Today Show Silences Janelle Monáe's Black Lives Matter Speech
Last Friday, Janelle Monáe performed on the Today Show. It started like any Today Show performance in Manhattan — Monáe sang her hits “Tightrope” and “Yoga” with early morning crowds sleepily dancing and hosts who look too awake to be human smiling brightly. But as the famously political singer launched into her anti-police brutality anthem “Hell You Talmbout” things got a little dicey.
Monáe has been very involved in the Black Lives Matter movement since its beginning. The grassroots movement, which began in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s 2013 acquittal for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, has been gaining traction in the United States and on social media in the wake of high profile instances of police brutality such as the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.
In the aftermath of the song — which features the names of black men and women killed by the police and a repetition of the phrase “say his/her name” — Monáe began a short speech. “Yes, Lord,” she said. “God bless America. God bless all who’ve lost lives to police brutality. We want white America to know that we stand tall today. We want black America to know that we stand tall today. We will not be silenced.”
And then, ironically, the Today Show unabashedly silenced the singer.
As the camera panned away and a host began speaking over the end of Monáe’s short statement, the underhanded message was clear: black music may matter, but black lives do not. And then, in accordance with the Today Show’s message of subtle silencing, the “Hell You Talmbout” was left off their online round-up of the singer’s performance as the other two less politically inspired songs were featured prominently.
The slight itself could seem nearly accidental — a camera pan, a song not mentioned on the website, an anchor talking over a guest — but it points to a larger problem, an attitude more than malicious that many people have towards Black Lives Matter. The Today Show can write “Not everyone ‘gets’ Monáe yet, which is understandable: She’s no cookie-cutter artist and as she admits, she’s constantly changing… We like that!” on their website, but in their actions they show their discomfort with an outspoken black female artist. Do you really like someone if you silence them? If you ignore them? If you erase the politics of their art?
There are many instances where the media silences black voices. At the Brit Awards, Kanye West’s performance was so heavily edited that it was completely unintelligible to audiences at home. The stated reason was heavy use of the n-word, but the muting was so heavy handed it’s impossible to view this as an innocent accident. And often, the silencing comes from media companies themselves. In April, Instagram removed the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOut for 24 hours. While in May there was evidence that Facebook and Instagram may be banning #SandraBland — a hashtag used to discuss the mysterious death of an black woman in a jail cell — as well.
In the United States racism can turn violent, as we’ve seen through instances of police brutality and hate crimes throughout the country. But the majority of this racism comes in the form of these insidious slights, subtle hints that while we can listen to Janelle Monáe’s music we can’t support what she stands for. In America we can support black art, often even stealing and appropriating it, but there’s a definitive lack of support for black people and black lives.
Photos via TODAY