SB50: Beyoncé, Bruno, and Cam

Super Bowl 50 logoI’m a casual (American) football fan. I probably watch 2 regular season games a year, then a couple of playoffs before the Super Bowl, which is more of an excuse to hang out with friends and eat unhealthy food than to watch the game. There were a couple of interesting things happen this year, though.

The Halftime Show: Beyoncé, Bruno Mars… and Coldplay

Technically this was supposed to be Coldplay’s halftime show. I don’t have any problem with Coldplay. They did a fine job. But they probably should have marketed it as Beyoncé featuring Coldplay and Bruno Mars, because Beyoncé was who everyone was waiting to see. Coldplay opened with some of their pleasant singable rock anthems. Then Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson performed Uptown Funk.

Then Beyoncé showed up, singing her new political song Formation. If you haven’t seen that yet, here’s the music video:

I’m not enough of an expert on Beyoncé or really music in general. And I can’t even speak much to most of the political statements except in what I have learned from those who are directly experiencing racism in America (and Canada). You can look up several of the great think pieces on it.

New Orleans

One aspect I can speak on from personal experience is the New Orleans imagery. I went to New Orleans about 7 months after it was hit by Hurricane Katrina, as part of a clean-up crew missions trip. Some parts of the city – the wealthy, white, tourist-centric parts – had been cleaned up and generally felt like a normal North American city. In some ways it was inspiring as so many talked about surviving and rallying together for the city they loved so much.

But then we also saw the worst parts of the city. By worst parts, I mean the parts for the poor mostly-black citizens. There was virtually nobody there, just the occasional other cleanup crew. Houses and cars looked like they hadn’t moved since that day, except where the storm took them – e.g. houses in the middle of the road.

I can understand the capitalist utilitarian argument to some degree. By getting the French Quarter ready for tourists they were able to bring a lot more money back into the city. Spending to clean up the roads and rebuild houses in the 9th Ward wouldn’t have accomplished that. But from a humanitarian perspective, there was definitely a disconnect seeing that white property mattered more to those in power than black lives.

That runs all through the Katrina story. Before the storm, it was well-known that the levees were insufficient for a large storm and that it would be the poor black neighborhoods that would be destroyed. They decided those lives were not worth the investment. During the storm, governments of all levels exhibited an extreme case of “too little, too late” in their response. Some of the people we saw told us that it was Canadian non-profits who were the first to get there, not FEMA or any other American government agency.

Now we’re seeing the same thing in Flint, where government officials knowingly poisoned black citizens they are responsible for, but we mostly shrug.

This is why we need the Black Lives Matter movement. Until we can learn to act as if they do matter, we need them to keep reminding us, to keep pointing out the ways in which we’re complicit in a racist system.

Cam Newton

Despite lightly following the NFL, I knew two things:

  1. Cam Newton had a fantastic year, culminating in an MVP award and a Super Bowl appearance.
  2. A lot of people refuse to acknowledge how great he is, using code words that make it clear they don’t like him because he is black.

After losing last night, Cam Newton was not happy. Can you blame him? He got demolished by a fantastic defense with his offensive line not able to do much to help. His teammates committed turnovers and dropped passes. He has spent his life preparing for this moment, and he lost. Being paraded out to entertain the masses with some cliche quotes has to suck. Consequently, he was abrupt in his answers, many would say curt or rude.

That brings up new excuses for the code words. He’s immature. He’s just not ready. He’s not a leader. Some called him “boy” or said he acted like a teenager, whether or not they consciously realized the historical weight of that as an epithet.

A litmus test I often use is to ask: would we say the same thing about a white person in the same situation? Or would we shrug and say, oh well, he’s entitled to be upset. We saw a similar situation with Sherman Wilson a couple of years ago, when we spent two weeks calling him a “thug” because he celebrated making a good game-winning play. It seems unfair to expect them to simultaneously be a great competitor playing hard and also not care at all about the results, emotionless and eloquent (as defined by white dominant culture).

On the other hand, Peyton Manning, Newton’s opponent in that game, has stormed off the field after a loss – I don’t remember anybody talking down about him because of it. Or in a different sport, we could look at Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spur, well-known for being similarly abrupt.

There’s some degree that this behaviour is well-known as his schtick and he does seem to be doing a lot of it in fun, but his answers are regularly almost identical to Cam’s. He even throws in actual insults toward the press for asking the same stupid questions they asked Cam. Very few people are actually bothered by it and nobody takes away his well-earned claim of being a fantastic leader.

As soon as the black MVP does the same thing minutes after an incredibly emotional loss, he’s deemed rude, immature, unable to lead. Cam doesn’t get the same privilege of grace that Pop and so many other white athletes and coaches get. If Cam was white, we would be talking about him more like: despite a loss, Cam Newton is ready take over the mantle of greatest in the game, the best of a new era of quarterbacks, from the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. We would be pointing out that he played not just a great season, but a great Super Bowl, crediting Denver’s defense more than blaming Cam’s supposed immaturity. If we want to pretend this is a meritocracy, that’s what Cam Newtown deserves. It’s only because of the colour of his skin that the conversation is completely different.

This post is part of the MennoNerds February Synchroblog: Perspectives on Black Lives Matter. Please visit the synchroblog page for links to more insightful posts on this topic.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.