Guest Post: Beyoncé to Panther Baby

Today we have a guest post from one of our interns. Sydney is a publicity and online marketing intern for Algonquin Books. She is a passionate storyteller and is pursing a degree in Media and Journalism from UNC Chapel Hill. She enjoys when social issues intersect with pop culture.

sydneyAs I watched Beyoncé perform at Super Bowl 50 two weeks ago, it became clear that she was as successful and mainstream an artist as there is in the world. She has put her truth in her music, and we have all responded to it – time and again.

With her halftime performance and the release of the music video for her song, “Formation,” her truth focused on the empowerment of black women and the community at large. It is a message we have embraced from Beyoncé over and over again. At the Super Bowl, her dancers paid tribute to the Black Panther Party with their costumes and dance moves.

Most viewers praised her performance and exalted Queen Bey, but not everyone bought it. Those anti-Beyoncé declared her new music racist and said it was anti-police propaganda that perpetuated an anti-white agenda. “How dare she use her fame as a platform to proudly pump her fist in the air, sing the N-word, and dress her dancers as Black Panthers!” they cried. How dare Beyoncé be unapologetically black and proud?

Those pro-Beyoncé argued that she was embracing her blackness and celebrating black culture. As a prominent black woman in America, it is important that she make her music a platform for the issues. Through her performance, she brought the Black Panthers back into the conversation.

Panther BabyAs I watched this controversy unfold on social media, I wanted to know what the Black Panther Party actually represented. I decided to educate myself more on the history of the Black Panther Movement by reading Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph. His memoir packed an important message that I easily devoured over a weekend. Joseph was one of the youngest leaders of the Panthers’ New York chapter. At the early age of sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison — charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21.

Despite long-standing misconceptions, the Black Panther Party was not anti-white but dedicated to politicizing and organizing the black community. They were militant and anti-government, but never a terrorist or racist group.

“All power to the people!” once chanted by the young civil rights revolutionaries meant black power to black people, white power to white people, brown power to brown people, red power to red people, yellow power to yellow people. In Joseph’s words, the revolution was really “a class struggle, not just a race struggle. We’re not fighting a skin color; we’re fighting a corrupt capitalist system that exploits all poor people.”

Reading Panther Baby was at times frustrating and disheartening. The government’s war on crime transformed into a war waged on black men. Prisons became a lucrative business while America became the country with the highest incarceration rate. Instead of trying to protect the poor blacks in inner cities, the police criminalized Panther Party members who were working to provide for and lift up their communities.

In other moments, reading Panther Baby, I swelled with pride for my community, my people and everything we’ve endured and overcome. Although militant, the Panthers were willing and ready to lay down their lives for a community they felt was neglected by those meant to protect it. It was a radical love that Panthers had for their black brothers and sisters.

At times, Joseph’s story hit close to mine. As he said, “I had grown up learning to fear, distrust, and yet admire white people. At the same time, I had learned to be self-conscious and sometimes hateful towards my blackness.” Young black children learn that whiteness is the gold standard; the closer you are to it, the closer you are to success and acceptance.

Black America has decided that our beauty is worth loving, our art is worth sharing, and our voices are worth hearing. We’re tired of being told not to love our blackness. It is something to be celebrated. Black pride is not synonymous with white hate; it is a celebration of something we’ve learned to hide, mask in the presence of our white peers and sometimes even hate. Panther Baby gave me a better understanding of why the Black Panthers militantly fought for change. It was because of their radical love for the black community. I’m thankful for that radical love and unapologetic display of black pride.

A celebration of black pride was something the Panthers brought to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, we still haven’t come to understand it completely. Beyoncé is working to help us all better understand it today. I’m thankful for her using her influence to start conversations that could lead to change.

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2 comments on “Guest Post: Beyoncé to Panther Baby

  1. Sydney,

    So wonderfully, thoughtfully and truthfully written.

    I am also thankful for Beyoncé using her influence to start conversations that could lead to change.

    I am so so very proud of your research, dedication-and black pride.

  2. Sydney, I am thankful for your research and interest in writing this much needed article. Very well written. This will definitely start conversations that could lead to change. So proud of you.

    Great article!

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