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Lizzo Plays a 200-Year-Old Flute…And Racists Freak Out

by Katherine Powell

Lizzo performed in Washington, D.C. on September 27th with a peculiar instrument: a crystal flute that was originally owned by President James Madison. Presented to her by the Library of Congress, Lizzo can be seen here playing and twerking on beat with the heirloom. 

The image of Lizzo twerking with such a relic provokes laughter, but the weight of the gesture coupled with her nonchalant manner, i.e. the twerking, holds more importance than just a talented flautist playing a few notes. Lizzo is also the first person to ever play the instrument. James Madison was the fourth President of the United States and one of the Founding Fathers behind the three-fifths compromise. 

Concerning the event, there have been some circulating tweets of supporters and deniers that this event was exactly the kind of whimsical protest we need to dismantle old representations of racism and politically restrictive thinking. Law Professor Tiffany Li acknowledged the unique form of symbolism that Lizzo’s performance represents.  

However, some white conservative men are unhappy with this iconic display of history making. Madison was a known owner of slaves during his Presidency, making Lizzo’s playing something he once owned even more of an incredibly patriotic “fuck you” to racial oppression within the United States. Of course, this kind of celebration of equality has to be Tweeted about by the patriarchy. Here’s one that displays just that. 

And of course, patriarchy is synonymous with Ben Shapiro. In a recent Tweet about the event he states, “that speaks to the, sort of, gentility of America’s founders being brought into a context that is vulgar. It’s the vulgarization of American history.” 

Her handling of the instrument has been called “playing” in a derogatory sense and a display that  “degrades our history” as stated by Greg Price. A man whose Twitter introduction reads, “God is real and dudes rock.”  

The significance of her performance as a classically trained African American musician playing an instrument that was once owned by a Founding Father who contributed to racial oppression seems to have been lost on those posting the impertinent Tweets. 

Photo by Lauren Perlstein

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