Catching up with Mlle. Knowles & Mr. Kaepernick

Superstar

Beyoncé! Her life has been an American Dream. In addition to every other glorious accomplishment in her career – her 22 Grammys, her two-time listing as one of the “100 most influential people” by Time Magazine, her serenading of Barack Obama at one of his 2009 inaugural balls, her lip-synching of the national anthem at his second inauguration, her #1 ranking in Forbes’ Celebrity 100 List, and her naming by Forbes this year as the most powerful woman in entertainment – she was the star of halftime at the Super Bowl in February 2016. At that event, America’s biggest TV event of the year, she repaid America’s bounteous gift to her by paying tribute. To whom? The Black Panthers.

Enough Black Power salutes for you?

As we wrote here a few days later, the show, which featured her new song “Formation,” was “an exercise in what one critic called ‘Black Panther chic.’” With its Black Power salutes and its slap at the police, the Guardian suggested it might be “the most radical political statement from the superstar in her 20-year career.” The audience held up “rainbow-colored placards” that read Believe in Love. “Does Beyoncé sincerely believe that the Black Panther movement has, or ever had, anything whatsoever to do with love?” we asked. “If she does, then she can only be described as a thoroughgoing historical ignoramus, and thus a useful stooge of the first order. For the fact is that the Black Panthers were, quite simply, hate set in system. They were racists, terrorists, homophobes, anti-Semites, proud disciples of the cruelest and most remorseless totalitarian despots of the twentieth century. Nothing could be more Orwellian than the notion that they were ever driven, in any sense of the word, by love.”

Setting the Super Bowl on fire

Perhaps Beyoncé was simply ignorant – perhaps she just didn’t know better. Born in 1981, she’s too young to have experience the evil heyday of the Black Panthers firsthand. But someone with so much power owes it to her public to educate herself. That wouldn’t have been too hard or time-consuming. All the information is out there, at her fingertips. One of her innumerable handlers and hangers-on could’ve done the research for her and handed her a file.

That, at least, is what we told ourselves after her Super Bowl fiasco. We were prepared to give Beyoncé the benefit of the doubt. But how can there be much doubt after what she did this past December 5?

Magic Johnson

The setting: the annual Sportsperson of the Year Award Show in New York. One of the awards presented that evening was Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. It is supposed to go to “individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.” The 2014 winner was longtime L.A. Laker Magic Johnson, one of the great basketball players ever – a three-time NBA MVP, a 12-time NBA All-Star, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and of the gold-winning 1992 U.S. Olympics team. He has also proven to be a terrific businessman, with an eponymous conglomerate worth $700 million, and has been a devoted AIDS activist.

Kaepernick (center) doing what he does best – not playing football

In 2015, the winner was golfer Jack Nicklaus, of whom we could supply an equally impressive résumé. In 2016, the honor was shared by a trio of glittering names from athletic history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown, and Bill Russell. This year, the prize went to Colin Kaepernick, who spent five years as a middling player for the San Francisco 49ers. Most Americans had not heard of him until August 26 of last year, when he took a knee during the pre-game playing of National Anthem. This became a habit. And it grew infectious. It spread to other football teams, and other professional sports, and even to college and youth games.

In his stupid t-shirt

Kaepernick’s explanation for the action, as we noted a year ago, was that Kaepernick, “whose biological father was black and biological mother white,” and who “was raised in Wisconsin by adoptive white parents,” was protesting the supposedly systematic mistreatment of blacks in America. We pointed out that Kaepernick, this self-styled victim of racial oppression, lives in a mansion, and that at the press conference at which he explained his knee-taking, he wore a t-shirt featuring pictures of Malcolm X with Fidel Castro.

Fidel with Muhammad Ali

Now, maybe in some sense Kaepernick is a perfect winner for an award named for Muhammad Ali, because the legendary heavyweight was also a fan – indeed, a friend – of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. But his selection was a slap in the face to athletes who are real role models, and Beyoncé’s involvement in the awards ceremony was yet more proof of her ignorance about the world and ingratitude for American freedom. Presenting the prize to Kaepernick, she said: “Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion, only hope to change the world for the better. To change the way we treat each other – especially people of color. We’re still waiting for the world to catch up. It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.”

The award presentation

On the contrary, study after study has shown that America is among the least racist of all countries. Young Americans nowadays are so ill-educated that many of them think America was the only nation ever to have slavery; in fact, its distinction is that it was the one major country that fought a civil war to free slaves. In any event, a question: in exactly which way has Kaepernick changed the world for the better? What has he done except to take the U.S. flag, a symbol of unity amid diversity – e pluribus unum – and turned it into an occasion for destructive dissension and unfounded accusation.

It is good to report that this handing over of a presumably important award by one fool to another did not go uncriticized. “They just turned Muhammad Ali’s Legacy Award into toilet paper,” said Kevin Jackson on Fox News. And another Fox News contributor, Tomi Lahren, tweeted: “Police-hating Beyoncé presents police and America-hating Kappy with a ‘legacy’ award. This is how far we’ve fallen.”

Entertaining Qaddafi

Yesterday we remembered Sting‘s ignominious 2009 performance in Uzbekistan. Today we’re going to look at a few other megarich celebrities who sold out their ethics to the late, unlamented Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi for a mess of pottage.

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Muammar Qaddafi

First, let’s back to 2006, when Lionel Richie flew to Libya to perform for over 1000 officials. The price tag? A cool $5 million. The occasion? The 20th anniversary of U.S. air strikes in which dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter Hana was one of 40 people killed. The event was billed as “Hana Peace Day.” “Hana would be happy tonight!” said Richie during his performance. “This night is a wonderful honor for Hana, whose name is linked to peace.”

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Lionel Richie (left) performing in Libya

Richie’s arrival, according to one account, “was greeted with the rapture befitting a visiting deity. His hands had been washed in rosewater, he’d been accorded the honorific ‘Brother.’” He told a press conference in Tripoli that his presence in Libya was a ‘historic event,’” and that he’d decided to take part in the event “because ‘music unites people.’” At the concert, he introduced his set by telling the audience he was honored to be in Libya, by thanking them for their “unbelievable” hospitality, and by sending out a message to the world that he recommended a visit to “this beautiful world in Libya.”

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Aisha Qaddafi

The Tripoli Post quoted at length from comments made by Qaddafi’s daughter Aisha at the beginning of the concert. After calling for a moment of silence for “our martyrs who were killed at the hands of the enemies of peace,” Aisha recalled that on the day of the U.S. bombing she’d awakened “to the sound of bombs and rockets and the cries of my brothers. My memory [will] never forget, nor history will ever erase it. But today we try to heal our wounds and shake hands with those who are here with us tonight. Yes for peace, no for destruction.”

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José Carreras

The concert, noted the Post, “ended with a group of children dressed as angels standing on a balcony of the house and waving candles as they sang along to a recording of the US humanitarian pop anthem ‘We are the world.’”

Richie wasn’t alone in accepting the Qaddafi regime’s invitation. Appearing on the same stage that night were Spanish opera singers José Carreras and Ofelia Sala.

The next year, the Qaddafis continued to shell out sizable sums for top-drawer showbiz figures. Singer Nelly Furtado got $1 million from the regime for putting on a private 45-minute show at a hotel in Italy; in 2011, after this gig was exposed in the media, she tweeted “I am going to donate the $.”

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Usher

In the same year, Wikileaks cables revealed that several other stars had raked in impressive sums for entertaining the Qaddafi family. Beyonce responded by announcing that she’d be contributing to Haitian earthquake relief the fee she’d earned for a New Year’s Day 2009 bash on St. Bart’s. Mariah Carey, who’d received $1 million to sing four songs for the Qaddafis around the same time, said she’d been “naive and unaware of who I was booked to perform for” and pronounced herself “embarrassed to have participated in this mess.” Other names on the infamous list included Usher and 50 Cent – neither of whom publicly expressed remorse or promised to give away their ill-gotten gains.