Thoughts on media reactions to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Performance

By The Beacon | February 17, 2016 4:46pm

by Ashley Mikulyuk |


Beyoncé’s performance during the Super Bowl inspired a broad spectrum of reactions. Some were mired in anger and resentment, calling her performance “racist” and offensive. Former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, described it as “outrageous” that she would “use it as a platform to attack police officers.” He also said that sporting events like the Super Bowl “call for decent, wholesome entertainment.”

Those who reacted positively to her performance praised her message of empowerment to Black women and a demonstration in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out against police brutality and systematic social, economic and political marginalization of communities of color. It was viewed as an homage to the Black Panther women, and as a smart and effective use of her celebrity to access to one the most widely broadcast TV events of the year. Some even say that she gave the mainstream American public what it needs: a wake-up call.

Whites who describe Beyoncé’s performance as “racist” are tragically in error and alludes to familiar claims that whites make about “reverse racism.” “Reverse racism” is a myth, nothing more than a rhetorical strategy that whites use to mitigate or deny the existence of racism and everyday racial discrimination against people of color.

In response, we need to explain that racism is a historical construct born out of the systematic subjugation of black Africans and African-Americans on U.S. soil since the 1600s. Over time, the exploitation of African slaves evolved concurrently with the belief in racial inferiority of African-Americans, which whites then used to justify continued exploitation and oppression of blacks: from the era of slavery through Jim Crow, and through persistent racial discrimination that manifests today in the criminal justice system, labor market, education and housing. It is impossible for whites to experience “reverse racism.”

To Giuliani’s comment that the Super Bowl requires “decent, wholesome entertainment”: while sport in general often is a catalyst for social connection, on no other stage than in professional sport — tackle football especially — do we see a stronger or more aggressive display of hegemonic masculinity, overt sexism and racism. Some commentators have likened the public display of violence and aggression characteristic of tackle football to gladiators in the coliseum in ancient Rome. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that Beyoncé — or any artist, for that matter — would use this platform to express an equally strong and aggressive political statement as well?

Let’s think about why Beyoncé chose to send this message. Perhaps it was to give a voice to the oppressed. To honor those human rights activists, such as the men and women of the Black Panther party, to whom she paid tribute, who fought the same fight for racial justice decades ago that continues being fought today.

Perhaps it was to call attention to the fact that 40 percent of the U.S. prison population is black, yet blacks represent approximately 13 percent of the general U.S. population. She also made us think about the lives of young men and women of color who were lost at the hands of the criminal justice system; we can choose to interpret her performance as not anti-police, but anti-pointless violence.

As a sociologist of race and racism, and a white ally in the Black Lives Matter movement, I thought Beyoncé’s performance was nothing short of courageous and spectacular. The message I received from her performance is this: It is long past the time that we all stand up and recognize our shared history and common interest in a society free of racial oppression.


Ashley Mikulyuk is a sociology professor and can be reached at