Identity Takes Center Stage

Although Coldplay was the official halftime entertainment at Super Bowl 50 last Sunday, Beyoncé’s guest performance captivated both a nationwide audience and the mainstream media for days following the event. Over 115.5 million Americans watched as Beyoncé strutted onto the field, accompanied by backup dancers sporting black berets, in a visible tribute to the Black Panther Party. Dressed in a black and gold leotard reminiscent of Michael Jackson, Beyoncé performed her new song “Formation,” which references the Black Lives Matter movement in its music video. After the show, the singer snapped a photo with her fist raised in the air, a gesture evocative of Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games. Since her performance on Sunday, Beyoncé has garnered considerable scrutiny in both public and political spheres.

Much of the controversy that has flooded the media focuses on Beyoncé’s tribute to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a black nationalist and socialist group often associated with militance. Beyoncé’s right as an artist to assert her identity on stage has been con-tested by the public, as many have criticized the singer for making a political statement during one of the most-viewed annual events in history. Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, called her performance “outrageous” and argued that Beyoncé failed to pro-vide “decent, wholesome entertainment” for “middle America.” Fox Business Network’s Stuart Varney also denounced Beyoncé’s performance, saying, “Is there anything in America which can exclude race? I mean, why is race brought into the halftime show at a Super Bowl game? Why?”

We feel, however, that the only “outrageous” aspect of Beyoncé’s performance is the negative reaction it has received from viewers who do not understand her message of perseverance and power. Their criticisms fail to acknowledge that Beyoncé’s racial identity is an indiscrete part of who she is. Beyoncé was invited to the Super Bowl to perform, and it should come as no surprise that her performance encompassed her full self, including her racial background. It is unacceptable to demand that Beyoncé, or any other performer, shed aspects of her identity when she steps onto a national stage, especially not for the sake of being “wholesome” enough for the public. The expectation that Beyoncé would do so invalidates her artistic and political individuality.

Criticism of Beyoncé’s performance reflects an insidious national culture of identity erasure and widespread reluctance to confront race in the United States. When public figures like Giuliani and Varney criticize Beyoncé for supporting the Black Panther Party, the Black Lives Matter movement and black power, they fundamentally invalidate black resilience, excellence, and pride. Their complaints that race has begun to infiltrate too many aspects of national culture not only trivialize Beyoncé’s experiences and identity as a black woman, but also discredit the experiences of millions of people across America.

The power of Beyonce’s performance lies in her use of the national stage to amplify the voices of people who struggle against systemic oppression. We urge everyone, whether on this campus or on national television, to embody the pride and unity that was modeled by Beyoncé’s Sunday night performance and empower others to do the same.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXIX.