Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Others Tell Their Story

I am not a fan of Beyonce. It's not her, it's that I just don't like R&B. In fact, I tuned in to the Superbowl at Halftime and said (out loud, to myself) "stop showing me those dancers, I want to see his fingers run up and down that piano!" (note: Coldplay is my favorite band, and I don't even know the name of their lead singer -- that's how much I care about famous people).

But yesterday I was cued in to what Beyonce is actually doing. Now, I am awestruck by the beauty of her art. I have watched her music video, Formation, more than a dozen times. Often, my children are hovered over my shoulders asking questions like "Does she drown? What happened to that city?" "What are those police officers doing in that line?" Why do they surrender to that little girl?"

I don't even know how to answer their questions. I start with simple corrections. "It's a boy." As the questions are repeated over and over I start to offer simple explanations of the metaphor, "The police put their hands up because they realize they aren't scared of that little boy."

Yesterday, I read nearly every bit of commentary I could find, trying to fully understand her metaphors and her message. That's the beauty of art, there is so much to learn it is nearly impossible to soak it all in after just one day, just one viewing. Of all the essays and interviews I read, White People: Shut Up About Beyonce is my favorite. I've read it at least a half dozen times.

The line of riot police surrendering to the power of a beautiful dancing child is not “anti-white” or “anti-police.” It is pro-hope, pro-life, pro-art, and pro-Black. If you don’t like the metaphor of the line of white police officers here, I suggest you spend some time thinking about why BeyoncĂ© chose it.

The Formation video and the Superbowl show are examples of a powerful Black woman at the top of her game brilliantly telling Black stories for Black people, brilliantly seizing the narrative and asserting the beauty, power, and truth of a people who have been stringently and deliberately silenced for centuries in this country.

I want to help prove this author's point. Here are two assignments for you. First, if you think Beyonce's new song is anti-police, please, please tell me how. I have not heard one argument explaining how anything Beyonce does is anti-police, just a lot of chitter chatter that it is. Here's the thing, I wouldn't let my 8th grade students make a claim without any supporting evidence to back it, so why should I let you do it? I'm waiting, explain to me what it is about Beyonce's message that is threatening to police or white people? 

I'll wait. 

Now, think of one story about a Black person that you have heard told from the perspective of a Black person? Who taught you about Martin Luther King? Who introduced you to Oprah? Who taught you about Mae Jemison, Robert Smalls, or Harriet E Wilson (look 'em up)? Tell me one famous Black person whose story is told from their own perspective? 

Ah, you've caught me. Fredrick Douglas. That famous slave narrative your 10th grade English teacher made you study. Ever wondered about other slave autobiographies? Why is Douglass' always the one we choose to study, is it because his makes white people the least uncomfortable? (I've read others and my answer is yes).

Sure, Black stories have been told for centuries. We've been sensitive to their history and their heroes. But we've only ever done so on our own terms. Beyonce is telling her story on her terms, from her perspective, with her beautiful voice. It's a shame so many of us are choosing to be offended. She doesn't tell her story to make you comfortable. She doesn't tell her story to make you the hero. She's telling her story because she's an artist. This is her truth, and you don't get to dictate how other's tell their stories. And since their stories aren't about you, you have no reason to be offended by them.

1 comment:

Pa said...

Well said, my beautiful, compassionate, intelligent daughter.

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