This site is dedicated to the professional and academic work of Dr. Angela Dye.
In response to the controversy surrounding Beyonce and her Superbowl “Formation” performance, I want to share an essay I first published last summer (click here). While I don’t talk about Beyonce in the piece, I do talk about the intersection of politics and art as well as the intersection of politics and education. I am reposting this reflection to offer Beyonce’s protestors and fans an alternative perspective.
Last year, I went to see Carrie Underwood in concert. Of course she was amazing! I have been a fan of Underwood since she took the American Idol title ten years ago. That’s a whole lot of songs and I proudly (and quite loudly) sang right along with her on every last one of them!
But each time one song ended, I would hold my breath in anticipation for the next one to begin. And, it was not just in the excitement encased within “What song would she sing next?” It was in the dreaded anticipation of her sharing her negative views on President Barack Obama.
Yes. After witnessing her at the CMA awards, where she threw jabs at the president and democrats, I anticipated her having a similar moment at the concert and I dreaded it.
It was a big deal for me to buy the ticket and be in attendance. After being a loyal fan, I was a bit unnerved when I watched her unnecessarily, in my opinion, insert politics at a music venue. And, while I work hard to live by my own belief system (believing that all people have right to their own political views), I did take it a little personal. To me, she was taking her fans for granted. Or better yet, she was indirectly letting people like me know that we don’t matter. That she only appreciates fellow republicans as her fan base. So it is this type of disregard and favoritism that threatened my continued support. It was what made buying the ticket and finding excitement to actually attend (after the ticket was purchased) very difficult.
But in reflecting on a comment made by one of my readers, I found my way. Late last year, I referenced my disappointment of Underwood mixing politics with pleasure at the Country Music Awards when she publically celebrated the republican takeover of the House. The reader commented by saying that entertainers with more left or even central thinking have poked fun at conservative icons and their ideologies many times but I probably wasn’t bothered. Because then, I agreed with the points being made. He was right, it was a good point, and I worked to get over it.
It also was a good save because it freed me from not divorcing myself from Underwood’s music. I love her artistry and would have been really sad to depart from it.
So in the spirit of grace and acceptance, my concert companion and I created a strategy of what we would do and not do if an anti-Obama rally broke out in the middle of her performance. And to my surprise and delight, we never had use for it because Underwood abstained from poking at my president.
Thinking about my reaction to Underwood’s intermingling of politics and artistry (as though she was the first ever to intersect the two), I am now even more conscious of how my political conversations in public spaces impact my friends and supporters who may have differing viewpoints. As an instructional leader for student empowerment (and as a former social studies teacher), I talk about politics. But, in the fact that I have built a diverse community of followers (diverse in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.), it is virtually impossible not to offend someone when I start talking work.
To avoid making the same mistake, some people just declare to leave politics out of conversations. Uhh, yeah, right! Anywhere there are people and anywhere there is money, there also will be politics. Education, particularly public education, provides a perfect, yet messy, combination of both. So, when other educators profess that they don’t mix politics with business, I think they are either severely misguided or brilliantly deceptive!
As stated by one writer, “It is no secret that many country singers are republicans.” And in my own informal research, as I frequently visit country karaoke venues, I know that my political views are clearly outnumbered. So, my disappointment in Underwood was not that she held conservative viewpoints. I am OK with that. It was that she mixed it in with her performance and forced me to consume it as part of her presentation.
But, I am thinking that this is the point. We are all political beings and our work, our occupations, are all extensions of a political position. Frankly, there is no true separation of the two… not where true authenticity is concerned. So we must get to a place where we embrace people not like ourselves. This is the soul of true tolerance. And for many spiritual people, it is the place of true peace.
While Underwood has increased my sensitivity to people in my community who may be uncomfortable with my public, political engagement, she has also increased my confidence to publically engage with my work with student empowerment as political.
Simply put, there is no space that is apolitical. It’s all political. And, even when we disagree—especially when we disagree—it is OK. It is this lesson, this epiphany, that makes me not just like Underwood’s music but to really appreciate and respect her distinct artistry.
Beyonce is an artist. She is not the first one to take a political stand… and she will not be the last. I don’t offer this to dismiss the discomfort that she created from her latest work. I offer this position as a way to celebrate the discomfort. You see, it is through the discomfort that we are given the opportunity to think about our beliefs and the beliefs of others. It is through the pain of conflicting realities that we are forced to think honestly and openly about how we can move forward, co-exist, and create new realities together!