Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On the Black Boy Arresting the Cops in Beyoncé's "Formation"

"They are soooo cute when they are babies! But when they grow up....."

This is something I grew up hearing, and would not be exaggerating to say I've heard it maybe 1,000 times. It was what is said when someone in my suburban Detroit neighborhood meets an African-American baby, of course, after the baby and the parents have walked away. This is whiteousness with the capital W. And, I believe this attitude: the way the speaker never had to finish their sentence; the way our white imaginations were supposed to fill in the blank with something monstrous; it's this whiteous attitude that has done more damage and killed more young black and brown men than any cop baton or bullet ever will.

Far be it for me to speak on Beyoncé's new video "Formation" with any sense of authority, and for that I highly suggest you pay attention to Austin Channing or Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil, but I do have a perspective.  Not only did the video cause a positive visceral response within me, but I am also feeling my heart-rate rise at the reactions bombing the net-o-sphere at the moment.

Focusing in on moment 3:46 in the video, we see a young black boy in a hood dancing passionately in front of cops in riot gear.  Not only that, they are in an abandoned alley.  The boy is skilled and fearless.  He appears to be about 6 or 7, the same age as my daughter.  So whiteousness might still classify him as cute.  But he's not that much younger than, say, Tamir Rice or Emmett Till, who were the same age as all the young men I had the honor of teaching in New Orleans East (which I'm certain is portrayed at the 3:19 mark of the video.)  He's not that much younger than Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, who died in 1963 as an act of white supremacist terrorism.  At what age do "We" decide that a young black person moves from "cute" and "adorable" to being the monster we all must fear?  And why?

But the moment that arrests my heart, that I gasp every time, is at 4:22 when the young black dancing boy arrests the cops.  By arrest, I mean stop.  They stop, and they put their hands up, yielding to the sheer humanity and beauty of this young person.  What if we stopped?  Because, while we can blame the police for over-reacting, I maintain that the police are only a function of the dominant white culture's dominant whiteous attitude.  We call the cops on Trayvon Martin.  We call the cops on Emmett Till.  What if we stopped, listened, and paid attention to what that dance is trying to tell us?

This is a young man with talent and promise and family and joys and struggles and fire and rain and wind and stillness.  This is a young man who is tired of being seen as an enemy.  This is a young man who is loved by God.  This is a young man who was fearfully and wonderfully created.  And the cops in Beyonce's video honor that.  This is not anti-cop.  In fact, it shows great hope to me.  If the cops could show us how we are wrong, well then, we might actually see change.  And Beyonce going underwater with the cop car shows us how we are all in this together.  We sink, all of us, black and white, if we don't get this right.

My anglo brothers and sisters, can you honor that?  Can you see the mistakes we are still making?  Can you recognize that Black History Month is a cover-up for the reality that Black History Month to an African-American looks, smells, tastes, feels, and sounds a whole lot like Black Present Month, Black Present Day, Black Present Reality?

Can we stop and admire the beautiful brightly dark skin of our young black and brown boys and girls, the unique cultures of our Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native peoples?  And can we continue to do that even when they become teenagers?  Can we?  Can we?  Will we?

I dedicate this blog to all the 14, 15, 16, and 17 year old men who wrote poetry with me at Boysville Correctional Facility in Clinton, Michigan before it closed.

And this goes out to all the young black, brown, and Vietnamese men, now in their mid 20s, who taught me about the beauty of being young and non-white back in my teaching days at Fannie C. Williams when it was a middle school before Katrina.  We've lost some already, and some have already been snagged in the cradle to school to prison pipeline, but I pray to God while I write this blog, that we might not lose another single one before he hits old age.  Thankful that neither the floods nor a recent storage unit fire destroyed these thank you and get-well cards.  I will close with their kindness, humor, beauty, strength, and humanity.

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  1. great post. Found you from earlier at the 2nd Baptist church with Jim Wallis. Appreciate your sharing.

  2. Facebook comment from Marvin Wadlow Jr:

    So, I've produced over 600 music videos with some of the biggest artists between 1988 to 2001, roughly 13 years.

    Most videos start with a treatment, are commissioned by the record label, then filmed and edited. They are the epitome of subliminal messages, symbolism accented with lyrical performances! And that message must be driven home in 4:00 or less!

    I was perplexed, yet somewhat understanding, of a few things in regard to Beyonce's video and the reaction it got. 1. Some police officers were upset. 2. Beyoncé is a marketing genius as an artists who "sells" music for a living! 3. There was this talk about Black Panthers and the Super Bowl that tied in with the release of the video (genius) . 4. That she's inciting people to kill police. I've gone on record, not that #4 isn't serious, but this is the craziest black history month I've ever witnessed, and I'm 58.

    I also grew up where The Black Panther Party Started, The Bay Area( SF, Oakland, San Jose). In a way, I hold to honorary Phd's. One from the 60's, and definitely one for music videos.

    Beyoncé's video is symbolic for two things, Katrina and Young Black boys and men being tragically killed, period. She is actually symbolically asking that a "cute little boy" not be shot, to stop, and listen to him. That would actually be more related to A Table Setting, him not being shot, and a conversation with Police.

    The fact that she wore black leotards, her standard dress,(see every video she's done) in a military fashion that was geared towards a group that's true history looks different for whites then blacks; during Black History month is not her disrespect to police. It coincides with the marketing of a song called Formation (see military and Step Shows in black Greek life) during black history month on the biggest stage in the world.

    FYI: Short history as I was in the Bay Area during the time of the Black Panthers( see PBS doc) I know a lot of the history from a unique perspective. The Black Panthers started out to get speed bumps, or traffic lights in black neighborhoods so black kids wouldn't get hit by cars speeding through predominantly black neighborhoods. That takes a petition presented to the city council of Oakland to even be voted on as a local initiative. And they started a free lunch program very similar to the ones we have in most LAUSD schools now. They also read the laws in Oakland, as young black men were being shot by police (see Fruitvale Station). mostly for a lack of understanding and fear of that "cute little baby" who's now grown up! The law says that you can carry a fire arm as long as it's visible. Welcome to more confusion!

    Beyoncé took full advantage of the stage to try something new and take a stance during Black History month. An artists of her caliber doesn't do things without taking a stance on something(see David Bowie Let's Dance). Nor is she not prepared for back lash. But linking her to cops being killed is indicative of The Against Beyoncé Rally that took place; literally no one showed up!

    So now we're back to "little cute babies" who grow up and become_________?

    Time to set at a table y'all, I'm just as confused as you are, it's just my narrative is not the power narrative. Let's leave some things on the table like food. Let's take some things off the table, like Beyoncé and the Super Bowl.

    Let's get to the real issue; we have no clue from 1863 to 2015, this is the bi-product of our confusion. My child has a 75% percent chance of the misinterpretation of that confusion with the result of being harmed in a physical way, or dead! -Marvin Wadlow Jr.

  3. From Marvin:
    No problem "little white boy". Lol. See a table awaits you already. Haha