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Gladys Knight, Super Bowl, Sweet Potato Pie, and How the Boycott Won

Gladys Knight - Getty Images - Apple Pie and How the Boycott Won

Legendary singer Gladys Knight’s decision to sing the national anthem for the Super Bowl has sparked much controversy. Seemingly every A-list performer in the nation has rejected the NFL’s desperate attempt to have the type of half-time extravaganza we Super Bowl viewers have come to expect. This boycott has been in support of Colin Kaepernick “taking the knee” to protest law enforcement killings of African Americans.

I have good news. The boycott won.

Like most human beings, I find the needless murders of citizens, like that of LaQuan McDonald in Chicago, to be outrageous, ridiculous and symptomatic of America’s many original sins.
I honor and deeply respect Kaepernick’s stance, especially in a business that has successfully presented itself as the most overtly reactionary of our country’s major professional sports. His stance drew the ire of the old boys club and the old boys appear to have ended his football career before its time.

I don’t know if the boycott is an official boycott. I don’t know if any organization or movement called for the boycott. I don’t recall Kaepernick calling for a boycott. It seems that prominent current artist, who by necessity must read the cultural and social currents of the day, came to an organic conclusion: the social justice regression, exemplified by the mad president, who seems to have agreeable co-signers in NFL ownership; make Super Bowl 2019 a very un-cool place to attach their brand. Which is beautiful.

They did get Travis Scott. Travis Scott is not from here. I mean earth. Are they sure they want Travis Scott for the Super Bowl? Do they know who he is…what he’s capable of … or were they just grateful he said yes. In other words, the boycott won.

They Got Maroon 5. Even though I occasionally rock it out…they’re not my cup of tea. (My tastes back in the day tended toward a harder edge. I never recovered from The Clash and Public Enemy. Although “Pay Phone” is a guilty pleasure. Hey….when did PJ Morton become a member of Maroon 5?! Since 2012 you say? We’ll I’m old enough to be late to the party. I’ll have to check out their more recent work.)

They got Big Boi. Big Boi remains a beast. Loved Boomiverse, his 2017 project. No Andre 3000? Respect to his solidarity! He was always the ambitious artist. Big Boi just wanted to wreck mics. Outcast forever!

I think we are big enough to appreciate those artists who boycotted the Super Bowl halftime show. We can express our solidarity with their cause and continue, each in our own purview, to work (or begin to work) for justice. We can uplift our people. We can fight the power…

….and I can laugh at the possibilities of the crazy genius shenanigans Scott may pull…discover what PJ Morton is doing on Maroon 5…and boom bap to the Boomiverse of Big Boi. Scott and Kaepernick apparently had some conversations in which they agreed to disagree but remained cordial and respectful. That’s what mature focused people do.

The fact we’re having these conversations, working shit out, means the boycott won.  Love is working things out for the common good, even in the tension of disagreement.

Which brings us to Gladys Knight.

Folks are in a huff because she agreed to sing the National Anthem. She is being accused essentially of being some form of traitor to the race for not joining the unofficial boycott. Maybe she wasn’t told the unofficial boycott included the Anthem. She is seen to have crossed the invisible picket sign and thus she is the new un-cool.

Here is her response: “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3 to give the Anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good — I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s Anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl LIII.” (Reported in Vanity Fair)

I disagree with her perspective on the National Anthem. But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter. Because this is Big Ma. Big Ma set in her ways. She has some old ideas. It is actually hilarious: of all the contemporary popular hot vocalists available, the NFL’s uncool factor is so great the old boys club had to resort to Big Ma. In other words, the boycott won.

But I refuse to be mad a Big Ma. I refuse to dishonor her or insult her. Big Ma earned this in deeper ways than you or I can imagine. It is so easy to be a couch potato revolutionary criticizing her for “selling us out”. But I have to acknowledge that I have never had to march through a viciously hateful white mob in the 1960s where the police weren’t protecting me from them because the police were them. And I have to acknowledge that those brilliant artist moguls, who can afford to dismiss this kind of offer for a higher purpose, benefit from the horrific price artists in Big Ma’s era paid. They stand on Gladys’ shoulders.

I got nothing but love for my people, which means I have to honor Big Ma. I have to respect her hard-earned point of view and learn from her. And I pray that the Great Spirit breathes through her song …. her song … with such power that hateful hearts melt. I mean …

“I Heard it Through the Grapevine”! She took a Marvin Gaye hit … and did it better! All things are possible.

I am blessed to have had a Big Ma in my life. Looking at news media coverage of protests of the latest law enforcement killing, she would’ve shaken her head, and said: why those young folk causing all that raucous in the streets? They gonna get themselves hurt, arrested or killed! I would’ve respectfully explain it to her. Then she might’ve said: well, what good is it going to do? I then would’ve given my perspective on the necessity of confronting these injustices in the streets where they occur. But, her mind would’ve been made up.

Then I would change the subject. Respectfully, agreeing to disagree, because that is Big Ma! I believe in power to the people, but no way I’m going to miss out on all that Black love and sweet potato pie. I know three things about my Big Ma, may she rest in power: she loved God and her people. She did more with her eighth grade education than I’ve done with my Ivy League Master’s, which I wouldn’t have if it were not for her. And I know that if those young freedom fighters brought the revolution to the block, her kitchen and doors would be open and their bellies would be full. I believe her sweet potato pies could fuel a revolution.

However…for those who refuse to let Big Ma Gladys off the hook, who are the true revolutionaries, and are really standing with Kap … I have a modest proposal.

Boycott the Super Bowl. Refuse to watch it. Never watch another one. Boycott all Super Bowl Parties! And boycott all sponsors and all artists who appear in a Super Bowl commercial. Including Serena and Cardi B. I mean if we are going to denounce the few artists getting paid to perform at the Super Bowl, then we really should boycott all artists putting money into NFL coffers, right?

As for me … let me put in my chicken wings and chili order. Much love and respect to Kap. To all the boycotting artists (You won!!!!) To all the Big Ma’s who sustained us. To Gladys.

Sing Gladys sing! Sing until the walls come tumbling down.

And after my church’s Super Bowl Party is over … I will continue to do justice, love mercy and walk with God.

As the poet said: the revolution will not be televised. It will be live.*
(* Gil Scott Heron)