Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Reflections on Beyoncé’s “Black is King” visual
Now let’s get this out of the way. Beyoncé is one of the most talented artists we have ever seen in history! Point, blank, period! Her commitment to excellence, her meticulousness , her incredible work ethic, and her ability to convey a message artistically were on full display in her new visual album/movie that featured on Disney Plus this past weekend. From start to finish, the production was amazing.
In addition to that, it was clear that she did a lot of research and put a lot of effort into understanding many different aspects of African culture as well as give Afro beats a new platform.
The music was enjoyable and well done and the artistry, dance, and vocals were simply amazing.
However, Beyoncé’s ability to perform and create a body of artistic work is not the focus of this blog. Instead, I’d like to focus on the message in this body of work and the implications it has on a very large global population of people. Black people.
It doesn’t take a religion expert, to see how spiritually charged the whole “Black is King” visual was. From the beginning to the end, there were elements of African spirituality, specifically traditional and ancient Yoruba/Ifa beliefs. It was interesting hearing and seeing Yoruba tradition in this piece, since I am actually a Yoruba (Nigerian tribe) man myself. Although born and raised in America, I’ve had the privilege to know my culture up close and personal growing up. The language, the proverbs, and the stories were no foreigners to me in childhood. However, we will get to the traditional Yoruba themes a little later on...
Anyone that knows me, knows I love when spirituality is mixed into music. I think music was always meant to be spiritual, but somewhere along the line it was grossly commercialized and compromised. There is a reason certain songs speak to your soul and invoke emotions inside of you. Music in its original design was meant to invoke something inside of you.
With full knowledge of this, Beyoncé tapped into the full energy of this and shared her message. One that starts with blackness as divinity and ends with blackness as divinity.
How does one get to this place? The place where blackness becomes divinity and leads and guides our entire lives.
To understand, we must first understand human nature. The pendulum of life never falls in the middle if left to human device. Only an outside force, One that is divine allows for the pendulum to be balanced and land right in the middle when in motion.
Blackness has been stripped away, stolen, devalued, lied about, abused, and demonized for centuries, this is why we must yell things like “Black Lives Matter” in today’s age for equal treatment. Especially when it is so essential to our collective rights and equality as black people.
So I understand why blackness is such an important theme for Beyoncé. However my concern is that Beyoncé has created an entire worldview that is birthed out of her journey to redeem blackness. While redeeming blackness is not a bad pursuit, elevating blackness as the end goal will only lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and a racial supremacy mentality.
Beyoncé and others on the album make it clear in Black is King, that our blackness leads us to our identity in God and even as God.
The following lyrics are from the album:
“Now here we come on our thrones, sittin' high
Follow my parade, oh, black parade”
“Oh my God, without the God in the XY (Male chromosomes)
I’m afraid the whole game will be colonized”
“I can’t say I believe in God and call myself a child of God and then not see myself a god...I’m a creator of all things”
“Oshun (Yoruba feminine deity), Queen Sheba, I am the mother”
"Bless the body, born celestial. Beautiful and dark matter. Black is the color of my true love’s skin."
“I see us reflected in the world’s most heavenly things. Black is king. We were beauty before they knew what beauty was.”
This is a very problematic way of thinking and has led to many cults that have promoted white hate and black supremacy in the name of spirituality and religion.
Melanin in and of itself does not give us any advantages over any other race. The resilience that is birthed out of being black in oppressive environments should be celebrated. But we cannot act like blackness has given us a moral edge. To this day, there are oppressive governments led by black people, severely oppressing other black people. There are black people raping other black people, manipulating other black people, stealing from other black people, and killing other black people. In fact, black people played a part in the enslavement of black people in the first place.
Now I love my blackness and celebrate the gift that God has given me to wear my melanin, however it is dishonest to say the above isn’t true. And it’s also dishonest to say that I believe it gives me access to any form of superiority over any other race of people.
The other thing I want to acknowledge about Beyoncé’s album is the use of Yoruba/Ifa culture.
For starters, it is important to note that an overwhelming majority of yorubas have no ties to traditional Yoruba religions or deities. Most contemporary Yorubas today would associate with Christianity or Islam. However you will hear crossover terms like Oludumare (supreme Creator) and Olurun (supreme Creator) in Yoruba language across religious lines including Ifa.
My non English speaking grandmother was a Christian and became one during her days in Nigeria. When she would pray, she would always pray to a Christian God and refer to Him as Eludumare (variation of Oludumare). She would also say things like Olurun mi (my God) while she prayed. These are terms heard in Ifa...but commonly attributed to the God of the Bible.
When many Yorubas were introduced to faith, they didn’t westernize their expression of worship. They simply gained a deeper understanding of Oludumare and learned how to follow Him in their unique but biblical ways. They saw past the colonialist expression and worshipped the God of the Bible, not the colonialist.
There is a similar narrative when slaves were introduced to faith in 1700’s. They met the God of the Bible and fought through the perversions of white slave owning Christians and owned their worship of Him.
Today, Nigeria is one of the largest growing Christian populations in the world. And the black American has the largest percentage of adherents to Christianity than any other ethnic group in the United States.
But even for the sparse population of Yoruba men and women who practice traditional religions, they are not practicing through the lens of blackness. Especially the lens of the black American experience. In fact, if you do your research...you’ll see that blackness is not even a factor in the original Ifa religion/beliefs.
I don’t have an iota of the platform that Beyoncé has, however I feel the need to use my voice because so many will blindly follow Beyoncé’s lead and not critically think through what identity means for them and how to reconcile blackness and spirituality.
Here’s my proposal for my black brothers and sisters struggling with black identity in a world that has abused it.
There is no need to throw away your blackness or your spirituality. I would encourage you to learn how to properly redeem your black identity without making it your primary identity. Before we are a race, we are souls. Make your spiritual pursuit primary and don’t allow for your ethnic and spiritual pursuit to compete for first place. I love God and have found Him to be enough even within my Christian worldview. I’ve personally taken steps to unlearn white Jesus and worship Him in His fullness and not through a Eurocentric worldview.
Second, unlearn what white centered narratives have told you about about the history of blackness nationally and globally. Read books like “Miseducation of the Negro” and “Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass.” Take a visit to Africa your self. Learn and grow without the pressure of blackness having to be your primary sense of identity.
As we move forward in fights for justice, identity, and reconciliation that have so much to do with the color of skin...we also must be able to think beyond the lens of skin. Because whether we like it or not, these issues go much deeper than skin.