Last week, Beyonce dropped her hard-hitting track “Formation” and its music video. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know just how significant that drop was. While she’s always been a embodiment of female empowerment, Queen B has very rarely gotten herself involved in racial politics. Now that she has, the conversation has shifted and managed to make its way to the masses, due to the diva’s influence. With this track, Beyonce reclaimes the Black narrative through explosive proclamations like her love for her “negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” The overall visual aspect of the video that includes her representation of various Black Southern identities, as well several references to Black Lives Matter, sets an example for all of her followers, especially fans of colour.
The truth of the matter is that while Beyonce herself is a woman of colour (WOC) who has no doubt experienced limitations because of her race, she is also a WOC in a position of influence. Rather than sitting comfortably in that position, she has chosen to use the tools and privileges that come with that influence to challenge the existing reality.
A few weeks ago, I found myself deep in discussion with a fellow WOC. The topic happened to be that of race and colonialism, but I will admit, the conversation didn’t go quite as I thought it would.
Indeed, I sometimes forget that not every Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour (BIPOC) holds the same beliefs when it comes to issues of race. So when she suggested different perspectives on the subject of the intersection of race and class, I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why she chose to remove herself from the issue just because she claimed to have “never” experienced racism. When I challenged her on that fact by pointing at microaggressions, a form of racism affecting BIPOC on a daily basis through misrepresentation in the media or ‘casual’ racist jokes, I was then left even more confused. She shot back with the claim that if that were true, then reverse racism must also be real, because white people also experience negative stereotypes.
It seemed as if my fellow WOC had mistaken prejudice for racism and, furthermore, rendered it class-based and only legitimate when seen. In her eyes, a privileged upbringing shielded her from any sort of discrimination. Although she did sympathize with the racial struggles of some, when it came to herself and her BIPOC peers, she blamed the radical left for imposing a political atmosphere and the standards of political correctness with their ‘aggressive’ methods of social justice.
After the original waves of shock and confusion, I eventually simmered down and reflected. I realized that I was in no position to judge, as I myself had once expressed the same problematic opinions. As I mentioned in “Growing up in a whitewashed world” (November 16, 2015, Culture, Page 13), I grew up with images in the media that were very much dominated by white culture, all of which caused huge issues in the future development of my identity. The media, however, is just one piece of a bigger picture operating under society’s instruction, which is still considerably made up of colonial structures and its legacies. While I can’t speak for her personal relationship with the media, I can safely conclude that she, just like many BIPOC, has indeed fallen victim to the institutional marginalization exercised by society.
So instead of getting defensive and attacking her views, I chose to level with my fellow WOC using Bey’s craft. I decided not to delegitimize her experience and not to try to make her see the insidious ways in which her identities even as a WOC in a position of privilege are targeted. Instead, I opted to acknowledge her position and explain how she, just like Beyonce, could use it in her daily life to lead the conversations which can start the structural changes needed to eliminate oppression. I tried to explain to her that “just because it’s not happening to you doesn’t mean it’s the same story for the next person.” She seemed to express empathy to this approach.
Thinking individualistically when talking about race is very problematic, especially when exercised by BIPOC, because it feeds the fire of oppression by indirectly supporting it through indifference. I needed to talk about this because sadly this scenario is one that happens all too often. It pains me when I encounter BIPOCs who either side with the oppressors or choose to remove themselves from the issue altogether, all because they don’t think it’s their battle (not including those who do not speak up due to fear). We are all products of society, but it’s important that we acknowledge this idea and work toward change collectively to eliminate systemic oppression and racial inequality.
Talk Black is a column that seeks to engage in anti-racist culture writing, addressing art, music, and events. Jedidah Nabwangu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.