In what will most likely be the funniest, sharpest barb at white people this year, SNL parodied the apparently apocalyptic fiasco that happened after “Formation” dropped prior to Beyonce’s performance at the Super Bowl. In the clip below, the disaster terrifying white people everywhere is the fact that…Beyonce is black.
Watch Kenan Thompson and Jay Pharaoh’s reactions to white people flipping out over discovering that their favorite darling is a black woman. Watch Bobby Moynihan and Taran Killam freak out at the information that Beyonce is both a woman AND black. The horror! Even worse (and funnier) is the frantic scrambling as people consider who else might be black. Kerry Washington? Their friends? (Sasheer Zamata’s “WTF?” look is priceless, as is Leslie Jones’s exclamations at her daughter’s playdate with a white friend).
This whole saga (and imminent demise of the world as we know it) began with the “news” that Beyonce is black. It’s all fun and games for white people when they can enjoy the music of a “sassy, strong black woman” until that woman turns out to be someone with convictions, intelligence, and something to say about the current racial issues that need correcting.
This “news” that Bey is black was discovered when she performed her new song, “Formation,” which includes references to the South and Southern food (cornbread and collard greens), African-American physical characteristics (“baby hair and afros” and “Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils”), and uses the term “albino alligators” as a term for white people.
After falling off the couch laughing at the audacity of white people (of which I am one), I sobered up and realized that some people might actually believe (or want to believe) that because we in the United States live in a generally white-centric place (for now – hopefully it isn’t our future), we’re allowed to continue believing that we can appropriate culture (including people, clothing, slang, food, music, etc.) and whitewash it to our liking.
Beyonce is black. Just because she hasn’t written several songs specifically about being a black Southern woman living in a world still rife with racism doesn’t mean she makes music for white people. Beyonce is writing music for Beyonce, and though she may not reference it all the time, her heritage as a Southern black woman has influenced her songwriting and career; it just hasn’t been so “unapologetically black” before now.
Besides, what does it even mean to be “unapologetically black?” That she’s affirming her heritage? Calling someone “unapologetically” whatever they are seems to indicate that there’s a need to apologize. What the does she need to apologize for? Not performing for white people? People should be free to express who they are, regardless of gender, orientation, religion, politics, or ethnicity without fear of persecution.
This doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate specifically non-white things, but it does mean we should be aware of the difference between “appreciation” and “appropriation.” Let’s also be more aware of how we treat others, while we’re at it, and support artists, politicians, and others in the public eye who are “unapologetically” themselves, black or otherwise.
We need these cultural moments and commentaries to help us check our privilege. I’m thankful for SNL, which functions like the court jester of old, always reminding us that truth is often to be found in humor, and that poking fun at ourselves helps us stay humble.
Listen, white people (and this is a message to me as well as the rest of you): We’re too effing entitled. Who are we to think that every piece of entertainment is created for our enjoyment? Guess what – it’s not. We don’t own any other cultures, nor should we strive to make them fit into what we think they’re like or should be.
So watch “The Day Beyonce Turned Black” and acknowledge that we’re a bunch of albino alligators who are privileged to have profited off the backs of blacks for generations, and it’s high time we got off our high horses and apologized for the atrocities our ancestors committed.
If we want a brighter future where people don’t have to apologize for the color of their skin, and their art doesn’t have to be whitewashed, then we need to learn from the past and stop crediting ourselves with inventing people who invented themselves despite our interference.