Beyoncé’s display of the American flag raises questions for Black people

Beyoncé is coupling her album, Cowboy Carter, with Americana-themed images. She straddles a white horse and holds the US flag in the album’s cover art. In other photos, the flag is everything, everywhere, all at once – capes, boots, bomber jackets with leather frills, durags, sashes, scarves and hair beads.

Unlike white artists who drape themselves in red, white and blue, Mrs Carter becomes a billionaire cultural astronaut, and drives the flag pole down into the ground as a stake for Black America. Capitalists will claim the territory. Levi’s stock jumped 20% the week after Beyoncé dropped its name on the album (the US denim brand is mostly made in China, India and Bangladesh). US flag apparel manufacturers might hope that the Cowboy Carter tour will do for them what Renaissance did for silvers and sequins.

The timing is terrible. The timing is always terrible to be a voluntary brand ambassador for the United States, intended or not. Economic inequality is increasing. Black people overwhelmingly experience the most hate crimes, which have soared by nearly 50% since 2019. The nation is always at war. Currently, Congress is Israel’s personal Instacart for bombs against Palestinians trapped in Gaza. Yet is it possible for Cowboy Carter fans to separate Beyoncé’s pride in being a Black American woman, a southerner and Texan, from what the US has historically done, and is doing right now?


Black people whose ancestors were enslaved in the US have important contributions and strange inheritances. Beyoncé is right about country music. Black people were foundational to the creation of the genre. What is true for country music is true for the country, too. Black people built the United States with their labor and ideas, and actualized any semblance of democracy here through their pursuits to be included as citizens. As such, the United States not only owes Black people reparations, but also the elimination of any unjust system that will rob them from the benefits of the repair.

Hopefully, we are not so desperately flagless that we are willing to cling to an empire that is killing us, and many others around the world, for aesthetic pride. People can be susceptible to feeling entitled to what they have been denied, whether that’s recognition for musical genius or the desire to be viewed as an “American”. Notwithstanding the Olympics, the US denies Black people full civic and social citizenship.

Black people may fight for rights and land, join the military, seek office, demand awards, secure the bag, secure multiple bags, and whatever else it takes for representation. After all, what are the other options? Where else will we go? The pervasive idea that “Black people built America” and are therefore entitled to its flag, pride and positions of power can miss that much of what this country is and does is poisonous.

Black people who remained on plantations feigned sickness to avoid labor, sabotaged their work tools and conditions, stole their time back by taking long routes running errands, and secretly sold and bartered goods to skim their owners’ profits.

In Black Reconstruction, WEB DuBois writes that organized, mass general strikes on plantations delivered major blows to slavery because it rendered plantations powerless while men were away fighting, and demonstrated that Black people mostly had to depend on themselves for freedom. In his chapter on the General Strike, he quotes the popular saying amongst the Union northerners, “To the flag we are pledged, all its foes we abhor, And we ain’t for the n—–, but we are for the war.”

This theme recurs throughout history: through boycotts, sick outs, massive labor marches, and more, organized and spontaneous Black rejection of the American project is an integral part of freedom fighting. There is no flag to claim, let alone reclaim.

Source: People

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