not enjoying a particular type of music and attacking an artist’s morals or integrity.
If you just aren’t into Bey’s style, you’re probably not going to call for a boycott of her music or claim she’s “divisive” or “antifeminist” or “immoral” or whatever other dogwhistle you’ve decided sounds better than saying, “Her performance at the Super Bowl scared the crap out of me because my personal comfort depends on maintaining a status quo built on white supremacy.”
Let’s unpack some of those dogwhistles I’ve been hearing all week.
Dogwhistle 1: “‘Formation’ is divisive.”
No, it really isn’t. If Bey released a song called “White People Suck and I Hope They All Die of Amoebic Dysentery,” that would be divisive. I listened to “Formation” and watched the video, and speaking as a former English teacher who has spent a LOT of time looking for hidden meaning in words and images, what I see is a woman celebrating some aspects of black culture that racists frequently attack (e.g., her daughter’s natural hair) while calling out the deadly consequences of institutional racism (e.g., the government’s lethally incompetent handling of Hurricane Katrina; the disproportionately high rate at which black suspects are shot by police). I don’t hear her saying, “Black people are better than white people.” I hear her saying, “I’m proud of my culture, and I’m tired of watching people who look like me die at the hands of racists.”
Why would anybody have a problem with that? And don’t give me some disingenuous line about how white people aren’t allowed to celebrate our culture, because you and I both know that’s crap. White people blow smoke up each other’s arses 24/7. We just get away with it because we’ve set ourselves up as the default mode, so we don’t have to specify that we’re praising white culture every time we do it.
Excuse 2: “Those skimpy costumes Bey and her dancers wore at the Super Bowl offended my Christian sensibilities.”
I will believe this if and ONLY if you can show me a single instance in which you have protested the Rockettes’ skimpy costumes, which have been a punchline for at least 75 years.
Dancers wear costumes that show off their legs. This is not new. If Bey offends you, but the Rockettes don’t, I have a hard time believing your moral outrage is as color-blind as you claim.
Excuse 3: “If Bey were a real feminist, she wouldn’t dress like that.”
And if you were a real feminist, you would respect other women’s agency instead of trying to police how they present themselves. Potato, potahto. If you need a litmus test, try this one: Ms. magazine devoted its cover to Beyoncé’s “fierce feminism” a few years ago. When was the last time you made the cover of Ms.?
Yeah, that’s what I thought.