By: Katrina Forrest*
Just a few days into Black History Month, Beyonce released her new song and video, “Formation,” which managed to instill in me, and many others who look like me, a great sense of pride, empowerment and sheer joy.
Watching the video, I was moved to tears. The imagery is powerful, depicting a young Black boy wearing a hoodie, dancing with reckless abandon in front of a line of uniformed police officers; graffiti which reads “stop killing us”; and a police cruiser submerging in post-Katrina waters.
It was incredible, and not simply because one of the greatest contemporary entertainers, who has generally not upset the status quo, took an overt political stance—but also because those images weren’t from 1962. The images, the song, and the cultural context in which they arrived all flout the sentiment that “slavery happened centuries ago” or “the civil rights movement was 50 years ago.”
Those who fervently believe that the vestiges of slavery should be ignored because so much time has past are the same individuals who, year after year, heap criticism on Black History Month. From Blacks and people of other races, the argument most commonly employed to oppose Black History Month, is that is unfair to devote an entire month to a single group of people. The usual complaint goes something like, “Well, why don’t we have a White History Month”? This argument only makes sense if you have no understanding of the historical—and enduring—systemic persecution and discrimination that has faced people of African descent in the United States.
From slavery, to Jim Crow, to Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD, American imagery and society at large, has notoriously depicted blackness as uneducated, combative, aggressive, dangerous, promiscuous, and unworthy of basic human rights. As Black people, we have endured and continue to suffer from the impact of racism, which presents barriers to social and economic participation, resulting in entrenched disadvantage and social exclusion.
I was hopeful that with the election of President Barack Obama we would see meaningful change in the way Black Americans were perceived and discussed. Unfortunately, racism that had been characterized by a certain subtlety was re-enlivened, more bold and overt than I can ever remember in my short 30 years on this earth.
Since his election, we’ve seen innumerable racist attacks on the President, Paula Dean’s longing to return to a pre-Civil War era America, outrage over a Cheerios commercial depicting a multiracial family, and the alarming rate at which Black people continue to be murdered by the police.
All of this is exactly why Beyonce’s latest song and video are so powerful and important—they cast Black people as beautiful and resilient. Performing the song at Super Bowl 50, in the year of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party, Beyonce held the torch for Black activism and showed the masses that our Black is excellent. In that moment, she made it okay to not fit European beauty standards, she made it okay to be unapologetically bold, Black and extraordinary. How fitting all of this occurred in the month designated for the recognition of Black contributions to America.
In 2016, Black people are still fighting for personhood. We are still fighting for the recognition of our inherent value. This is the reality that must be grappled with when someone asks, “Well, why don’t we have a White History Month”? Until we no longer need to rely on Beyonce and our other celebrities to use their platforms to validate us, to embrace our beauty and show us we are worthy; until Black history becomes a subject thoroughly incorporated into the core curricula of schools across the country; until Black people, who account for merely 13 percent of the U.S. population, no longer represent three times that in the prison population; until White families no longer hold 7 times the wealth of Black families; until the Oscars finally recognize the contributions of Black actors, actresses, producers and directors; until our dead bodies are no longer being left in the street to rot for hours; there remains an incredible case for Black History Month.
*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.