Super Bowl 50 Halftime Performance is Heavily Correlated to the War on Drugs
A shocking performance by Beyoncé during the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show has gained much attention and controversy because of her apparent tribute to the Black Panther Party.
A day before the Super Bowl, Beyoncé released her video for the song “Formation,” which was an apparent salute to the black power movement. For the Black Panther Party’s 50th anniversary, the platinum selling artist took the field for a half-time performance that was seemingly a tribute to the African American revolutionary group that was established in the late 1960s.
Her dancers paid homage to the Party by parading the field with black berets atop afro-style hair. The choreography took shape in an X as what could easily be perceived as a tribute to the late Malcolm X.
The Black Panther Party was a Reaction to Oppression, not the Oppressor
Needless to say, the performance has gained attention both negative and positive. Those who opposed the performance have expressed a vehement disgust for Beyoncé’s actions. While others such as former Black Panther now professor Erika Huggins have made it clear how grateful they are to the R&B singer for her bravery. Huggins is the wife of John Huggins, a Panther who was killed.
Some have called it “reverse racism,” while others have embraced it as an admirable way to bring important social issues to the forefront of the American viewer.
Many have gone as far as to suggest that the Black Panther Party was the black equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacy group who reigned horror on African American communities for decades following the Civil War. Known for its violent acts such as lynching, the KKK is not nearly as prevalent as it was in the early 1900s and throughout the Civil Rights era. Membership for what many call a “domestic terrorist” organization, has died down, though chapters of the group can be found in some towns throughout the United States.
Regardless of the differing opinions, the half-time show has sparked a conversation. It is important that people discuss these issues in order to gain a more well-rounded understanding of what problems our nation has faced and is currently facing.
It should be a concern of all people to research and make a strong effort to understand the facts of any social issues, including those revolving around this particular part of American history.
A big problem with controversial topics is something that academic psychologists refer to as “confirmation bias” or “motivational reasoning.” Once a person has taken a position on an issue, he or she tends to readily accept information that reinforces these beliefs, while voluntarily rejecting facts that are contradictions to his or her strong opinions. It is a psychological phenomenon that has been the cause of the inability to make progress as a society since the dawn of time.
Sorting out the facts in a correct manner to come to a logical conclusion is vital. As humans it is often uncomfortable to realize that what has come to be perceived as fact is actually wrong, but the ability to accept being incorrect is the sign of an intellectually sound mind.
The modern War on Drugs has played a huge role allowing authorities to trample the rights of the American public, but more specifically communities inhabited by minorities, mainly African Americans. It is one social threat that has been addressed throughout its existence from a place of bigotry and economic agendas. The government has used drugs as an excuse to violate civil liberties since it came to the forefront of American political discourse.
The Black Panther Party was established in 1966 as a reaction to oppression in minority, specifically African American communities. This oppression was a result of long-time discrimination and rising deindustrialization.
The War on Drugs and Racism
Deindustrialization began to touch the lives of many African American families that migrated to larger cities to work in the factories while industry was booming and wartime meant work for denizens across the country. The unemployment rate grew and jobs were extremely scarce, bringing a brand of economic depression that was concentrated in urban areas.
As a result, drugs that came in the country were spread through these urban communities, people of these areas gravitated toward substance abuse for economic reasons and a coping mechanism as a result of economic hardships. The inflow of dangerous narcotics such as heroin and cocaine made minority communities a target of police monitoring and brutality. This was perceived by many as authoritarian corruption due to the fact that drugs have always been prevalent across racial lines, but the police attention was set on these vulnerable areas.
It quickly became popular myth that drugs were a major issue in black neighborhoods, and this made them a danger to society. This was political maneuvering with the goal of getting the American public behind unjust laws.
Dr. Joshua Kane, lecturer at Arizona State University and head of research at A Better Today Recovery Services goes into further detail about topic in his video “Society and Addiction” Parts 3 and 4. These videos provide more in depth information about the time in which the Black Panther Party gained relevance.
The Black Panther Party armed itself with weaponry and encouraged the people of its communities to follow suit in order to protect themselves from police brutality.
What seems to have gotten lost among many, is that the Black Panther Party did not support initiating violence, it supported defending against the injustice that was all too prevalent in areas that were heavily concentrated with minorities. Arguably more importantly, it was responsible for establishing programs within these communities that aided vulnerable citizens, including the Free Breakfast for Children Program and health clinics.
As the modern War on Drugs began, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated the program COINTELPRO with the purpose of targeting the Black Panther Party, specifically its leaders. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, led this attack. He was quoted as calling the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” This propaganda prompted the American public to willingly turn a blind eye while the FBI sought to imprison or assassinate these community leaders that were actually innocent of committing any crimes at the time.
This operation actually made the Party more popular among African American communities.
The reason for these efforts: A vulnerable community is a subservient community. This has been a practice by elites of every society since the conception of human civilization.
The Black Panther Party has received much criticism over the years for what some call radical acts of violence. There have been situations involving the Party where police officers’ lives had fallen victim at the hands of Black Panthers.
One particular situation involved Huey P. Newton in 1967, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Oakland police officer John Frey was shot and killed in a shootout that escalated from a traffic stop. There have been claims from experts that Newton willingly shot and killed Frey and had been intoxicated in the hours before the tragedy. Newton served three years in jail for voluntary manslaughter. The Black Panther Party headed the “Free Huey Campaign.” This gave the Party even more widespread recognition. Newton was later released after his conviction was reversed on appeal.
Another incident occurred the following year and involved Panther national treasurer, Bobby Hutton, and Black Panther Party Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver. Hutton was kill and Cleaver was wounded in a shootout with Oakland police. At the time, the Black Panther Party had been reported as claiming that the tragedy was a result of an ambush led by the police. But several Black Panthers later revealed that Eldridge Cleaver had intentionally initiated an ambush against the Oakland police, resulting in the shootout that claimed the life of Hutton.
After much controversy and widespread support and disdain, the Black Panther Party membership reached its peak at around 2,000. During this time, members began engaging in criminal activities such as theft and extortion. They were also criticized for violently disciplining other members. It seemed as though the Party was becoming much more of a criminal organization rather than a revolutionary front based on Marxist ideology. Party leaders were also given a third of the proceeds from the robberies that members committed.
Beyoncé’s performance has brought attention to the Party, as she seemingly saw fit to recognize its past agendas as a viable reaction to the targeting of black communities today. The War on Drugs has single-handedly given a pass to authorities to set its sights on these poor areas and unjustly convict its citizens for non-violent drug offenses.
African Americans make up 13 percent of the US population, while over half of the people in jail for non-violent drug offenses are black.
Tragedies across the country involving young black males falling victim to police violence has sparked a strong reaction from the African American community, such as Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago. Is it okay to address violence with violence? Who is to say? But anyone could agree that they would be very angry if a loved was target because of his or her skin color, then murdered in cold blood.
Not all cases involving gun violence incited by authorities is without reason. There have been incidents where young African American men have been shot because of violent acts toward someone. Does this mean that a pass should be given to law enforcement every time they are to arrest a suspect in a violent crime, or any crime for that matter, especially drug offenses? Maybe the laws should be finely tuned to specify what counts as “necessary force.”
While many people view this as necessary force against dangerous substances, it is also unfair. It is a fact that drug use is prevalent across economic and racial boundaries and it always has been. Being in vulnerable neighborhoods that happen to be predominantly black makes those people more susceptible to police force.
Let’s face it, cops are not raiding wealthy neighborhoods looking for drug convictions even though the drugs are definitely there, probably even more so.
The War on Drugs has been an instrumental tool over the years for inappropriately monitoring poor communities for drug-related crimes. It should come as no surprise that drug crimes are just as, if not more, prevalent in middle to upper class communities.
A good reason for a majority of the black population being arrested for these crimes is that living in these communities leaves them open to exposure to authorities. A person making cocaine deals in a mansion in a gated community is far less likely to be exposed. In black communities, drug dealers are often in plain sight. It’s a very important aspect of this issue. Law enforcement is aware it is more likely to bust someone on the street corner than a house that is difficult to access.
So maybe the answers are not so black and white (no pun intended). It’s a strong possibility that there are some truths on both sides of this debate.
The Black Panther Party established itself on what would appear to be a very strong and humane platform. They dedicated themselves to public service, especially after they moved away from racial nationalism and geared toward a more Marxist-Leninist approach to social equality.
But what followed was quite sad. The Party appeared to drop their morals, taking on the characteristics of a criminal organization. In the end, it would appear that the Black Panther Party gave into similar corrupt behaviors that they stood firmly against at one time.
Common Ground Involving Controversial Topics
The Super Bowl 50 performance was an expression of the ideals that the early Black Panther Party brought to the political arena as a way of addressing the injustices of today.
Maybe people tend to quickly pick sides on an issue due to its controversial appeal. Examining the positive message of the act could bring some sort of understanding among those who found it offensive. And maybe those who feel strongly about police brutality should take a second and understand that not all police are bad, and yes, the system has been and still is corrupt to a certain extent. Do not let some rotten apples spoil the whole bunch, for there are many police officers that do good in the communities and want to do their part to bring about social change.