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Black History Month: necessary but not enough

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month. In February,  the struggles and successes of the black community are highlighted and recognized nationally. In February, we lift up the voices and stories of members of our community who have been oppressed since before the conception of this country, and remain oppressed today. However, when considering Black History Month, we need to be careful. Students and the college cannot descend into the pitfall of patting themselves on the back for recognizing Black History Month in February and then forgetting about it March through January. When we think about this month, we should think about the reason the month is required in the first place — we need to prioritize black voices because society at large fails to do so.

At Swat, the theme of this Black History Month’s series of events is “reclaiming our voices.” We at the Phoenix value how organizations and departments across campus come together during this month to have discussions about creating a more inclusive and supportive environment, both at Swarthmore and beyond. Just some of the departments supporting events this year have been the Black Cultural Center, Intercultural Center, Department of Educational Studies, Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Department of English, and Swarthmore African American Student Society. These departments and organizations have sponsored events such as a public conversation with Thomas Defrantz, an artist who created a dance about “The Black Magic of Living,” and an open mic night entitled “And Still we Rise” to highlight the black experience. In hosting these events, the campus is taking a collective role in bringing light to what it means to be black in today’s society.

As students, it is our role to attend these events and engage in the conversations around inclusion, strengthening our community, and taking action against injustices. Yet, it is also our duty to continue these conversations beyond the month of February. Not only do we as students need to purposefully engage with issues of race, both with our peers and with our acquaintances outside of Swarthmore, but we also need to continue to work with the BCC, IC and other groups on campus to facilitate events throughout the year that embrace the beauties behind diversity and fight the bigotry currently surrounding society.

The administration also needs to take responsibility for their role in reclaiming voices by listening to and prioritizing the voices of black students, who have in the past and continue to demand accountability and consideration. This means taking concrete steps towards creating a Black Studies department, not just a program. This means financially and symbolically supporting both programming and courses surrounding issues of race. This means doing better than before.

Maya Angelou once said, “Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book.” That day — the day where the histories of disenfranchised communities are represented fully and faithfully in textbooks — will indeed be wonderful. When celebrating black history month, we must keep in mind that day has not yet come, and there is much work to be done to achieve it.

Beyoncé’s “Formation” Video helps to create the modern Black experience

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

“NEW BEYONCE, NEW BEYONCE, NEW BEYONCE”. I wake up from my much needed nap on Saturday to see this frantic text from a fellow Beyhive member. Holding back a scream as my heart accelerates, I follow a link to the video that no one has stopped talking about, “Formation.” For the next five minutes, I am fully immersed.  My loud “YAS” and “WORK” echo and reverberate against my thin walls. I can only imagine what my fellow hall mates thought I was doing.

In the  stunning visual, Beyoncé does what she does best—SLAY. Her on point dance moves and beautiful ensemble captivate everyone in the world. She is a global icon whose power is unimaginable. A line in her song references the popular dining restaurant Red Lobster and the company has already seen a 33 percent jump in sales. Beyonce’s growth as an icon is best summarized in her words: “I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making.”

Beyoncé also used this music video to display how unapologetically black she is and how she continues to stand with the community. Lines such as “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros/I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils” are an homage to her black identity and pride. Her blackness is both a visible and cultural representation. So many times within this country is black culture appropriated for the mainstream. High fashion distorts classic black hairstyles and forms of dress to be new and trendy, and non-POCs then rebrand themselves to fit this ideal. Yes, black culture transcends race and is truly experienced across the spectrum. But it seems that while appreciating black culture, no one wants to acknowledge the accompanying oppression that black people face. Beyoncé is presenting the two side-by-side to create a more accurate representation of today’s black experience.

From the days of slavery, the catastrophe of Katrina, and the ongoing police brutality, the video displays the real history that the African-American community has gone through and continues to face. The theme of art as an engine for social change is most salient in the last few frames of “Formation,” when the boy is faced by a row of armed police officers. The little boy completes a dance then puts his hands up only to see that the police also put their hands up and do not shoot. Through this powerful scene, Beyoncé depicts black people having control. This image of black people gaining agency and even humanity is unexpected, perhaps uncomfortable, for some people. That’s because it should be. “Formation” is not created for the mainstream to dance around to without first understanding the realities that black individuals have to face every day.

Of course, when a video shows a black person taking control of the conversation and being pro-black, white people see this as anti-white. The emergence of the hashtag #BoycottBeyonce and claims of reverse racism stem from a deeper place than just general dislike. Fear of black power and black people gaining agency are the main reason conservative outlets criticize the artwork. In my opinion, Beyoncé created this video to visually represent both the struggle and celebration of being black and how the two cannot be separated from one another.

While this video does appreciate the struggle of all black people, “Formation” was made for black women. With the clear line of “Okay Ladies, now let’s get in formation,” Beyoncé directs the attention to the strength of black women against their underrepresentation within social consciousness. She not only elevates herself but also continues to support her fellow black women. The lyrics “I slay (okay), We gon slay… All day” is a symbol of this bond. The bond for black women and all women of color encompasses the difficult transgressions of racism and sexism. Women of color need each other’s support throughout life and the process of self discovery, especially in the face of negativity and oppression. Beyonce pays respect to this alliance by telling women of color that she is here and is standing with them.

I want to make a disclaimer to say that Beyoncé and her video in no way represents the views of Black America. There is controversy in the community around the aspects of politicization, positionality, colorism, and capitalism.  Black voices and opinions differ on a variety of topics, including those related to the content of the video. However, I feel that the video takes on difficult topics in a way that mainstream media can and should digest. Beyonce’s deliberate decisions to first release the video during Black History Month, a day after what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 21st birthday, and then perform the song at the most watched television event of the year contribute to her use of an art form to invoke conversation on an issue of great importance. Now excuse me while I watch the video for the 100th time.


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