February 6, 2016: The day Beyoncé dropped her new single and video, “Formation.” The surprise song was definitely a surprise to me, but then again, dropping surprise singles has become Beyoncé’s forte at this point. There’s no denying that the timing was perfect. It’s Black History Month, and she released new music on the eve of Super Bowl 50, where she was scheduled to perform along with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Besides the catchiness of the song, an interesting lyric about Red Lobster, and awesomely insane choreography, there’s something else that stands out in the video: the message of loving one’s blackness and coming together to stop the issues that plague our community.
At the beginning of the video, Beyoncé sits on top of a New Orleans police car that is partially submerged in water. In a following clip, you see a house on it’s side, also partially submerged in water. Filming the video in New Orleans is not only a way of Beyonce celebrating her heritage — her mom is from Louisiana, French creole, and her dad is from Alabama — but a way to call attention to the lack of urgency that the predominately black community in New Orleans experienced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.
On the flip side, there are scenes of people dressing in Mardi Gras costumes, people praising inside a church, and Beyoncé along with her dancers dressing in clothing that reflects the 1800s/1900s aristocracy. This shows that the vibrant culture of New Orleans will continue to thrive, even in the face of tragedy.
“I like my baby hair/ with baby hair and Afros/ I like my Negro nose/ with my Jackson 5 nostrils.” Beyoncé is doing a few things with these lyrics. She is calling out people who criticized her and Jay Z for letting their daughter, Blue Ivy, wear her hair natural. These critics even went as far as to make an online petition to have Blue Ivy’s hair straightened.
At one point in the video, Blue Ivy stands with her hands on her hips, smiling at the camera with her hair in all its natural glory. This speaks out against the Eurocentric standard of beauty that says your hair is only “good” if it’s straight. The lyric about her nose opposes beauty standards, which is emphasized in black society, since having a big nose is “not attractive.” In the video, you see black women of many complexions being featured, and they are represented equally. Eurocentric beauty standards have created a divide of light-skinned versus dark-skinned women, with lighter skin women being held in higher regard. By featuring women of different shades, it shows that all black women are beautiful.
A scene that stood out to me shows a little boy in a black hoodie dancing in front of policemen who are lined up. When he finishes, the policemen put their hands up. In the next scene, you see a wall that says, “Stop shooting us.” By the police putting their hands up, the young black boy is taking back his power. Also, by dancing, he is expressing himself in a positive manner, which is opposite of the idea that black people are hostile and aggressive. Beyoncé juxtaposes these two scenes to shift attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and to continue the discussion of creating a safer and more just environment for people of color. The end of the video, in which Beyoncé sinks underwater with the police car, can be symbolic of a rebirth of relations between law enforcement and people of color.
While I expected the backlash from some white people who claimed that the song and video is racist (FYI: When people of color call attention to problems in their communities or are celebrating their heritage, it’s NOT racist), I was and was not surprised by the criticism from black people. Some said she’s only doing this for publicity. Some said that she is not going to understand what they go through on a daily basis because of her status. Others say that she’s not proud of being black because she wears a blonde weave.
For the life of me, I really wish that black people would realize that racist/bigoted people like it when we cuss, fight, and put each other down. They like when there are shows like Love and Hip Hop and Real Housewives where we are trying to beat the crap out of each other. That’s why when we try to do something positive for ourselves and each other, they are quick to dismiss it or claim that we are being prejudice. They like when we are divided so they can continue to enforce their oppression. I’m not saying that things should be like Little House on the Prairie, but we can do a lot better. If we came together, we would truly be a force to be reckoned with.