Beyond Beyoncé


After being lampooned by Jessica Williams on the Daily Show, Bill Varney responded by reiterating the very question that made him a late night laughingstock:

“Why do we have to bring race into everything in America, including the halftime show of the Super Bowl?”

While Bill is perplexed as to why race is brought “into everything in America,” I am incredulous as to why America refuses to acknowledge that everything is about race.

The Super Bowl is a perfect example.

The NFL is run by a cadre of rich white men. Its sole purpose is to give team owners, rich white men all, a forum in which their overwhelmingly black teams can compete. (NFL players are 68% black, as compared to the US population which is 13% black.) “Owners” also “draft” and “trade” their players.

Oddly, despite the fact that roughly 7-in-10 players are black, quarterbacks — the ones who “shout” the “orders” at the rest of the team — are virtually 100% white, and there has never been a black Super Bowl MVP.

As we witnessed at Super Bowl 50, Cam Newton is a welcome exception to the white quarterback club. He was courted with scholarships as a high school athlete, won the Heisman Trophy as a college athlete, and took the Panthers to the Super Bowl after winning Offensive Player of the Year in 2015.

But for all of those hard-earned accolades and coveted awards, if you were to transport Cam Newton and Bill Varney into midtown Manhattan right this second, who do you think would have more difficulty getting a cab at dusk? Who would be more likely to be pulled over if he was driving? Who would be more likely to get stop and frisked outside a bodega?

Who would be more likely to be mistaken as a worker at Nobu, a valet (or worse) outside the Grand Hyatt, a homeless man while waiting to cross the street?

Statistically speaking, who is more likely to have close friends in prison, to be the product of a single-parent home and an underfunded public school, to be shot by an officer of the law?

Beyoncé didn’t “bring race into” the Super Bowl; she gave a performance that illustrated the obvious. And what better venue to do so than the Super Bowl, the most watched television event of the year (the brain damage to which players — but not owners — are subject not withstanding).

Let us hope that we can use “Formation” as the beginning of a dialog that challenges the status quo of racial disparity rather than write it off as (to quote Rudy Giuliani) “a bunch of people bouncing.”

Can the pickup and the Prius be friends?

Prius RepellantOne can barely take a breath without being bombarded with reminders that the United States is a country divided. Socioeconomically, institutionally, educationally, professionally, informationally, we are a populous that is unable (or unwilling) to reach across barriers. The American flag itself has become a symbol of division and not of unity.

The upcoming presidential election may well test the limits of this political experiment in representative democracy called the US. Democracy, by design, is dependent upon consensus.

Can we adapt to a way of life that minimizes greenhouse gas emissions even if we cannot agree on global warming? Can we compensate for the correlation between wealth and race even if we are at odds over its causation? Can we fix the fact that America is a first world superpower yet most American public school students live in poverty without letting these very kids get caught in partisan crossfire?

Is American ideology a zero sum game, or can Beyoncé and Taylor Swift peaceably coexist? Can the pickup and the Prius be friends?