Eight hours is how long my friends and I waited at the gate for Beyoncé to grace the main stage at Coachella. We flew all the way out from Charlotte, North Carolina to witness this moment. We had been counting down the days for a whole year.
Upon arriving to Coachella, I became very aware of my Black skin but I had braced myself for this moment prior. I was already aware of this festival’s main demographic. Everywhere I turned it was nothing but white kids and most of them adorned themselves in some aspect of Black or West African culture–whether it was the box braids and cornrows or the tricked out Dashikis or their incessant need to say “nigga” when singing along with Black musical acts (or even in casual conversation, so I overheard).
Now here I stood at this gate, a sheen of sweat forming on my forehead and my feet cramping. I had not only endured physical uncomfort for this. I had also put up with seeing my culture trivialized by those who would never feel the consequences of inherently belonging to said culture.
I don’t know what I really expected from her performance. I knew Beyoncé was not going to show any mercy towards my edges. I knew she was going to come out and show out but what I did not expect was her absolute unapologetic display of her Black pride in front of a predominantly white crowd.
At the start of her performance, she came out, decked out in a Cleopatra costume, with a drumline that was reflective of HBCU band culture. She even had majorette dancers. One of the first songs she sung was Lift Every Voice which is the Black American national anthem. She then followed that up with Freedom, a song about lifting the chains and overcoming systemic oppression. Majority of her dancers and musicians were Black. She played audio clips of Malcolm X’s speech about Black women being the “most disrespected” group in America. She played snippets of Nina Simone at one point. She even paid homage to Black Greek Culture. The list of how she displayed her Black womanhood in her performance could fortunately go on.
I’m aware of the fact that in the last couple of years, Beyoncé has not exactly been shy about letting people know that she was indeed a Black woman and she was proud of that. With the release of Formation, a track and visual where she confidently assures us that she loves her “negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils,” and her visual album Lemonade, a thoughtful and vivid love letter to other Black women, one would argue that I should not have been surprised at her performance at Coachella.
Coachella is a very white music festival. That is common knowledge, so many say but I do not think people truly understand how whitewashed the festival is. You really do not realize it until you are actually there. During my time at Coachella, I was reminded of that feeling I felt growing up in a predominantly white community. I felt like the outlier. I felt out of place. I felt like I was on the outside looking in even though I was in the dead center.
But when Beyoncé graced the stage, swag-surfing with her predominantly Black musicians and dancers, I completely forgot I was at white ass Coachella. For two hours, I felt at home. I felt like I was at the center–as we should be.
Tina Knowles, Beyoncé’s mother, revealed recently that she told Beyoncé she was concerned that her performance would not resonate with a predominantly white audience to which Beyoncé reportedly replied that it was her responsibility to educate the masses about our culture. She felt it was on her to give our voice this platform. That is exactly what she did and she did it well.
Two years ago, when Beyoncé released Formation, a good number of people accused her of being disingenuous. They felt that she was taking advantage of this wave of Black social consciousness and that her heart was not really in it. They felt like her motives were capitalistic and she was only interested in profiting off of the Black power movement. Her performance at Coachella completely defied that notion.
Beyoncé could have given this audience a diluted performance. In fact, I think that’s what most of them expected. I’m sure they were expecting Crazy in Love and Halo. As Beyoncé was stepping with her dancers, I looked around and the white people around me had this look of confusion. They were bopping but they did not know exactly what they were bopping to. The HBCU references, the stepping, the Black national anthem–all of this was foreign to them. So many of them were wearing some form of Black culture from their box braids to dashikis but yet they were so far removed from her performance.
She was the first Black woman to ever headline Coachella and she took such a risk by not reducing her performance to something commercialized. She even stood on Coachella’s stage and called them out for waiting this long to let a Black woman headline the festival. The fact that she put her pride for her Black womanhood on full display in a space where whiteness is so concentrated–the fact that she continues to show love to her people even when it is not popular to do shows that she truly cares about us.
Beyoncé continuously prioritizes her Black womanhood and she does it in her own way–not in a way that is deemed “respectable” or easily consumable for non-black people. She puts our culture on display, unadulterated and unbothered by how it might be perceived by those who are not Black. At the end of the day, her people are what matters to her most and she puts such care and thought in her performances to illustrate that. She is proud of who she is and no one can take that away from her.