Why I love hot water cornbread, sweet ice tea, and Beyoncé
Headline: Beyoncé is the new James Brown, wrapped in Nina Simone! Well, that’s what I thought when I sat on the couch next to my 15-year-old daughter watching Beyoncé’s powerful surprise video release, Formation. She invoked the beauty and power of “say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” just when we needed to hear it! Her words felt like a warm salve, gently place on an open wound saying “I’m black, I’m a woman, and we matter dammit” calling all black women to action- Formation if you will!
Formation’s timing coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party founded in 1966 in Oakland, California. Formation is significant however for more than its homage to our black radical past. Beyoncé’s lyrics embrace a radical love ethic that celebrates an unapologetic love for all thangs black! In some ways, this love ethic has been a missing element in some of the current movements for Black lives in America. This radical love ethic means loving the jet blue black, gay, trans, queer, straight, thug in heels. We are all black, and that’s all that matters.
Beyoncé’s unapologetic love for blackness is also reminiscent of a long line of black popular artists that have used their fame to tell the truth straight to America’s face. Nina Simone did it in 1964 in Carnegie Hall with Mississippi Goddam, in support of the Civil Rights movement by calling attention to racism in America. In 1968, James Brown, recorded “Say it Loud, I’m black and I’m proud”, invoking the beauty and radical love of blackness in a time when black respectability politics were in vogue. For those of us watching Beyoncé’s rise from Destiny’s Child to Michael Jackson deity status, her reclamation of blackness is particularly significant to us given Michael Jackson’s racial tragedy and the Jackson family’s battle with their wide nose negroness. Thanks Bey for loving our Jackson 5 nostrils!
Movements are much more than fist waving, marches, and hot angry protests. Movement building is about courageously loving a people who are despised. There is no movement, no collective action, no social change without a deep, meaningful, saturating love for “da people”. Love, not politics drive social change! Love is perhaps the most radical form of political change because it requires a shift in how we see ourselves, relate to one another and awakens in us a miraculous power. It was love for black people that guided the Black Panther Party’s free meals programs, and it was love for black people that forced the University of Missouri football team to put their scholarships on the line and refuse to play until the president reigned!
I love hot water cornbread, sweet ice tea and Beyoncé because they remind me of the goodness of being blackety-black-black! You know that bold black loving, natural hair rockn, thick sistah booty shakin, grease jar by the stove, mamma dirty South cookin type love for all things black. Loving all black people, and lifting up our dignity, and humanity is more than “dropping” a surprise single. Rather Beyoncé is following the lead of other great artists like Marvin Gaye who simply listened to our cries, and loved us enough to say “mercy, mercy me”. Perhaps Beyoncé’s move into the political waters will encourage others to jump in and tell their story about being bathed in the light of black love.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of African American Studies at San Francisco State University and the author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education: How Activists are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart