I have been harboring an idea for an article about Beyoncé ever since I saw her in concert last month. It was going to be something short and simple—the kind of post I would write just to keep my brain going during a boring summer and keep my content count up, the kind of post I wouldn’t bother to share on Facebook. I figured I would admit that I was not as impressed with Beyoncé’s performance as my friends were. But I'd always been only a marginal Beyoncé fan—dancing to “Drunk In Love” at my sister’s wedding but poking holes in her infamous 2014 VMA performance—so I appreciated the show for exactly what it was, had a great night, and still felt like I didn’t deserve Andrew’s extra ticket.
Like I said, I thought my Beyoncé blog post would be short. I had only one main idea to express. I’ve always hesitated to support the bow-down-to-Queen-Bey-no-matter-what-‘cause-she-can-do-no-wrong mentality, because, you know, she's only human, celebrities are people too, there were a lot of elements of her set that I would've changed, yada yada yada. But what struck me more than any compliments I could write about Beyoncé's vocals/dancing/hair/outfits were four words that I knew I had to write something about. I felt chills on my arms during "Freedom" and saw these words flashing inside my inside in big red letters: this is so important.
Suddenly I understood the Impeccable Queen Bey mentality and I understood why her fans are so unquestionably loyal. I understood why it is okay that she works with a team of cowriters so vast that it’s easy to question how much of her music is actually about her life at all. I understood that without her music there would be a major lack of representation in modern art, and she is filling a void that should never go empty. I understood how crucial it is that she is unapologetically angry on the first half of her album. I understood that she speaks on behalf of those who can’t for themselves. I understood that her reputation as a goddess and a queen is a symbol of young women of color in this country who are treated as the exact opposite. I understood that her voice, her branding, and her image as an artist work to create a representative who is overwhelmingly beautiful and talented and loved and powerful and it is essential that she is all of these things. This is so important. This matters.
Now, after the racist violence that was perpetrated this week, it seems fated that I didn’t write this article a month ago. I kept putting it off, and I blamed my procrastination on a hectic work schedule requiring far too many late nights at the local ice cream shop. But I no longer think this post was destined to be an easily digestible article about how breathtaking Beyoncé’s vocals were when she sang “Love On Top” a cappella. Now I know it needed to be about more than that.
Right before my night shift on Thursday, I read the Facebook status of Gricet, one of my friends from high school (who, I must add, I always consider the funniest person in the class of 2013 and possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met). Gricet’s status encouraged us all to speak up and it reminded me that I wasn’t doing enough. It made me realize that I felt so unsettled inside because I have to do something, or at least try to, in whatever way I have the opportunity to. Right before leaving my house, I read the post on Beyoncé’s website in response to the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Something clicked during my drive to work. When I stopped at the eternally red light at Route 58, I jotted down a note in my phone. I wrote, “beyonce and black lives matter.”
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My sister Melanie and I talked to our grandmother yesterday about what the "right thing" to do is when talking to people—loved ones, especially—who deny the experiences of those around them. Melanie is the most intelligent and articulate person I know in real life (not to mention the best writer). Her passion for morality is unfading and often manifests itself in (very, very) long political discussions with (very, very) conservative acquaintances on Facebook. She is always respectful. She is always informed. She is always kind. She is always standing up for someone else at the cost of her own comfort.
Our grandmother, Nanny, is as wise as any human being can be but was also raised in an entirely different world than my sisters and I were. Nanny told us that we will not be able to change the ones who disagree with us. Eternally selfless and eternally worried about the well-being of her granddaughters, Nanny wanted to give us a way out of the agita that has been harrowing our everyday lives as we try to prove to white friends and family members that structural racism exists. I can’t believe that is a real sentence I just had to write.
Instead of quelling me and Mel, Nanny’s advice made us more conflicted. Mel asked her gently, “Are we just supposed to say nothing? I know that can't be right.” I insisted more sternly, “But shouldn't we try to leave the world a better place than we found it?” Neither of us felt like we deserved to be exempt from the anxiety that speaking out brings when our peers are not exempt from the anxiety brought about by the possibility of being shot dead for having a broken taillight.
Which led me here: to this blog about music run by a middle-class, 21-year-old white girl from eastern Long Island. Where do I get off talking or writing about race issues? Who do I think I am? Am I just doing this for my own satisfaction—to check off the “welp, I did my part” box in my conscience? Is this just another form of slacktivism as worthless as all my liking and sharing and retweeting this week? Do I really think the black community needs my help? Am I really going to try to relate my becoming a Beyoncé fan to the Black Lives Matter movement? How can I convince people that a pop star’s album has anything to do with police brutality? Can I really write anything of value about doing the “right thing” when I have had so few years on this earth to determine what the “right thing” is? What do I know about systemic racial and social injustices? What do I know about being treated as lesser since birth because of the way I look or where I come from? What do I know about anything? Not much at all.
Here are the very few things I do know for sure: I know that anything you can't go more than a few hours without thinking about is generally worth writing about. I know that my last two blog posts about women in the media were articles that I felt needed to be written, for myself if not anyone else, and I feel the same urgency about this one. I know that I cannot tell other people how they feel by placing my perception of their world above their own. I know that my writing is not enough. I know I have to click the link on Beyoncé's website to make actual, legislative change. I know I must go to a Black Lives Matter protest to physically support a cause that is so clean-cut and clear to me. I know I have to actively practice the principles I’m preaching regardless of how uncomfortable that may make me. I know I need to listen and read a hell of a lot more. I know I need to be more like my big sister. I also know that the people who I so desperately wish would read this and take just a minute to be considerate of someone other than themselves—like my favorite aunt, who raises her 3 children in a small conservative town in North Carolina; or my cousin's husband, whom I've felt the need to hide from my news feed because of his bigotry; or my 19-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed coworker who openly admitted to me that she is a racist as casually as she told me that a customer had asked for rainbow sprinkles instead of chocolate—will probably never click on this link or any others like it. But then I sound like Nanny again, so convinced that I will never change them.
Here’s what it comes down to: they will either read this and understand the reality of our current state just a little, tiny bit more and maybe take one small step toward making the world a place filled with less hate, or they will scroll past and refuse to engage at all, refuse to listen, refuse to discuss, and, ultimately, refuse to give a shit about other human beings. But I know who will read this: my sister's friends from college, my mom (when she gets a chance), my Puerto Rican best friend who panics every single time she sees a cop while driving, that one guy I never talk to in person but who always shares great Bernie 2016 content, and my friends who so honestly and bravely share their experiences as young women of color online despite the racist backlash they receive over and over and over again (you are so much braver than I have ever had to be). If these are my only readers, then so be it. I am proud to stand in solidarity with you, to live with your influence, to learn from you, to know you, to validate your experiences and readily admit that I will never fully understand them. I am not proud to stand alongside the ones who refuse to acknowledge the experiences of others and do not try their hardest to leave the world a better place than they found it, the way I know all of you do (including Beyoncé, of course). The way I hope I am able to.