M.I.A. Majorly Bungled This Comment About Black Lives Matter

Photo: Photo: Neilson Barnard / Getty.
M.I.A.'s candid, off-the-cuff way of speaking out politically is usually among the qualities we admire about her. But recent comments she made about the Black Lives Matter movement and Beyoncé in the Evening Standard are landing the outspoken singer into trouble.

After the journalist asked M.I.A. what she thought of Queen Bey's Black Power salute during this year's Super Bowl halftime show, the "Borders" artist reportedly made a face and conveyed that she doesn't regret missing it.

"It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s," she told the paper.

"Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question," she went on. "And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV program, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back."

Cue: swift and cutting criticism. Jezebel aptly pointed out some major issues with the singer's comments — two in particular. First: the suggestion that, in America, activists are "allowed" to speak up about the Black Lives Matter movement and the issues that underly it. In fact, voices on that subject — including Beyoncé's — are routinely silenced by powers that be and dismissed by countermovements that gloss over the point, such as #AllLivesMatter. M.I.A. is presuming that the Black Lives Matter movement has evolved to a position of power. Unfortunately, that still could not be further from the truth.

Second: M.I.A. is out of line in suggesting that — in America, which is where the Black Lives Movement is centered and where it has a goal of effecting systemic change — somehow it's passé to still be talking about why Black lives matter. Her line of reasoning implies that the Black American experience has evolved past the point of needing representation — and that it's time to pass the baton. Of course there are other people of color who need voices and support and advocates. But this isn't the oppression Olympics, so why is M.I.A. pitting disenfranchised minority groups against one another?

Since the piece came out, M.I.A. has clarified the point she was actually trying to make. "A#blacklivesmatter B#Muslimlivesmatter. I'm not Muslim . My criticism wasn't about Beyoncé. It's how u can say A not B right now in 2016," she wrote on Twitter. In other words, in America, groups can unite and talk about Black oppression, but she believes that we're unable to talk about the poor treatment of other people of color.

"My question was, on American platforms what do they allow you to stand up for in 2016," she added in a second tweet. "This has been the number 1 question for me." That may well be the case. But we bet the next time she brings it up, she'll be a little more rehearsed in how she asks it.

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