Beyonce has been accused of racism and anti-police sentiments during her powerful performance at the Super Bowl. Both the singer and her back-up dancers, who performed new single “Formation,” wore black costumes in tribute to the Black Panther Party, a radical black party from the 1960s. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani described the spectacle as “outrageous”. Experts weigh in on the latest news, which has added further fuel to the U.S.’s ongoing racial debate.
Joe Feagin, sociologist on race and ethnic relations at Texas A&M University:
Do you see racism in Beyonce’s actions during the Super Bowl’s half-time performance?
– The only kind of racism in the U.S., to speak correctly, is white racism – that is, white racial oppression of black Americans and other Americans of color, in all major U.S. institutions, for the last 400 years. This country was built for its first 300 years on whites killing off Native Americans to steal their land, and then enslaving African Americans to create white wealth on those stolen lands.
What Beyonce and movements like Black Lives Matter are doing is pushing back and resisting white-imposed racial oppression, white racism, targeting black Americans and other Americans of color. The reason whites mostly do not see it that way is because they operated out of a mythological white racial framing of society and thus want to protect their own unjust enrichments garnered over centuries of white racial discrimination and other oppression. This country's white population lives by the white mythology of "rugged white individualism" (that is, "we made it by hard work") and most whites will not face the truth of collective racial oppression they and their ancestors have engaged in.
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani blasted Beyonce for using her “outrageous” half-time performance at the Super Bowl to attack police officers. Was it an offensive attack?
– He is a far-right elite white male commentator, who is defending the racist system, including the police brutality and malpractice system against Americans of color in many cities, including New York where he once was an oppressive mayor. Beyonce was courageous to moderately critique that racial oppression, including police killings of black people for no good reason.
Do such statements from celebrities have any weight?
– It does help somewhat to create a necessary discussion about current white racism, but it usually doesn’t last long.
Does Beyonce’s performance portray the depth of racial conflict in the U.S.?
– It only begins to probe the depths of racial oppression in the country — racial oppression is very deep and started with killing off millions of Native Americans to create landed wealth for white farmers and plantation owners, with the latter using enslaved Africans to create wealth on stolen lands. They passed on their unjust enrichments to their descendants, to the present day.
What else has to be done to tackle racism?
– It cannot even be reduced significantly, and institutionally, until whites recognize their role in racial oppression over 400 years. They need to begin to actually live by their own rhetoric about "liberty and justice for all.” That will likely require another major large-scale civil rights movement like in the 1960s, to get whites to give up their myths about how this country was built, and operates.
The Oscars have been under pressure for their discriminatory leanings toward award nominees. The film industry is being called to rectify the injustice that black and other minority groups have had to endure in Hollywood. Has the Academy Awards historically stifled the artistic achievements of minorities?
– Most certainly. The elite white men who run most industries in this country, including the movie and other media businesses, have been very reluctant to give up any of their significant control over all aspects of making major movies. They feel they must control the critical thinking in this country, too, or else there will be more protest against institutional racism, classism and sexism.
Some actors are calling to boycott the upcoming awards. Could it have any impact?
– It might generate some modest, or token, positive responses from the white male elite, but they will be, at best, limited if past history is any guide.
How can we deal with this problem?
– Only major organized protest movements, over a long period, have brought significant racial change over this white-racist country's history, sadly. This country has never been a true democracy, and is not remotely one as of now. Elite white men rule in most areas, but make up only 28 percent of the population. That is the basis of the problem, together with that dominant white racial framing of society.
Carol M. Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, U.S.:
How would you evaluate Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl?
– The only thing more obscene than Beyonce’s tasteless exploitation of racial tensions in America is the support she continues to get from Obama. Her interjection of racism is likely to further alienate black youth while doing absolutely nothing to advance racial understanding across and among different racial groups.
Has she presented the correct view on racial problems in the U.S.?
– Beyonce presented a one-sided, politically correct view of race in America. What is missing is a discussion of the devaluation of black lives in black communities and the willingness of blacks to kill each other and their unborn children.
Did it serve in attracting attention to the issue?
– It was a tasteless and inappropriate performance likely to fuel further estrangement between black youth and the police. As far as I can see, her performance serves no constructive purpose other than to get her increased media attention. Beyonce’s interjection is unlikely to change the political debate about police and the black community. She benefits enormously from the media focus that comes from the ensuing discussion about the appropriateness of her performance and the message it sends to America.
How can we eliminate racism?
– Racism must be addressed by our first admitting that anyone can be racist and that part of the problem affecting race relations in America comes from the high crime rate and the unwillingness of black leaders to take any responsibility for what is happening in their communities. The time for making it mostly or solely a white problem has passed. It is time for true black leadership to stand up and say enough is enough. We must take some responsibility for the decisions we make individually and collectively.
– By Dmitry Belyaev