by Em Gates
On February 8th, a US police officer shot and killed a 17 year old boy in Texas. David Joseph, an unarmed black teenager, was said to be acting aggressively, but officers despatched to the scene were told that no weapons were involved in something the police have chosen to call a ‘disturbance’. Now, I understand the US gun rules are stupid in themselves, and that in order to protect themselves from people with firearms, it is necessary for the police to carry them also. But in what world is it even an option to shoot an unarmed child who, despite acting aggressively, had no potential for endangering any life around him? This is one of the three deaths caused by the police to occur on Monday 8th February, and the 104th in 2016. To point out the painfully obvious, this is too many.
Slowly but surely, these deaths are being brought to the mainstream. The Guardian updates a page daily where you can see every case of death by police intervention. Public generated content such as Twitter hashtags like #blacklivesmatter are becoming trending worldwide topics, and after last Sunday’s Superbowl it’s unlikely that anyone has gone through this week without hearing about the civil rights movement. That without doubt brings me on to pop superstar Beyoncé, and her new song ‘Formation’. I will admit I am a huge Bey fan, so this may be slightly biased, but then I am also an unashamed leftie, so I think I would feel the same concerning this issue regardless of who had broadcasted this message.
For the Superbowl half time show, the R&B singer lead a troupe of beret clad black women dance in synchronisation, to make a large ‘X’ on the pitch and throw their fists in the air, which of course echoes the Black Panther and Malcolm X movement in the 1960s. The dancers then proceeded to promote the #blacklivesmatter campaign by posting videos demanding ‘justice for Mario Woods’, another incident of the death of a young black man who had been shot by seven police officers late last year. This performance has certainly divided opinion throughout the world, with one side of people glad to finally see oppression and civil issues brought to the mainstream by possibly the world’s most famous black woman, while the other half consider Beyoncé to be naïve, inexperienced and inconsiderate to police safety. I, of course, am in the former category, thinking that the singer may bring civil and racial issues into mainstream debate in the same way that feminism has been brought to the fore in the last few years.
It seems to not be such a separate issue from Beyoncé’s world, anyway! With the singer receiving a lot of criticism in the last few years for not altering her four year old daughter’s natural afro hair, and in her early fame for having the stereotypical nasal features akin to black people, Beyoncé integrated these ideas into the lyrics for the song which she performed at the sports match, not just to the US, but to the world. I imagine she sings it to empower Blue Ivy, who she wants to be just as successful as her mum, or even just to empower every single black, Latina, Asian, and white girl who thinks that any way they look will hold them back. Why shouldn’t politics be brought in to popular culture? If Meghan Trainor can sing about how she’s so looking forward to shaping the perfect husband, Beyoncé can sing about issues which might actually help and educate society rather than complicate it (Yeah, I’m look at you Meghan).
People are saying that music isn’t the right forum for politics, which I think is a completely ridiculous statement. If the racial biases and police caused deaths aren’t getting sufficient media attention globally, and user generated content is only reaching so far, maybe it takes someone as influential as an international celebrity to stand up and bring it the front of peoples lives. If nothing else, Beyoncé’s performance at the Superbowl has got people talking, and that might just be enough to change the fate of many black people in the US. Maybe, Blue Ivy won’t be pressured into having a nose job, or straightening her hair every day, or have her skin lightened in beauty adverts to make her seem paler. Maybe, when a black person points their phone at an officer they won’t assume it is a gun and open fire. Maybe, just maybe, talking about these issues might bring about change.