The revolution won’t be televised, but the cavalry certainly was this last Super Bowl Sunday, as millions tuned in to watch its star-studded halftime show.
The performance featured Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar, and was championed as a “a proud celebration of Black L.A.” by the LA Times. Even before the game, the hype was immense, with many applauding the predominantly Black lineup as a celebration of the community’s cultural impact. I, however, was left feeling anxious and distraught, as the lead up to the Super Bowl was riddled with problems.
The game took place in So-Fi Stadium, which, since its inception, has been a source of contention. The biggest controversy is its location in Inglewood, Calif.; advocates warned that the $5 billion project would further gentrification in a community that is predominately of color. We can already see the effects of this gentrification playing out, as the Super Bowl saw an increased presence of police and ICE in the city according to Mitú. This was followed by speculation about why the stadium had not completed any announced sculptures by Black artists, as reported in a column from the LA Times titled “Where is the Black public art that SoFi Stadium promised?”
And this is just the criticism of a single stadium. I don’t have enough time or ink to cover all the sins of the NFL, from the mistreatment of Colin Kaepernick to the growing list of former coaches filing lawsuits against the league for discrimination.
With all this in the back of my mind, I could not bring myself to watch the halftime show, despite my love for all of the performers. I did watch some clips from social media, and heard Kendrick Lamar perform “Alright.” The powerful song was a protest anthem during the 2020 George Floyd Protests, but sounds hollow when performed in a $5 billion monument to exploitation. Is there any better example of the hypocrisy of racial capitalism than a culture that is willing to put its most vulnerable at risk for the sake of wealth and spectacle?
This is all bad enough on its own, but the salt in the wound is that this is all going down during Black History Month.
Contrary to what every corporation in the U.S. would have you believe, Black History Month is not about commodifying Black culture. Writing for the ASALH, Howard University history professor Daryl Michael Scott explains that Black History Month began as a “Negro History Week” in February 1926, but its origins can be traced back even farther. Scott explained that, since the 1890s, Black Americans held ceremonies in February to honor Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two important figures of the abolition movement born in that month. However, many Black scholars had bigger aspirations for the month. One such scholar was Carter G. Woodson, the historian famed for being among the first Black men to earn a Ph.D from Harvard University and the founder of the aforementioned Negro History Week.
While Woodson chose February to take advantage of the traditions celebrating Douglass and Lincoln, he was dissatisfied with the hero worship that surrounded them. “Rather than focusing on two men,” Scott explained, Woodson believed we “should focus on the countless Black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.”
A champion of the everyman, Woodson wrote in his book The Mis-education of the Negro: “The race needs workers, not leaders. Such workers will solve the problems that race leaders talk about and raise money to enable them to talk more and more about.” Woodson was critical of many leaders, even those who advocated on behalf of marginalized people, such as Black churches and the NAACP. If he were alive today, I am certain he would be a vocal critic of the NFL.
The “celebration of Black LA” we saw at the Super Bowl is the exact kind of hero worship Woodson was railing against. Instead of uplifting Black Americans who struggle every day of their lives to make ends meet, we are living vicariously through a select few of Black icons who have already made it. Where is the energy for Black organizers trying to make a difference, such as the Noname Book Club or the Bail Project?
I am not saying Black History Month shouldn’t be fun. I am saying that we should demand more from the month, and reconsider how we celebrate Black history. Before you praise any celebrity for their #blackexcellence, consider these words from Woodson: “When you hear a man talking . . . always inquire as to what he is doing or what he has done for humanity.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of Chris O’Meara / AP