When Beyoncé speaks, people listen.
The singer and media mogul commands a huge online following: On Instagram alone her BeyHive includes more than 77 million followers. And Beyoncé has increasingly used that platform and her art to address racial inequality, especially in the wake of police-involved deaths of black men that have dominated headlines in recent years.
Beyoncé posted messages about the shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. on her Instagram and website earlier in the week, urging fans to reach out to legislators to demand action on police brutality.
“We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities. It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they ‘stop killing us,'” she wrote in the all-caps message on her website, presented in stark white lettering on a black screen.
But her willingness to be brutally honest about one of the most charged problems facing America today has also drawn vitriol from some conservative outlets and online commenters who have accused the pop star of helping inspire violence against police — including in the aftermath of a Dallas shooting after an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest Thursday night that left five police officers dead and seven others wounded. Right-wing outlet Breitbart News, for instance, ran a story headlined “Anti-Cop Beyoncé Silent As Police Slaughtered in Her Native Texas” on Friday.
She did weigh in on the Dallas attack Saturday by posting a black and white video of the state’s flag waving intercut with the names of officers killed in during the shooting.
“No violence will create peace,” she wrote in the video’s caption. “To effect change we must show love in the face of hate and peace in the face of violence.”
Still, Beyoncé doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, as perhaps the most iconic musical performer of her generation, Queen Bey is about to push boundaries artistically by addressing issues of racial inequality in a way that might put the career of a less established artist at risk.
Rest in peace to the officers whose lives were senselessly taken yesterday in Dallas. I am praying for a full recovery of the seven others injured. No violence will create peace. Every human life is valuable. We must be the solution. Every human being has the right to gather in peaceful protest without suffering more unnecessary violence. To effect change we must show love in the face of hate and peace in the face of violence.
Her words “stop killing us” wasn’t the first time Beyoncé invoked the phrase. It appeared as graffiti in the video for her song “Formation,” interspersed between shots of a young black child dancing in front of a line of police in riot gear who later raise their hands up — a reference to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown — and the singer lounging on top of a New Orleans police car sinking into water that recalled the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
The video and Beyoncé’s performance of the song at the Superbowl this year, which featured dancers in costumes similar to the fashion worn by Black Panther Party members in the 1960s and 1970s, was criticized by some politicians and law enforcement groups at the time.
“It’s inciting bad behavior,” National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jonathan Thompson told The Washington Post in February. “Art is one thing, but yelling fire in a crowded theater is an entirely different one.” Some police unions even encouraged members to boycott the artist’s latest tour.
But Beyoncé said those who believed she was sending an anti-police message were mistaken. “I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe,” she said in an interview with Elle Magazine earlier this year. “But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things.”
The artist continued to find ways to address racial justice issues through direct activism and her art. In February, Beyoncé performed in a concert tied to husband Jay-Z’s Tidal music streaming service, which she also has an ownership stake in, that raised $1.5 million for Black Lives Matter groups.
“Freedom,” perhaps the most politically aware song from her recent album “Lemonade,” is an empowerment anthem for black women with lyrics that invoke both the historical subjugation of African Americans by slavery and current menaces of racial profiling and police brutality. But perhaps even more powerful than the lyrics themselves were the visuals that accompanied the song in video that launched with the album in April: The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner holding portraits of their dead children.
Beyonce performed a cappella version of the song during a performance in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this week after a moment of silence where the names of hundreds of people killed by police violence, including Sterling and Castile, were flashed on a screen at the venue.
It was a moving tribute that underscored the singer’s willingness to leverage her celebrity to highlight an issue that disproportionately affects her community. But in a way, Beyonce’s role as one of the most prominent supporters of Black Lives Matters and the fight for racial justice is a natural evolution: Even in her Destiny’s Child days, her music often featured themes of female self-empowerment that stood out from other pop music at the time.
Of course, Beyoncé’s popularity doesn’t make her immune from criticism, as the backlash to “Formation” from some quarters showed. And even after she spoke out against the Dallas shooting, some people flooded the comments of articles about the Instagram posts with criticism.
One reader commenting on an Entertainment Weekly article said they would never let Beyonce’s music be played in their home again and suggested the singer was “racist.” Meanwhile, a Spin.com article hosted on Yahoo Music has already attracted nearly a thousand comments from both fans and detractors debating the singer’s role in the national conversation about police violence.
But Beyoncé’s ability to draw that much attention with a single social media post shows how powerful her contributions to that conversation truly are.