I had no plans to blog this week. I was content to bask quietly in my latest accolade – thank you so so much Folio for naming me on of the top women in media for 2016 *cheese* – that and I had little miners testing their pick axes out on the back of my lid.
Then I saw an Instagram post about MIA that got me so tight, I had to blog on a Saturday.
Sri Lankan Rapper MIA stirred up a hornet’s nest – or should I say a bee hive – when she seemingly criticized Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar for talking about #BlackLivesMatter-related themes in their music.
“It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s,” she said. “Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV program, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.”
Of course, the Internet went wild, and she went back in on Twitter to clarify her point with:
“My question was, on American platforms what do they allow you to stand up for in 2016. This has been the number 1 question for me,” she tweeted. “A#blacklivesmatter B#Muslimlivesmatter. I’m not Muslim . My criticism wasn’t about Beyoncé. It’s how u can say A not B right now in 2016.”
But that doesn’t make sense – you can say and stand up for whatever you want in 2016 – she just did. And from what I know of her, she usually does. Methinks perhaps someone’s a little tight because #BlackLivesMatter has achieved such depth, range and scope, and maybe she doesn’t think it should.
Let’s think about this now. And let’s dig a little deep. Don’t be scared. You know I will pull out my diversity and inclusion-themed flashlight in a minute and shine it in everybody’s eyes, but this is just a blog. If you don’t think you’re a racist, if you profess to believe in fairness and equality for all, if you think that intolerance across the diversity spectrum is intolerable, but you still think that artists like Beyoncé should refrain from weighing on the #BlackLivesMatter and other political movements, ask yourself why.
Is it because you think they should invest all that talent and those vast, global artistic platforms somewhere else? Perhaps they should spend all of their media muscle on things that are more important?
Remember, this is just a blog. No one knows you’re reading it. So ask yourself, why don’t you think it’s okay for Black people to fight against their own oppression? Because that, in their own gifted way, is what Beyoncé and Kendrick are doing.
Why do you want us to be silent? Why do you want us to accept cruelty, bias, killing? Wouldn’t you fight if someone was hurting you and those who looked like you? Wouldn’t you take it personal? Wouldn’t you fight if your family and friends, your peers and neighbors, those you love and care about, were being systemically and spiritually exterminated? Perhaps you already have, or you already are fighting the good fight, and I commend you for that. But if you are, and that’s good enough for you, please extend everyone else the same courtesy.
Attempting to silence a minority speaking out against its own extinction/oppression is an age old tactic. Why do you think slave owners outlawed reading and writing and the teaching of reading and writing? Why do you think at different points in history the Chinese and the Russians and many other regimes throughout this world made gathering and disseminating propaganda illegal? Because propaganda – in this context that means messaging – is a tool people can use to educate, to build awareness, to whip up a righteous energy, to organize, and to figure out how, when and why they should build a force to disrupt the status quo.
When I blog I bring in all dimensions of diversity because the things that affect me also affect trans men, white women, white men, people with disabilities and any other diverse cohort you can think of. But I speak with authority about black people and women because that is the essence of my personal experience – despite the myriad connections that join me to you and us to everyone else.
I do not believe for a hot second that when Beyoncé and Kendrick or any other artist who dares to speak out against police brutality and violence against black people – and in favor of the #BlackLivesMatter movement – is saying that all lives don’t matter.
Consider. You often hear them say, ‘I’d like to thank my fans,’ or ‘I love my fans.’ They know the demographic make up of their fan base, probably down to the percentage point. They know that base is not solely filled with black bodies. They know they could not be where they are if other people besides black people did not love their music. They know good and doggone well that all lives matter, but that does not mean they are restricted from spreading more targeted messages about the issues close to their hearts.
Most people, including me, who believe in and support the #BlackLivesMatter movement believe that all lives matter – that’s why we’re fighting to right the wrongs committed against our people – because we are included in that “all.”
Art has always been political because artists have always used their art to convey their beliefs and how they feel about the issues of the day. I consider Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar modern day musical artists, but even if they were just everyday Janes and Joes walking on the street – short of spouting terrorist threats and murder plots – they’d still have to right to stand on the streets of this great nation and say whatever they want.
In the thick of things, when it seemed like bodies were dropping in the streets every other day, I actually wondered why aren’t artists like Beyoncé speaking out about this? But she wasn’t speaking out because she was busy creating a beautifully eloquent and expressive visual message to say what was in her heart – and mine – and many others.
So, yeah. Beyoncé? Kendrick? Please continue to use your considerable political capital and creative clout to draw attention to the issues that you feel are important. Please continue to speak out against the systemic, legal, social and economic destruction of your people. Please continue to state the obvious in beautiful song and rhyme in hopes that one day you can help to affect positive disruptive change.
Prince would want you to.
Note: After I finished this blog I got a strong sense of de ja vuh, as though I’d written on this before. But I was on a roll, so I kept on rolling. Apologies if this message was a dup, but it’s one that bears repeating.