It Was So Important for My White Middle-Class Kids to See the 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show

My kids and I didn’t have your typical Super Bowl family game-watching experience this year. In fact, we didn’t watch one minute of the actual game. But last night, around 11 PM, once the kids were in bed, I flipped on the only part of the Super Bowl I wanted to watch — the halftime show.

And there they were: J.Lo and Shakira. I found their performance brilliantly beautiful — an opinion, I’m learning, that’s widely contested by most of my (white and overwhelmingly evangelical Christian) friends. These friends are outraged at the performers’ skimpy clothing and stripper poles.

“As a parent, I can’t let my children watch this offensive display of womanhood. I turned off the television.” I see variations of this comment written again and again in my social media feeds today.

So, was I wrong to turn on the show for my three children this morning before school? Absolutely not. In fact, it was so important for my — white, middle-class, educated, privileged — kids to see J.Lo and Shakira’s epic performance. If I had turned off the TV, as my friends urged? If I scoffed at these women’s clothing or choreography? If I minimized their performance, wrote it off as simply sexual? That would be peak white feminism — which is also peak racism.

“What are they doing?” one of my 5-year-olds asked while watching the performance.

“They’re dancing! Isn’t it beautiful?” I responded. “Look at their footwork — and their choreography. I bet they worked a long time to learn this dance and these songs.” My kids nodded in agreement.

“Do you notice they’re singing in Spanish?” I continued. “I wish I knew better Spanish; it’s a beautiful language. They’re pretty smart for knowing more than one language. What else do you notice?”

“Those sparkly things,” the same 5-year-old chimed in, referring to the lighted cages.

I explained that those cages held a double meaning; they represented the cages in which overwhelmingly Black and brown children are locked at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Oh, like #CloseTheCamps?” the other twin asked. Yes, I said. Exactly that.

“Isn’t it neat how performance can be used to get your message across?” I asked my kids. “We go to rallies and make phone calls to close the camps, but J.Lo and Shakira are artists so they use their means of influence to get messages of equality into the world. What is one of the things we say when we’ve been at close the camps rallies? Families what?”

“Families Belong Together!” my 3-year-old exclaimed.

I explained that when J.Lo’s daughter Emme joined her mom to sing together, they were enacting our wish to end family separation — because families belong together (while singing “Let’s Get Loud,” of course.) Lopez was also reminding us that, as much as we loved seeing her and her daughter together onstage, there are many moms and daughters who still aren’t together, and that should make us sad and inspired to do something.

Nowhere during this entire viewing exchange did anyone mention J.Lo or Shakira’s oufits. Sure, this could be attributed to my kids’ deeper attention to their morning waffles, but it is not lost on me that our collective infatuation with women’s bodies and clothing is in itself a result of the patriarchy. The patriarchy conditions us to only see women as shells. It also conditions us to limit women: Women can either be powerful and talented, or sexual and shallow. Definitely not both. Definitely not at the same time.

As a parent, had I chosen to turn off the TV or chastise these women’s dancing and clothing like my friends had, the opportunity to celebrate AfroLatinx, Arab, and Latinx culture, artivism, female autonomy and freedom of expression, and the Spanish language would be nonexistent. As a parent raising both girls and boys, it is more important to me for them to see me spend more time and energy advocating for the end of a culture of white supremacy and toxic masculinity, for the end of family separation both in cages at the border and in jail cells, and for a society where white women aren’t quick to judge brown women’s choice of expression in the name of feminism and decency.

This is a lot easier said than done, of course, because far too many white mothers can’t get beyond the stripper pole and the clothing choices. And that, I gather, is how the patriarchy works: It distracts us from systemic issues, that will take all of us to overcome.

There are some things I’d like to shield my children’s eyes from, of course. I’d like to shield them from a president who grabs a woman “by the pussy” and laughs about it, and from the electoral college that elected him (and would again). I’d like to shield them from a capitalist football culture that glorifies violence and money and that shames kneeling in the name of Black lives mattering. I’d like to shield them from an earth that’s wasting away because taking care of it is someone else’s problem. I’d like to turn their eyes from policies seeped in white supremacy that make us think the pro-life movement is actually about saving babies, and from a culture that is quick to condemn woman’s expression of sexuality but glorifies men’s.

As a mother, many things about how my children will turn out is out of my control. But the way I talk about what we watch together, what I turn off or turn on, how I talk about women’s bodies and choices, and what I celebrate is something I CAN control.

Turning our eyes and shutting the TV off is also an act of privilege. It allows us to stay in our comfortable, white and “dressed appropriately” lanes. June Jordan says that “children are the way the world begins again and again,” which is a reminder to all of us who are in the business of raising the next generation: that we can “begin this world again” with intentional, unconventional, widely important conversations with the youngest in our care.

So moms of the world, let’s get loud.

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