People may have noticed that I have been uncharacteristically silent over the controversy in regards to Beyoncé’s Superbowl halftime show. The reason for this is that this issue is far more complicated than most of the current conversation is admitting, and it took some time to really figure out how to put this into words. As with all my writings, I ask that you read this to completion, as, with all complicated thoughts, you may misinterpret what is written if you only take in part of it.
While watching the conversation on this, I have seen arguments for all the positive things done by the Black Panthers, which Rob Explains in his video here, but also I was informed by one of my childhood mentors that, when he grew up, he had a family friend’s house bombed by the Panthers for political reasons. He was personally terrorized by them.
What Beyoncé stumbled upon is a symbol that has two sets of meanings. For blacks, it was a group of people who utilized open carry laws to protect their vulnerable members and set up a number of beneficial programs to help out the disenfranchised. When blacks talk about their sense of pride with the organization that is because that is the Black Panthers they have been raised to know. That is the legend that Beyoncé, who was only a year old when the Black Panthers dissolved, was raised to know.
On the other side is the Black Panthers that whites were raised to fear. Some, like my mentor, were direct witnesses to the terror. For others, the media did a good job playing up the terror, to the point where Conservative Republican guru Ronald Reagan actually passed gun control legislation written to disarm the Panthers.
One symbol, two meanings. One side seeing it as a source of cultural pride, the other as symbol that has terrorized them.
Fellow whites, we now know what it feels like for blacks to have the Confederate Flag waived in our faces and then be told we are being too sensitive.
I am neither writing this to mock whites or shame Beyoncé and her defenders. But rather, I am pointing this out because it is an opportunity to finally find a point of understanding of what the other goes through. If we can push past our fragility and knee jerk reactions, this show gives us a chance to make substantial headway in the racial conversation that is going on today.
I have in the past described how a symbol can take on such a dualistic meaning, acknowledged that many confederate flag waivers do consider it a symbol of pride and not hate, and even described my own struggles to react to a similar situation. And even though I have always opposed violence as part of organized civil actions, it would be hypocritical for me no to give the same considerations to Beyoncé in her invoking the symbol of the Black Panthers. And if we are going to come to a reasonable conclusion to the discussion on race, we need to be strong enough to acknowledge this point of mutual understanding.
So this is the opportunity that Beyoncé gave us. The next time someone posts a Confederate Flag on your feed and than chides anyone who might be offended by it, remember how you felt when Beyoncé perfomed. The next time someone argues that the Confederate Flag is nothing more than a symbol of Southern Pride, remember when you got dismissed by a similar defense of Beyoncé. Or if you find yourself on the flip side, remember how your words echos the other and how you have been dismissed.
Now we will always have those who don’t want us to have this conversation. Every group has its assholes, and there will be people who want keep attacking over this because they are legitimately racist. There are those who are legitimately about the hate, and I have noted before, they trick others into agreeing with them to hide in the masses. They breed such hypocrisies because it is a good camouflage. In many ways this revelation is the way we can weed out the bad from the good, because if we can find the strength and integrity to rise about our fragility and shame, we will elevate the conversation above those who seek to anchor it in the mire and the gutters.
Such elevations always start with a point of understanding, and we that is exactly what we have been given here.