Why #BlackLivesMatter to a White nerd like me, and why it should to you
This is an editorial that has been lingering in the back of my mind for awhile, but I was not sure how to put it out there, let alone how to make it meaningful. I’m a nice Jewish boy from New York City. As a New Yorker growing up during the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, we were taught about tolerance and acceptance in school, my classes mixed with many different races from as far back as day one in kindergarten, and this message was reinforced through media at a young age. While Bob Ross taught me the joy of painting, Levar Burton helped me learn the joy of reading and imagination. At a very young age, I had the ability to decipher the voices of cartoon characters, and while it took me some years to learn who they were, I could recognize the voices that were done by the same person on different shows, including one of my favorites, Cree Summer, who I knew was in “A Different World”. I could go on, but I don’t want this to start to sound like I am pandering or trying to show off an inflated sense of self-righteousness, because that is not why I am here. In a nutshell, I had an understanding at an early age that not everyone looked like me, but it never affected my perception of someone.
There have been plenty of times where I wanted to write about this topic, but after seeing the Superbowl 50 halftime show and the backlash from it after, I felt now was as good a time as any. In case you missed it (or ignore what has been trending on Twitter and Facebook like I usually do), Beyonce performed as part of the Superbowl halftime show, along with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Check it out if you want to see it:
It’s a pretty great show – star studded, entertaining, and just plain good. For the record, I actually don’t listen to any of these musicians. Not a fan of their music but have listened to their songs because other people I know do like them. I have no bias towards any of them based on being a fan, but this was a good performance that I could appreciate.
Beyonce was making the rounds because of her performance of “Formation”, which saw her back-up dancers dressed like Black Panthers (the political ones, not cosplayers from the upcoming “Captain America: Civil War” movie), featured them briefly making an X-pattern that has been attributed as a reference to Malcolm X, and her photo on the field afterwards that supported Black Lives Matter. Her superbowl show also coincided with the release of her newest music video of that same song, which you can view below:
The music video uses imagery of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, southern Black culture, and a little boy standing up against an entire SWAT team.
What really set me off to write this piece was not what Beyonce did, although that is very newsworthy and was a powerful performance. The impetus for this post was the reactions I read when looking at those Facebook and Twitter trends that I would normally ignore, especially when it came to the comments made by former New York City mayor, Rudy Guiliani. Guiliani called the show “outrageous”, disapproved of her using her platform in front of middle America as a place to show her politics (only a problem when it is the other side of the political spectrum), and noted the supposed hypocrisy of Beyonce having a police escort, only to speak negatively about them in her music.
Half of my feed turned into people agreeing with her, while half turned into people ready to boycott her, calling her a race-baiter and saying she stirred the pot, and all sorts of other nastier things that I don’t want to repeat. The worst part about it was that I went into those comments expecting to see that. How little faith I have in my fellow members of mankind made me realize that a new low had been reached on this day, and if I didn’t start doing something about it, things will only get worse.
First off, let me start with the elephant in the room and the significance of this elephant. What was Beyonce wearing during the show?
Embed from Getty Images
Beyonce was dressed like Michael Jackson when he performed at the halftime show in 1993 at Superbowl XXVII. Why did Beyonce channel MJ into her performance? Surely as a tribute to the King of Pop, but also because his performance in 93 was an important one for Black audiences, as well as the general idea of fighting for equality. Say what you want to about him, but this performance was huge for a number of reasons. Also important, Jackson sang “Black or White” and “Heal the World” as part of his medley. The idea of racism has changed much since the ’90’s, but the message at the core is still the same and just as important today.
Also of note, was the Martin Luther King Day controversy that happened at the end of the 80’s and into the early ’90’s, which added more power to Jackson performing during this event in Arizona (you can read more about that here). Jackson was not the first Black performer to do the halftime show, but was the first to perform solo with no other gimmicks or other musicians playing before, after, or with him. Even the New Kids on The Blcok in 1991 had back-up from Disney and Gloria Estefan had Olympic figure skaters performing with her the year after that.
What many writers seem to be missing is what the outfit meant. Looking at it, you can see a badge on his right arm, and something representative of a bandoleer of bullets wrapped around his chest. This militant outfit is slowly stripped away as the songs become more humanist, a subtle message against the issues of the day that got overlooked through the ages, but clearly still has relevance.
By wearing this outfit during a performance that transforms into songs about tolerance, the outfit loses its power and symbol, and is replaced by empowering the people that are usually victims of what it represents.
Now let’s talk about what Beyonce did and the outcry from it, namely that former Mayoral loudmouth. I won’t be touching on too much of what he said because it is mostly irrelevant (just like him), but moreso what his words led to which is the real problem. I respect everyone’s right to disagree with what I say as long as that opinion is well-thought and not based in fantasy or impaired vision. That lack of vision is the catalyst to this diatribe.
Giuliani (and others) believed that Beyonce was a hypocrite for having a police escort one second, then saying bad things about them in her song the next second. This is where we have the real black and white issue, and I do not mean a Black and White issue as much. For whatever reason, far too many people have a mob mentality that if you are not on my side, you are against my side. There is no grey, only my way or the highway.
Police have one of the toughest jobs on Earth. Consider how dangerous the job is here in the US, then imagine what it is like to be a police officer in a third-world nation? Pundits seem to get it twisted that just because you support #BLM, you also do not support the police. If people out there can support the men and women that serve in the military while not necessarily supporting what goes on overseas, you can support cops along with Black people, too. You can acknowledge that there are some bad eggs out there, and how those bad eggs got into a position where they have power is also a part of the problem. Imagine that you live in an urban area that has not had the same benefits of more gentrified areas, and you live in a culture where you see brutality against your own people more often than you want to. Being White, this is something I don’t have to think about. If you are Black, it’s something you face on a daily basis. According to a psychiatric study from Dr. Kerry Ressler, there is a higher rate of PTSD of people living in urban conditions than war veterans.
“One compounding problem is that there is an overall element of mistrust in rougher neighborhoods, studies show. People feel powerless to change their overall circumstances; therefore, PTSD — which carries symptoms of hyper-vigilance, social separation and avoidance — may amplify that mistrust.”
I can’t imagine what these people might feel like and I can not pretend to understand it entirely, but I can empathize with the situation and wonder what can be done to prevent this from happening anymore.
I don’t want to write these articles, but when something sets me off like this, it has to be done. It’s not done for the sake of getting things off my chest, but because it had to be done. If people don’t take a stand, we will all eventually become victims. There is more – much, much more – that can be written on this topic and I am sure one day I will add my voice to it, but for now, this is where I stand, and I want you to genuinely consider where you stand.
When Chris Martin said during his Superbowl performance, “Whoever you are, wherever you are, we’re in this together”, that was certainly the safest way to show support for what Beyonce was about to do. It was also the least offensive way to say it so as not to piss off his White fans who might not see eye-to-eye with BLM. This country has only begun to tackle better representation for women in media (that is a topic for another day), and I am waiting for a bigger outcry for more positive representation for Asians, considering how much Anime has changed the face of American cartoons. When I see comments or articles online that use misquoted info or unchecked sources, it makes me disappointed. When I see people that share these articles and thoughts based purely on a clickbait headline, it makes me sad and worried. When I see people write things like Beyonce is part of the “far-left black and other minority crime and criminal supporting political loyalty” or accusing the performance of being racist if they “reverse the race and let a white singer with all white backup dancers do something like this and listen to the screams by the MSM, the liberal left, and all the radical groups.” These quotes are from actual people on Facebook, and they fail to grasp what Beyonce did and what is happening in the world today.
Yes, we all want equality and many of us were taught not to judge people by the color of their skin but the content of their character. If you are one of those people, you are among the good folk who understand what it means to be a human. However, saying that as a way to downplay an issue or say it does not exist means you are missing the point. If you comment on things and complain about Black on Black violence, or how no one cares as much when it is white on white crime, you are missing the point. If you run around using the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag, you are missing the point. If you think Black people pointing out racist acts is the same as “promoting hatred between both sides”, a phrase I have read countless times on Facebook, you are missing the point.
If you ask people why “Black Power” is okay but not “White Power”, the point flew way over your head and left you behind in the dust.
Why has racism become an issue again? Because it never went away as an issue to begin with, it has just become more vocal in recent times through social media and because of that, much more difficult to ignore. Don’t blame Obama or use him as a scapegoat – there is plenty of other things that he had a hand in that you can attack him for but this is not one of them. The political depth of this issue is certainly worth another article for another day, but the real point of this is the grassroots approach that Beyonce’s video touched on, and that is bringing the issue back to people. Actual human people that you see face to face, not ones that you read about and make a judgment based upon a single clickbait headline.
The modern method of political activism has transformed thanks to social media, and this generation has non-stop access to news around the world with the flick of a few fingers on a smart phone. Acts of injustice are just as easy to find as LOLcats, and along with that comes overly biased POV’s that do not fact check what they report and focus more on opinion than trying to find the facts to a story. Through that, our racial divide (as well as socio-economic, gender, and spiritual divides) widens even more.
A Black performer bringing attention to an issue that exists, even if you don’t think it does, is what matters. It might be uncomfortable, and you may think that she is harping on something and not focusing on the solution, but it is the opposite of that. The solution is realizing that a problem does exist and making people aware of it, and once you acknowledge that there is a problem, you can help be a part of who fixes it. Every single person that breathes on this earth has importance and their lives matter, but right now, some other people need extra help and speaking as a White person, I want to give them my support so that the next generation that walks this planet will not have to ever think about it.
Not every cop is corrupt or will shoot an innocent person, and not every Black person is a “thug” or “animal”. Don’t classify an entire group of people based on one news story that might not even be entirely factual to begin with. Don’t react before you think. When it comes to the issue of racism, think about empathy to understand more of the situation and why it affects everyone. As a Jew, I can tell you I have had racism against me from people of all sorts of colors, and that is their problem. I don’t hold an entire race responsible for it. But one important lesson my people understand is taught through a poem written in the 1950’s:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
The poem was written by Pastor Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran who fought in World War I and actually supported Hitler until he made his thoughts on race clear (he has an interesting history worth reading that makes the poem even more impactful and personal).
Beyonce says in the song, “Get In Formation”, which sounds a lot like “get information”, as well as the physical act of standing together in formation to show support and solidarity. If we work together to understand that the status quo in America is changing and that we can make it a great place for everyone who has different beliefs to live, we can make America great again. If we don’t, who is next to bare the burden, and who will stand up for them if that person is you?