They Mad: Beyonce’s Middle Finger Salute to White America

What's really behind the backlash to Queen Bey's Super Bowl performance

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Becky and Rudy Giuliani are mad.  Again.  

Since last weekend White America has been having another collective temper tantrum.  Not about Flint residents consuming poisoned water and being sent bills so they can continue paying to kill themselves.  

They’re not mad about a Chicago police officer suing the estate of a Black teen he killed, or the City of Cleveland for billing Tamir Rice’s estate for an ambulance ride he was given after being fatally shot by a cop. (Cleveland’s mayor later apologized and dropped the ambulance charge.)  

White America isn’t mad about the whiteness of the Oscars, or that Donald Trump called another political candidate a “pussy” and still won the New Hampshire primary.  White America is mad because Beyoncé made a video that told Black women to celebrate and love all the parts of themselves.  

The song’s lyrics, which move between asserting Bey and her family’s fabulosity and affirming some of the aspects of Black culture that color her world, first inspired an instant tsunami of #BlackGirlMagic YASSSSSS and shouts of joy for an unapologetically Black affirmation rarely seen anywhere in popular culture. 

Following up the release of her music video, Bey took her talents to the Super Bowl. And White America got madder.  With Coldplay serving as glorified roadies, she took the stage at halftime with Bruno Mars. The performance featured Bey and her backups prancing prettily all over America’s favorite patriarchal festival of hyper-masculinity and testosterone overdrive. They sent all the messages in leather leotards and hot pants, black berets cocked just so on their 1960s-style Afro, forming an X on the field and thrusting their fists upward in a salute to Black Power that heralded Malcolm X and the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, which took place in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Super Bowl 50 was happening. 

That halftime show was so Black that I caught the Black holy ghost while sitting in my living room wearing a life preserver vest with an inflatable boat named “I Came To Slay, Bitch,” as I waited for the tidal wave of impending White tears to burst through my flat screen.

While Black folks were enjoying and celebrating (and engaged in their usual debates) this startlingly rare embrace of roots, resistance and revolution in a mostly White public sphere, White anger was building. 

Predictably right-wing media rushed to condemn Beyoncé. On Super Bowl Sunday, conservative Rick Wells wrote at, America’s leading new source, “Beyoncé Attacks Cops and Insults Our Intelligence with her NFL Halftime Show.” He asks, “What kind of performer is Beyoncé? … What rhymes with bigoted sleaze ball? … The NFL is equally complicit in idealizing the same lawlessness as Beyoncé. They join her in promoting and glamorizing thuggish behavior and disrespect for civil order and the rule of law … this bigoted halftime show is … sending a message around the globe that cops use black people for target practice and all whites are racists.”

On his post-game Monday morning show, radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh and one time football commentator (how did that work out?) reasoned that because Bey is a woman, she probably doesn’t understand sports, and so she thought the Black Panthers (rather than the Carolina Panthers) were playing in the game. 

And of course Fox “News” took a break from demonizing Cam Newton to condemn Beyoncé for soiling the “morals” and “ethics” of the Super Bowl. They might as well had called her a nasty Negro wench.

“On the February 8 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, host Anna Kooiman lamented that Beyoncé gave ‘a salute to the Black Lives Matter movement’ in her performance after she ‘got a police escort there.’ Frequent Fox guest Rudy Giuliani called the performance ‘outrageous,’ and claimed that Beyoncé used the Super Bowl ‘as a platform to attack’ police officers, according to Media Matters. 

“This is football, not Hollywood, and I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,’” the pro-police politico complained. “And what we should be doing in the African-American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers. And focus on the fact that when something does go wrong, okay. We’ll work on that. But the vast majority of police officers risk their lives to keep us safe.”

Yeah Rudy, and a recent investigation found that the majority of the Chicago Police force contains a lot of bad apples.  A probe found that 80 percent of the Chicago Police Department’s dashcams can’t record audio or video because officers frequently tampered with them. 

Stuart Varney host of Fox Business’ Varney & Co. whined about Bey bringing race and politics into the halftime show. And conservative commentator Michelle Malkin tweeted, “nothing brings us all together better than angry @Beyonce shaking her ass shouting ‘Negro’ repeatedly.” In other words, Malkin was crying reverse racism because she ain’t got no “Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils” to celebrate.

Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight host slammed Bey’s performance as “propaganda” and a “nostalgic glorification of Malcolm X and Black Panther militant thuggery.” On the same network, contributor Rod Wheeler said she gave “a middle finger to police officers” and whined about being “subjected to her political agenda.” 

Rod Wheeler, a criminal investigator pretending to be an expert on popular culture, was making the rounds on Fox.  During the February 8 edition of Fox Business’ Making Money with Charles Payne, he characterized Beyoncé’s performance as a “middle finger to police officers” and asked “why do we have to be subjected to her political agenda?”

White rage is a global phenomena. The Sun, a publication in the UK, whined that, “Beyonce hijacked the Super Bowl – and strutted straight into a Black Power race row.” They claim that her performance “includes attacks on police brutality and cops response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.” 

Out-Foxing Fox, Rep. Pete King (R-New York) blasted the video in a lengthy statement describing the video as “anti-police.”  King used his the moment  to question Michael Brown’s innocence, justifying his murder, all while claiming that Officer Darren Wilson “should be praised, not condemned.” For King, Beyonce’s presence is part of a bigger threat: “The big lie continues by Black Lives Matter, by pandering politicians and now by Beyoncé who gets star billing at the Super Bowl.”

Many, many White people are so Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalty!  And a week later, they still are. Some White people are still so angry over Bey’s performance that they’ve planned a protest for next Tuesday.  On the Eventbrite page created by an “Anonymous Organizer,” readers are asked: Are you offended as an American that Beyoncé pulled her race-baiting stunt at the Superbowl? Do you agree that it was a slap in the face to law enforcement? Do you agree that the Black Panthers was/is a hate group which should not be glorified? Come and let’s stand together. Let’s tell the NFL we don’t want hate speech & racism at the Superbowl ever again! GET YOUR FREE TICKETS & JOIN OUR MAILING LIST FOR MORE INFO. #BoycottBeyonce #BlueLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter.”

Certain White people seem to feel betrayed by Queen Bey, who not only conforms to White beauty standards, but is also shouting out affirmations of Black features—twerking and hailing full noses and natural black hair while endlessly tossing her butt-length blonde weave almost as a parody of Whitegirl flossing. 

While focused on Bey, the anger is so not about her. It’s about Black women’s voices and bodies and how we move them through public spaces—especially those spaces that White people have deemed their domain. And the Super Bowl certainly fits into that category.  She is merely the symbol, the messenger, or the latest avatar of affirmative Blackness. None of it is anti-White or even anti-police. It is, of course, pro-Black, pro-justice, pro-equality, pro-let’s-stop-this-racist-madness-in-the-name-of-White-Supremacy, though. 

They’re not just mad at Bey – they’re made at the Black women leading the Black Lives Matter movement.  They’re mad at #SayHerName.  They’re mad at the recent news that Black women activists refuse to endorse a political candidate for the presidency.  They’re mad because we be all up and down these fiber-optic streets clapping back and engaged in wig snatchery when racists come for us.

White anger is rooted in a long, deep history of needing to control the Black female body, mind and output. White America likes its Black women to be downtrodden, preferably subservient, suffering from any of the countless maladies and dysfunctions they create and maintain through racist and economic oppression, and coddling their fragile emotions. 

This moment of White anger and down-by-the-riverside tears reveals deep-seated need to control our blackness. To dominate and define everything we say and do to serve their agendas. And Beyoncé brilliantly slayed all of that history and exploitation in “Formation.” She issued a clarion call to celebrate our Black selves in all of our diverse glory, and to connect to the fight for justice, be it via Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, the Civil Rights Movement or Black Lives Matter.  The sight of leather, berets and Afros, not to mention Bey displaying her body on top of a police car and drowning it in the video, compels White panic.  Worse yet, she brought the unapologetic politics of Blackness into the Super Bowl, the yearly celebration of white masculinity. 

For Giuliani, whose moral compass ain’t never worked, the performance of a black woman embracing and deploying black aesthetics and voices, at the Super Bowl was inappropriate because her presence challenged the celebration of war planes, white quarterbacks and Whiteness.

Pushing Coldplay aside, Beyoncé displaced the yearning to center Whiteness.  Worse yet, she did so in a way that defied White pleasure. Beyoncé refused to be their exotic sex symbol or their mammy. She is never gonna nurse their babies or prepare their food, or reassure them that “You is good. You is kind. You is important.” She’s not gonna ignore her child to raise theirs, or subsist on the crumbs from the feasts she prepares for and serves to their table. Nope. Not even a little bit. She is too busy with Black love, Black pride, Black resistance, and Black power.  

Beyoncé didn’t just slay in that video and on that football field. She slayed mammy and massa. She slayed centuries of tragedy and repurposed it as audacious pride. She raised her fist and told the world, which has been telling us for centuries that everything about us—our bodies, our minds, our souls, our emotions and our truths—are wrong…she gave the White world two middle fingers. She told the world to jump back and gaze upon her Black fabulosity and be renewed. In the middle of a football game, she slayed the historic white expectations for Black women. 

White America can have the Super Bowl stadium full of seats and chomp on a Red Lobster cheddar biscuit soaked in some Texas Pete hot sauce.  I’ll take some Queen Bey and join in on her two middle finger salute because Beyoncé’s larger-than-life stage persona is the iconic flashpoint that America needs to galvanize its attention. 


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