Because this space is meant to be an unapologetic Black space, much like a Third space, operating to uplift, dissect and discover Blackness in all of its realms and (anti) respectability, I think it’s only right that I address Beyoncé’s “Formation.” Being Black in the Divided States is clearly a problem, much like W.E.B. Du Bois reminded us of in 1903 when he asked a simple yet relevant question: how does it feel to be a problem? It is clear that Beyoncé knows that being Black is currently a problem and historically has always been a problem, despite false claims of post-racialism. One could argue that her latest visual protest piece and song “Formation” are a testament to that as well. However, I disagree. *gasp* (how DARE you disagree with Queen Bey?) I saw the Bey hive emerge in all of its glory, ready to attack whomever had anything critical to say about “Formation.” But something else happened, too. I’m a Black woman professor. I have other Black woman professor friends, sista doctas, sista teachers, sista lovers, sista artists and sista community organizers. They too, were convinced that this was the greatest statement Bey had ever made, that this visual revolt was a fabulous SLAY on white supremacy…. I felt alone in my thoughts and my feelings. On one hand, I love the intoxicating beat, her professing her love for her man and child…. But. That was all. A Black anthem? How so? A very smart, extra talented, RICH Black woman, dropped a track the day before the Super Bowl. Obviously she wanted you to learn the words before the big day: 1) So you could sing along 2) So you can eventually purchase the track 3) So you can purchase her world tour tickets that she announced mere seconds after her performance. And I am not mad at this at all. She makes a living by entertaining. And she is allowed to make political statements, create music, and be boldly Black simultaneously. However, as a piece of art, I did not feel the Black anthem claim. As a consumer of media in a critical way, there was something that did not work for me personally after watching the video. As a consumer of popular culture and as a listener, I too have a right to offer my own critiques.
But what about her atop the New Orleans police car which she eventually drowns on? But what about the young Black boy dancing in front of police officers only to have them put their hands up? But what about her ode to feminism by taking her man to Red Lobster if he handles his business in the bedroom while sticking up her middle finger? I agree the images are powerful. I believe many of the images evoke elements of a collective Black consciousness and resistance. You could certainly teach lessons on the structure of the video. BUT. What is this really about? Is Beyoncé really enraged that Black folks are getting murdered by the police? Maybe. It is not my place to judge. I believe she is using her platform to address what is in the collective imagination of many marginalized Black folk, which I guess is cool… But I struggle with the intersections of capitalism and revolution. Can we struggle in theory? In a video? On wax? Who is allowed to capitalize from the struggle narrative? If I’m Beyoncé does that mean I can do it because I’m Black? If I’m Beyoncé, does that mean I have an obligation to do it because Harry Belafonte called me out on my lacktivism (re: lack of activism)? Can lacktivism suddenly become Blacktivism overnight in front of the biggest sporting event of the year in American culture due to its mere BUYING power? These questions are not meant to be rhetorical. I am genuinely grappling with these questions and her cultural and iconic Black woman power.
Then there are other aspects of the imagery in the video that troubled me:
1) Her daughter Blue Ivy looking into the camera’s eyes intensely, childlike with her Afro for the world to see. She is 3. Black girls can’t be carefree children. But as she professes “I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros…” We know that Black girls’ and Black women’s hair continues to be a site of contention in AmeriKKKa. We know about all of the criticism Blue Ivy’s hair has received, unfortunately, considering that she is a child… But addressing it in this public way, does it empower Blue Ivy’s Black girl magic? Does the video become an historical testament for her to reflect upon? Genuine questions to consider.
2) Beyoncé shaking her ass for the zillionth time, performing moves we have seen time and time again. Her moves profess: I know I’m the shit. Catch me if you can because I’m rich and gorgeous and you know it. One could argue this is her brand of feminism, that she should be able to intersect her sexuality, her creativity and her political consciousness. I am all for women doing what they want, when they want, with their bodies, especially Black women. Yet still, this redundant imagery troubled me.
3) We already know Beyoncé exudes white beauty ideals, blonde hair and all. Her claim that she likes her “Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” while gyrating effortlessly in a Louisiana mansion is certainly textured. Yet still, it alludes to the idea that she can have whoever she wants, yet she chooses the man with the “Jackson Five nostrils.” Is it because deep down we don’t believe someone of her “caliber” (re: complexion) would choose someone like Jay-Z? We all know how Michael Jackson’s nose transformed over the years and yes, we can assume she is talking about the “original” nose but we must admit that the complexity of Jackson’s nose is centuries deep. Perhaps that is her point? It’s hard for me to believe when I keep hearing about her “twirling all over her haters.”
“Okay ladies now let’s get in formation. Show me that you got some coordination.” I have read all kinds of think pieces that this is a call to arms for Black women. That is hard for me to personally digest. We know in dance routines there has got to be coordination. We know when you idolize a pop icon, there has got to be coordination of how people literally fall in line to uphold her above the masses. Every time she says these lines, women are dancing effortlessly in lines, shaking, gyrating, being pretty, being sexy. On the Super Bowl field, the women behind her donned all Black Panther themed outfits. But the message was still the same: I slay. I’m Beyoncé. I’m idolized. I’m rich. And I can do whatever I want. Including a pseudo-consciousness video and folks will call me Angela Davis.
I like a poppin’ Bey song like the next carefree Black woman. I will jam to it. Wear freakum dresses because of it and effortlessly “slay” my so-called haters. But I will not pretend that this song has started any personal revolutions for me, other than grandiose vanity and extreme capitalism in the name of power, while adhering to white supremacist beauty ideals. Period.