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The Politics Behind Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella Performance

Black schools matter.

That’s what Beyoncé said, in so many words, throughout her Saturday night Coachella performance. It was no ordinary show when she stepped on stage wearing a dazzling band leader number before what has been one of her best performances ever.

Her show was replete with a long list of references to America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The high-energy majorettes, marching band, step show and probate that were part of her show are all prominent on HBCU campuses across the U.S. It was “one band, one sound” as 100 black band members danced while playing instruments typical to those at your average HBCU homecoming.

Her song selections also played a role in her tribute. During the show, Beyoncé sang the “Black National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing),” which represented a proud moment amid the NFL kneeling controversy. (The singer was the surprise presenter for Colin Kaepernick at last year’s Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards in December.)

Among her many samples, “Swag Surfin’” by F.L.Y. also served as a salute to HBCUs. The 2009 song has been adopted as one of the most cherished traditions within the black college community and can be seen everywhere — from basketball and football games to parties and even graduation ceremonies.

Throughout her serenading the crowd, Beyoncé incorporated a skit showing a probate (or coming out ceremony) for her pledges similar to that of Black Greek letter organizations, which make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council at institutions around the country.

Beyoncé was the dean of a line of “Bug A Boo” pledges, who had to entertain her (which could be considered lighthearted hazing) and make elaborate introductions to the audience before becoming official members of her Beta Delta Kappa org. The traditional membership intake experience that Beyoncé paid homage to can be seen in films like Spike Lee’s “School Daze” (1988), “Stomp the Yard” (2007), and most recently Netflix’s “Burning Sands” (2017).

Her ode to the black college experience couldn’t be any clearer after it was announced that Beyoncé would donate $100,000 to four HBCUs for the 2018-2019 academic year through her BeyGOOD initiative.

If there was a main lesson from Beyoncé’s 2018 performance, it was the cultural significance of America’s HBCUs — a message that should be heard loud and clear.

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