Beyoncé's Black is King is a breathtaking celebration of Black empowerment

Candice Frederick
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Travis Matthews/AP</span>
Photograph: Travis Matthews/AP

At a time when police can kill an innocent Black woman in her home (and face no criminal charges) and a pandemic is inordinately impacting Black and brown people, the notion of a “Black supremacy” seems astounding.

But that is the hill that Terry Crews is apparently willing to die on. The Brooklyn Nine-Nine actor recently sparked a social media backlash with a series of tweets that seemed to suggest that Black liberation is somehow synonymous with white degradation.

Contrast Beyoncé’s new visual album, Black is King. Her project is a breathtaking celebration of Black empowerment. She embodies images of Black regality as a means to combat anti-Black oppression. Black is King has been met with universal praise. Why? Because it affirms, not divides.

To be fair, it is probably worth discussing what Crews is in part trying to address – that is, the policing of Blackness within the Black community and the fact that Blackness is not a monolith. Black people belong to a variety of political parties, have many different skin tones, and inhabit countries all around the world. And no, we don’t always agree on things. But then there is the other part of what Crews said, that “defeating white supremacy without white people could create Black supremacy”.

First of all, defeating white supremacy without white people has already proven to be impossible, which is one reason why white supremacy is still thriving. Second, defeating white supremacy isn’t about forming a new supremacy; it’s about uplifting Black people and creating equality for all people of color.

While Black is King draws fans’ attention to ubiquitous symbols of decadence – mansions, gold grills and convertibles – she also highlights cultural opulence dating back generations throughout the 90-minute video compilation. Black people prevailing isn’t just about having more money, homes and diamonds. It’s about understanding the kind of cultural richness that our African ancestors had – goats, cattle horns, kanaga masks and cowrie shells that are all emblems of celestial power and currency.

It’s an intangible type of fortune that doesn’t need to be authorized by a white establishment in order to be accepted

Black is King is a reminder that Black power comes from within and is our cultural birthright – not something that is granted to us by someone else. It’s a hard realization now when so much of the narrative is about how a system built by other people has failed us and what we need from them to be successful.

Related: 'We can enact the future we want now': a black feminist history of abolition

“Let Black be synonymous with glory” is what Beyoncé says in Black is King. She – along with co-writers Yrsa Daley-Ward, Clover Hope and Andrew Morrow – points to the kind of flourishing that is innately within us as descendants of actual kings and queens, those who weren’t given because they already had. It’s an intangible type of fortune that doesn’t need to be authorized by a white establishment or require an eagerness to align with whiteness in order to be accepted.

White allies are necessary to defeat white supremacy, but Black is King emphasizes that they are not fundamental to our self-worth. We don’t need to see ourselves through another person’s gaze in order to personify what is already ours. “The royalty in you is there,” Beyoncé sings. She is not referring to the kind of majesty that is exemplary of making other people feel inferior. Rather, she is pointing to what we’ve already inherited and what too many have forgotten amid a racist system that spans cinematic image, literature and even statues erected in honor of oppression.

It’s why Beyoncé can still maintain legions of white fans while very specifically affirming that Black people possess a power that can never be ripped from us, no matter how hard some may try. It’s the kind of self-assurance that people of all backgrounds can’t help but find magnetic and inspiring. With that knowledge, Black people should no longer feel less than or that we need to seek value from those who can subjugate us.

Black is King celebrates the joy of self-ownership and realizing that we already possess what we often look for from others: love, honor and power. That’s not a step toward supremacy; it’s just fact. And we should all get behind it.

  • Candice Frederick is a freelance TV and film critic living in New York City