Super Bowl 50 was almost about everything but football this year.
We've been bombarded all season with critiques of Cam Newton's end zone celebrations. Sports commentators and fans alike have called Newton arrogant and a thug. A quick Google search will lead to several articles and think pieces explaining how this coded language is racist, but I read an article on Super Bowl Sunday I think adds a layer to the conversation.
Tyree Boyd-Pates, Professor of Africana Studies, cites George Yancy's definition of the white gaze in his analysis of white sports fans' paternalistic view of Black athletes. In DAB: Cam Newton and the Thread of the White Gaze, Boyd-Pates writes:
"Cam Newton’s refusal to comply with the belief that a Black quarterback must be gentle or even docile is what makes him less palatable to white audiences and subsequently more threatening. However, Cam’s mischaracterization by white sports fans and media has nothing to do with Cam, but everything to do with their deep and historical desire to paternalize the Black body."
The beauty of Newton, and many other Black athletes, is he speaks up about the issue. He even dared to say his existence as a Black quarterback may be threatening to some, but he doesn't allow the white gaze to stifle his presentation of Blackness. Clearly, neither does Beyoncé.
Might we talk for a moment about that glorious Saturday afternoon before the game? Can we take a moment, or four, to rap about how I shouted when Beyoncé's Instagram posts ordered my steps to her website, where I was bewitched by all her Black Creole 'Bama Texan-ness? Can we, just for a sec, discuss how Beyoncé didn't even let us digest the message and imagery of "Formation" before performing it with an army of Black women, fashioned in black berets in honor the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party? What kind of unapologetically Black slay?
Of course, as with any sort of presentation of Blackness that doesn't fit squarely in bounds of what white people consider appropriate, white people had a problem with it. The former mayor of New York said Beyoncé's halftime show wasn't "wholesome" enough for Middle America. In context, one could assume he's only speaking of the singer's salute to Black Lives Matter. However when we take a critical look at how Black women's bodies are viewed with the same patriarchal white gaze as Black male athletes, we can tell the former mayor isn't simply calling Beyoncé's portrayal of Blackness unwholesome and indecent, he's referring to her presentation as a woman unwholesome and indecent, too.
Boyd-Pates' analysis of the white gaze in reference to Cam certainly holds true for Beyoncé, as well, but my favorite part of the article comes at the end.
"Cam’s refusal to acquiesce to these incessant demands is nothing short of revolutionary," Boyd-Pates said, and I couldn't agree more. Bey and Cam were too busy being Black and unbothered this weekend, and I was present and on time for every bit of it.