Unless you have been dead for the last week, you have seen or at least heard about Beyoncé’s new video for her surprise single “Formation.” If you’ve heard about it, then you have also heard the rumbling of controversy surrounding the video. That’s sort of where the problem lies and why I am writing this piece. The video has been called racist, anti-police, and pro violence against white people. THOSE THINGS COULD NOT BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH. The video is about being amazing and unapologetically black. The blackest I have ever felt in my lifetime was when I was watching this music video. I have decided to break down some of the most important parts of the video so everyone, especially those that have an issue with the video, can understand why it’s culturally relevant and important.
1. THIS VIDEO IS ALL ABOUT THE POSITIVE AFFIRMATION OF BLACK FEATURES
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros. I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.” THOSE LYRICS ARE IMPORTANT. To hear Beyoncé, someone who is considered to be very attractive, tell us to be proud of our black features is so refreshing. She also has all women back up dancers rocking nothing but their natural born afros. She’s telling us to love the features we have, then showing us what they look like on strong, positive black, female role models. Growing up around white people, I have always noticed that my features were different, and their features were the ones that were considered more beautiful. To have Beyoncé tell me to love my big nose and kinky hair really stirs something up in me. It’s called pride, and when you’re black in America, you don’t get told to feel that often. Now that the queen has commanded it, I’ll take every breath of air proudly through MY BIG NOSE.
2. SHE TAKES BACK SLAY
When you say someone speaks “ghetto,” what you really mean is that they are speaking in African American Vernacular English (AAVE for short). It’s an adaption of the English language created by black people, and it’s recognized by linguists all throughout the country. In natural oppression fashion, when we speak it, we are usually told we are uneducated and need to learn how to speak properly. For one, as long as we are native English speakers, the type of English we speak is correct English. It’s unrealistic to think that an entire group of people that were taken from another continent should be forced to speak an unknown language without making some modifications to it. Secondly, when white people speak in AAVE, there tends to be no backlash. It’s just seen as little Timmy trying to be cool. There have been plenty of words that have been “taken” (completely out of context) and used to benefit the speaker who doesn’t understand the word’s origin, and slay, which originated within the black gay community, is one of them. The word has been used by so many white people incorrectly that the word has almost lost its meaning. BEYONCE SAID THINK AGAIN. She shows us what it means to truly slay again, which is to serve us political-social-justice-realness all over the hottest beat ever.
3. THE CALL TO FORMATION
While this refrain might just sound like nothing, it is one of the important lyrics in the song. Beyoncé is calling for the black community, especially black women, to come together and learn that we can depend on one another. There’s no way we can fight crucial issues without one another. Whether it be through white supremacy, the patriarchy or the systematic racism we face here in America, there are those out there constantly trying to divide us (the black community) because it is recognized that there is a substantial power in numbers. Once we all unite together and revel in our black excellence, there is nothing that can be done to stop us from demanding, fighting for and receiving true equal rights.
4. THE REMINDER OF HURRICANE KATRINA
Hurricane Katrina was arguably one of the worst natural disasters this country has faced. Even worse than that was how forgotten people were. Everyone sort of pretended to care, and there wasn’t much recovery work was done to sustain the area. The people in New Orleans are still working to rebuild their community and their lives. More than 10 years later, it seemed as if people had dismissed the tragedy. According to an article from DiversityInc.com, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it was found that the mortality rate among blacks was up 4 times higher than that among whites for all people 18 years old and older. The reason this natural disaster has a racial undertone is that it affected an area that was mostly black, and the government response was ill thought out, from the evacuation plan to herding everyone in the Superdome as it quickly became overcrowded. Beyoncé used that city and its history to get across the idea of how unnoticed black struggles are in this country.
5. BEYONCÉ ALONG WITH SOME BADA$$ BLACK WOMEN OWNING THE PLANTATION HOUSE
Seeing a group of beautiful black women, of all shades, sitting in a parlor room of a plantation house embodies powerful imagery. To me it says, “We are the real founders of this country.” It’s as if she is altering and extending the black narrative in America, which begins with my people being brought over on slave ships. We are also usually portrayed during the old Southern “glory days” as dirty and unkempt, but all of these women you see in the video are beautiful, strong and glistening. She’s reversing the narrative and putting black people in a position of authority in this story, which is fitting since this country was in so many ways built on our backs.
6.THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HER ANCESTRY
In an attempt to separate us and make us forget where we come from, white people have always said, “It doesn’t matter because we are all American anyway,” whenever someone black brings up racism. That’s just not cool because you are attempting to erase our cultural identity while so many people love to differentiate between being Irish or Italian, to distinguish between being Scottish or German. Beyoncé turns this on its head and praises the different backgrounds that came together to make up who she is. The most amazing part is she isn’t going back and talking about her slave ancestors, which is what white supremacy wants because it reminds us of the power they’ve had over us. She goes back and talks about her FREE ancestors who made lives for themselves and held their heads high. There’s a painting in the video of a black woman sitting tall and proud of all she has accomplished. She’s showing black women in a positive light in a world that constantly tries to show them in a negative one.
7.THE POSITIVE RECOGNITION OF WEAVES
Black women are constantly called out and ridiculed for wearing weaves, while women who aren’t of color wear weaves and extensions all the time with no backlash. The scene in the video where the three black girls are standing proudly in the hair supply stores is a substantial message that says, “You wearing weave is your choice, and you should be proud of it.” It is clear Beyoncé is wearing a weave during the whole video, with the rest of the girls sporting natural afros. What she’s saying with that juxtaposition is that IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW YOU DO YOUR HAIR AS LONG AS YOU LOVE IT AND YOURSELF. She’s showing that these girls can be beautiful regardless.
8.THE MALCOLM X FORMATION
This was one of the more powerful visuals in the video. It’s always said that black people, when referring to racial disparity, should be patient, peaceful and nonviolent, like Martin Luther King Jr. would be. WELL CHECK THIS OUT. MLK totally understood the purpose and necessity of riots. He said that violence like this is the voice of the unheard, and he warned that this would happen if America continued to treat and ignore black people in this fashion. He wasn’t this pacifist that can constantly be used to try to subdue the victims of injustice into complacency. Malcolm X was the same. He advocated for people to fight back, and frankly that’s what needs to be done. Sometimes major change isn’t achieved until something dramatic to gain attention and momentum. White colonialists did the exact same thing over taxes like 200 years ago, and we all know it as the Revolutionary War. History shows that riots and protest do work.
9.SAME COLOR SCHEME, BUT ALL THE DANCERS HAD DIFFERENT OUTFITS
In all of the dance scenes, all the dancers and Beyoncé have on the same color scheme, but completely different outfits. She could have easily had all the dancers wear the exact same thing so she stood out more, but she didn’t. And what this kind of signifies is that while we all share a lot of similarities both physically and culturally, we are individuals with unique characteristics. Forms of racism and stereotypes have been grouping the black community together into one mold for years, and Beyoncé challenges this by saying, “Yeah we are one and united together, but we each bring something different to the table.”
10.SHE TAKES DOWN THE PATRIARCHY
Songs by male artists in this day and age always talk about what men can do for women, especially when it comes to money and material things. This is a way for them to remain in a position of power, the role of the provider. BEY SAID TO HELL WITH THAT. She says if you hit it right, SHE will take you out to eat. With her power and fame, SHE MIGHT get your song played on the radio. SHE IS A “BLACK BILL GATES IN THE MAKING.” She’s saying that a woman is just as capable of showering her SO in gifts and praises, sometimes even more capable.
11.THE LITTLE BLACK BOY SERVING US DANCE REALNESS IN FRONT OF THE COPS
This one hit home. The last black boy to wear a hoodie like that and confront a white person comes to mind. It invokes thoughts of Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice. To see the cops surrender to him speaks volumes. She’s saying that we are fighting, and but we can still win. She’s recognizing that police brutality is an issue in this country. By this little boy being portrayed as innocence at its core and imposing no threat while the cops are in full riot gear, she shows how police all around this country are approaching us in militarized and violent ways. The fact that it’s followed by the clip displaying the graffiti of “stop shooting us” sums up everything we have been saying: BLACK LIVES MATTER.
12.WHEN SHE SINKS THE COP CAR OMG
HANDS DOWN THE MOST POWERFUL SCENE. Bey is representative of the black community as a whole, and she is lying on top of a New Orleans police car and is the force that is bringing it down. She also goes down with the car. She is saying that we are willing to fight and die in order to bring down a systematic power that is targeting a group (MY group) of people simply for the color of their skin.
13.IT’S SIMPLY AN ODE TO BE BLACK AND PROUD
When it comes down to it, Beyoncé is being proud of her blackness and the culture attached to it and encouraging all of us to do the same, which IS THE MOST LIT THING IN THE WORLD. I cried when I saw this video, but not because of my love for Beyoncé (which is strong, mind you). I cried because I have had to witness racism first hand lately, and I was a little discouraged. I try so hard to wake people up when it comes to the struggle black people and other people of color face in this country, but sometimes it seems like no one is listening. Then she releases this video that tells me to keep the hope alive, and that my black is beautiful. I am worth it. She demonstrates the exact opposite of what white culture (from my experience) has been telling me since the day I was born: that I am amazing. She did it all while providing me with a beat to dance to. That’s phenomenal. Being the wealthy woman she is who has the world at her fingertips, she could have easily stayed quiet on all the subjects she touched, but she knows the power she has. She knows where she came from.
“Made all this money, but they never take the country out me. I got hot sauce in my bag, swag” – Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter
DISCLAIMER: As this is a blog post, these are all my personal opinions. This post is about what I took away from this music video and the black experience here in America. It is not my intention to insult or offend anyone.