And the “beat” goes on…
A commercial by Beats by Dre, a leading audio brand co-founded by hip-hop legend Dr. Dre, meant to promote their new Beats Flex product recently began circulating via social media. In it a Black woman is seen stepping out of a vehicle wearing the marketed product. She then walks to face a Confederate statue and dances in front of it as the song “May I” by Flo Milli plays. The woman ends this commercial by walking away, after popping her derrière at the statue, followed by a tagline reading “FLEX THAT CLAPBACK.”
Arguably, Beats’ aim was to sell their product while speaking out against White supremacy, hence the woman popping her derrière at the statue. Her dancing was meant to be a response to Confederate statues and what they represent to Black people. For this reason, the catchy slogan “FLEX THAT CLAPBACK” was featured, since a “clapback” is an acute comeback to being disrespected, whether by actions, words, or gestures.
Despite its intention, Beats was met with mixed opinions, mostly negative. Many did not understand the vision nor agreed with Milli dancing in front of the Confederate statue. For example, Bree on Twitter wrote the following:
“i’m glad miss flo milli got her check, but apart from making zero sense, this is another example of corporations monetizing black pain to promote their products that hold no value to helping black people. this is almost as embarrassing as the pepsi ad.”
Beats’ commercial missed the mark, that is unless its aim was to stir up controversy and garner more attention.
First, the commercial did nothing to dismantle or reprimand White supremacy, which was seemingly its intention — aside from selling the Beats Flex product. Milli dancing in front of a Confederate statue does not counter racism, especially since the statue remains standing afterwards. Removing Confederate monuments has been a point of contention for some time in America, chiefly among Blacks and Whites. The former sees them as a reminder of American slavery, continued racism, and subjugation while many of the latter, primarily southern Whites, calls them symbols of Southern pride and heritage.
After the brutal murder of George Floyd by police officers in May of last year, Confederate monuments were removed at a rapidly increased pace. This was done to protest against systemic racism, police brutality, and White supremacy, seeing that Blacks are more than three times likelier to be killed by police compared to Whites.
Nevertheless, over 1,000 Confederate symbols are still standing across the US today.
Look of love
Another problem with Beats’ commercial is that Milli’s “clapback” looks to be a show for the Confederate statue as opposed to rejecting it. At one point the camera shows her dancing as this statue watches in the distance, almost like a performance. Since the American slave trade, Black women have been used as objects for White pleasure. Numerous enslaved Black women, and in some cases men, were raped and tortured by White slaveowners in the past. Failure to comply resulted in further torture or death.
Today, Black women continue being objectified by Whites in several other areas. For example, this group is often subjected to verbal abuse and racism in pornography by White men, many of whom use Black women to fulfill racist fantasies (e.g., race play) and make money at their expense. Black women have also been overly sexualized by the music industry. While some may initially think of hip-hop culture, examples of this have been seen elsewhere. For example, both Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were accused in the past of using Black women as provocative props in their music videos.
Regarding hip-hop specifically, while the genre is dominated by Black artists Whites largely control the distribution of mainstream rap music. This means both imagery and music that paints Blacks in a problematic light is frequently promoted by White people. Such conversation is appropriate when highlighting hip-hop and the promotion of “stripper culture,” where Black women are largely praised for their sexual prowess and physique.
One could argue artists such as Megan Thee Stallion are taking ownership of their bodies by having more say in their imagery as opposed to being someone’s arm candy or decorative piece. However, it seems there is far less support for Black women who speak on subjects other than sex. Rapper Cardi B also highlighted this point in 2019 when referencing stripping and hip-hop.
Dance the night away
Dancing has not, nor will it ever, solve racism. However, Milli’s actions are not uncharacteristic of Black people. As was seen during last year’s protests concerning the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and several others, demonstrators were captured on film dancing — sometimes twerking — in front of police officers, who at the time were thought to be upholding White supremacy. In other instances protesters danced among each other or with law enforcement to show solidarity.
Perhaps, many Blacks use dance as a coping mechanism when confronted with racism. The act has been shown to decrease anxiety, improve psychological well-being, and increase self-esteem.
If this is true, Milli’s actions are not a “clapback” but more so a method of keeping sane despite the looming presence of White supremacy. Still, it and the commercial’s Confederate statue remain unscathed.
Read the room
When speaking on her disapproval of Beats’ commercial, Twitter user Belle wrote:
“It’s obvious that there were no niوؤers in the room when they created this concept. They didn’t think to maybe loop us in & get our input??? I’m tired dawg”
Belle brought much needed attention to an ongoing problem seen in diverse advertisements. Many of the creative teams behind such content lack diversity. Of note, however, Milli’s outfit in the Beats Flex commercial was styled by Vincent Smith, a Black man, who endorsed it on his Twitter account last year. Milli promoted the commercial via Twitter in November as well. Regarding this, it is imperative that several Black people are consulted when developing content meant for a Black audience. Otherwise, confusion, irritation, and think pieces will continue to follow.