… we are more than conquerors …
-St. Paul, Romans 8:37
Beyoncé slays. And she is more than a conqueror.
But before I tell you how Beyoncé slayed the Super Bowl and Fox News, I’m going to tell you about the ancient sacrificial mechanism and its victims. (Trust me, this fits.)
In the ancient world, order was created through sacrificing victims. Whenever there was a social crisis and interpersonal conflicts threatened the life of a community with a war of all against all, those conflicts were channeled into a war of all against one. René Girard called this the scapegoat mechanism.
The community survived its social crisis by uniting against a common enemy. Girard calls this enemy the “scapegoat.” The scapegoat usually had something that marked him as “different.” Sometimes the sacrificial victim had a limp or was blind or was captured from another tribe. The specific mark of the sacrificial victim didn’t matter; what mattered was that the victim play the proper role of the scapegoat.
The scapegoat’s role was to remain quiet as the larger community channeled their collective conflicts onto him. It was crucial that the sacrificial victim remain silent, because the last thing that the sacrificers want is to hear the voice of their scapegoat. If they hear their victim’s voice, it will pierce their conscience and they will risk becoming aware of their own violence and the innocence of their scapegoat.
And so the community silenced the voice of their victims.
We humans have not evolved much beyond our sacrificial ancestors. We continue to silence the voice of our scapegoats. Indeed, white America has been silencing the voices of black people for 400 years.
But make no mistake, Beyoncé is no victim. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. But she does bear the mark of the American sacrificial system of racism. Unfortunately, that system is alive and well. In fact, it’s trying to silence her voice.
On Sunday, Beyoncé took to the main stage of American pop culture, the Super Bowl, and delivered a politically charged message to the United States. Beyoncé and her back up dancers claimed black power by dressing like Black Panthers from the 1960s. She performed her new song, "Formation," which tells her story of being black in America.
The white power structures were offended, so they fought back. Fox News interviewed Rudy Giuliani about the halftime show. The interview is a textbook case in America’s 400-year history of silencing black voices. The segment shows four white people critiquing Beyoncé’s performance and the black lives matter movement. They lectured Beyoncé on her performance. One commentator said, “In the end we find out that Beyoncé dressed up in a tribute to the Black Panthers, (the dancers) went to a Malcom X formation, and the song, the lyrics, which I couldn’t make out a syllable, were basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks!”
One way that white people silence black voices is to make them into the violent enemy seeking power. That’s the kind of fear mongering that Fox News was fomenting by referring to the Black Panthers and Malcom X. The assumption is that black people are the violent ones, but it is black people who suffer from violence at a disproportionate rate.
I believe in nonviolence, but frankly, it’s hard for me to listen to white people criticize black people when they advocate for violence. After 400 years of physical, emotional, social, and economic violence, I think a violent response would be understandable.
But that’s not what Beyoncé is advocating, nor is it what the Black Lives Matter movement is about. “Formation” is Beyoncé’s call for a political revolution, but it’s not a revolution based on violence. It’s based on the power of the spoken word.
In “Formation,” Beyoncé says that she “slays,” but her homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the video tells me she isn’t slaying through physical violence. She is a conqueror, but in the spirit of St. Paul, she is more than a conqueror. That’s because she isn’t advocating physical violence. To assert that is a lie. Rather, she slays through something much more powerful – the spoken word.
And so I shake my head, wondering how dare Fox News criticize her for “basically telling cops to stop shooting blacks” when we know that “unarmed black men are seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire.”
The power of Beyoncé’s words are piercing the soul of white America. She is a conqueror because her voice will not be silenced. She slays by speaking the truth about violence against not only black people, but against all people at the margins of American culture. As the New South Negress puts it, “Formation” “is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins – woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disables, undocumented, immigrant …”
So, to answer my question above, how does a commentator on Fox News and his fellow co-hosts dare an attempt to silence the voice of Beyoncé? They dare it because their consciences have been pierced. They have heard Beyoncé’s voice. And in her voice they hear the voice of all those on the margins who suffer from systemic violence.
One way white people manage the voice of the marginalized that pierces our conscience is to lecture them and accuse them of being the violent ones. That’s what Fox News did.
But another way is to listen to those voices. Listen to the ways that we white folks participate in systemic racism that empowers not only police brutality, but economic oppression, enabling “the typical white family [to have] about 16 times as much wealth as the typical black family – and [enables] white households headed up by a high school dropout to have, on average, twice the wealth of black and Latino households headed by a college graduate.”
Beyoncé is slaying our conscience. Like the Word of God is compared to a sword that cuts through our ancient practice of scapegoating so that we hear the voice oppressed, Beyoncé is slaying through the racism that infect the United States. It’s piercing the white conscience and making many of us uncomfortable. Let’s stop trying to drown out her voice by lecturing black people. Instead, let’s listen to their voices.
Do you feel Beyoncé’s words piercing your conscience? She’s pierced mine. And that’s a good thing. Pay attention to that piercing and listen to more black voices crying out for a revolution of the American system of racism.