For Black Girls Who Got In Formation When Hot Sauce Wasn’t Enough: On Beyonce, Formation & The Black Panthers

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BREAKING NEWS: Beyonce is Black. Not only that, but she has also just given us the Third F of Feminism: Flawless, Feeling Myself and Formation. With the video release of her new song, Formation, Beyoncé denounced the “exceptional negro” image that has been placed upon her by mass media in order to give Black people, specifically women, an empowerment anthem worthy of several covers, marching band renditions and majorette team performances. The moment she sat on top of the New Orleans police car & submerged into the abyss, we knew that Bey was determined to make a statement. Beyonce has informed the whole entire world that she too, is a Black woman who is dealing with the subconscious effects of racially motivated hatred and violence. She has taken it upon herself to remind everyone that despite her mysterious aura and respectable success, she is still Black, proud and conscious of the world she lives in. The recent discourse surrounding Beyonce has made me proud to be a member of the #Beyhive and above all, a Black woman. The hatred for Beyonce, and consequently all Black women is sickening, palpable and just frightening. Everyone loves to scream about supporting Black women “at all costs”, “no matter what”, until that Black woman is such a huge celebrity that her humanity is questioned and she is stripped of her agency.

 

 

Formation

Initial Reaction & Analysis

The texts and tweets informing me that Beyonce had released a new video flooded my phone simultaneously and my only mission at that point, was to secure a location and watch it. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew she wouldn’t disappoint. My initial reaction was to “What happened after New Orleans?”. When the song/video begin with Messy Mya’s fiery and notorious introduction, native New Orlenians were well aware of what was to come. Beyonce created a video that asked us the toughest questions about racism, police brutality, and ultimately, power. Messy Mya was and still is a New Orleans ICON. I knew immediately upon hearing his voice that Beyonce was up to something.

The intersections of race, place, class, and gender identity, as well as past and present were spot on. I’m an American Horror Story fanatic and was immediately floored by the season 3 coven vibes I was receiving. (It was also in that moment that I knew a television series surrounding the lives of Black femme supernaturals was more than necessary.) The Victorian era scenes that led into post-Katrina New Orleans was captivating to say the least.

An important aspect of the video was that it was also unapologetically celebratory of queerness. The queerness is front and center from the signature hypersexual “ass-shaking, use of LGBT expressions (Slay was coined by the Black LGBT community), to the words of New Orleans’ very own Messy Mya and “Queen of Bounce” diva Big Freedia.

It is this aspect that stood out to me that most. LGBT performers have been celebrated forever in New Orleans Black culture and community. There’s just something imbedded deeply within the culture that’s a lot more accepting and understanding about gender identity and gender bending. I won’t go so far as to say that the LGBT community is praised, but LGBT performers are highly regarded and appreciated when on stage or in front of the camera. It is for this reason that their inclusion in Beyoncé’s video was not a stretch, a reach, commercialization, exploitation or anything of the sort but instead was a shout-out and an homage.

I’m a huge Beyonce fan and I have been for quite some time now. I think what we’ve witnessed over the past few years is Beyonce start to wrestle with and understand the platform she has. She and Jay-Z have been called out by the Black community several times for seemingly not caring enough or at all about Black lives. Beyonce especially has been accused of working too hard to be what many have deemed as an “acceptable black person”. For a woman of her stature and influence to release Formation, Beyonce is making a huge statement. Firstly, Beyonce is letting her people know that she sees them, she is one of them and she has not forgotten them despite the success that has seemingly separated her from them. Maybe she’s reminding herself of her pride in her heritage all over again. Secondly, she is reminding white people that she is in fact, a black person *shocker*. Not only that, she’s a black woman which is by far the most undesired societal entity. After watching the video and thinking about how Beyonce has been operating it is safe to say that she is a brilliant business persona. The release of Formation is Beyonce’s call to action. She’s speaking to Black people, specifically women and letting them know that it’s time to stand up and get in formation. The statement made within the song is both a political and a personal statement, and for black women and girls everywhere, it has the power to literally change their lives.

 

The Song

Formation is taking the internet and the world by storm. Saying thetumblr_o2cm5qUp7n1r4p6pao1_500 least, I love Beyonce’s newest release and I’m hopeful that this will assist her in redefining her legacy and bringing more awareness to issues that many and most mainstream celebrities shy away from. We needed to hear this. We, as in Black women. This is for the black Southern woman, too. Throughout the video, the amazing regalia and fashion stunned in various scenes. It was then that we all knew that Beyoncé was not only glorifying her bama blackness, but, based on the kind of fashion iconography displayed she was glorifying American blackness as a whole. We saw her stand tall on that antebellum house porch, posing in her wide-brim black hat, her long black clothes, the jewelry at her neck and wrists that glistened like diamonds, and we knew she stood for us when she began flipping her twin middle fingers at the world.

The lyrics pointedly embrace black culture and black heritage more than most of what we generally see in today’s music, from Beyonce or anyone. Use of the words “negro” and “bama”, along with the lines about hot sauce in her bag and big nostrils and natural hair – shed spotlight and even glorify what has been considered the “lowest” form of Black culture. Beyonce’s not just talking about those things, she’s celebrating them.

“Beyoncé is making songs for black girls exclusively now and fuck it feels so good”

 

The song, which was produced by Mike Will Made-It and tumblr_o25vvqXOst1tk11zoo1_500co-written by Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, appears to also feature some remnants of New Orleans Bounce Music. The lyrics to this song are also sure to keep Twitter and Instagram going for at least the next forever. Lyrics like, “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay,”I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay,” and “Earned all this money but they never take the country out me, I got hot sauce in my bag, swag,” have already generated hilarious Twitter responses from fans and celebrities including John Legend. Southwest Airlines and Red Lobster even joined in on the fun.

 

The Video

A day before the 50th Superbowl, Beyonce released the music video for her single Formation. The new video has Blue Ivy, Afros, New Orleans, Big Freedia, Red Lobster, and Black Lives Matter. Bey definitely owned February.  Filming took place in December of 2015. The music video for Formation was shot on location in New Orleans, Louisiana and featured references to Hurricane Katrina, antebellum and Louisiana Creole culture, police brutality, and racism. It begins with Beyoncé lying on top of a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in a flooded street and later cuts to a man holding a newspaper with Martin Luther King Jr.’s face on it with the title “The Truth“.  Blue Ivy Carter makes a cameo appearance, which ties in to Beyonce’s appreciation for natural hair. The music video also modifies the song to include spoken interpolations from the talented Bounce artist, Big Freedia and of course, Messy Mya, who was murdered at a Baby Shower in New Orleans in 2010. The video, in retrospect was about the black victims of police brutality, embracing your black roots, activitely resisting “white culture” assimilation and loving your Black features whether it be a wide nose, a kinky fro, thick baby hairs, dark skin, or big lips.

The video, directed by veteran Melina Matsoukas (Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts”), is a dynamic feat of defiance, and contains the perfect balance of #BlackGirlMagic, #BlackGirlSolidarity, #BlackLivesMatter and even #LGBTLivesMatter. Beyoncé didn’t unconsciously throw out the multitude of “Slay”s for no reason. Bounce music in itself is a unique form of New Orleans’ LGBT culture. The are voice cameos from Big Freedia and Messy Mya are political through the sheer fact of their inclusion as the only artists besides Beyoncé to feature in the video. This move is similar to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s galvanizing appearance in the middle of ***Flawless. Like Adichie’s cameo, their voices are present in order to radicalize the song, while simultaneously heightening the attempts to capture a rich, well-rounded, captivating and accurate portrait of Black Louisiana life that transcends from the boulevards to the bayous.

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The visuals are extremely powerful because they reinforce the true message of the song. They shed light on the current struggles of being Black in America. The three little girls in white dresses and the little boy dancing at the end are specifically important for the conversation on the necessity and ultimately, the accessibility of a genuine childhood, for Black children. There are historical markers, current cultural markers, Deep South gothic witchcraft, a  Black Owned Hair shop, a variety of traditionally black hairstyles from afros to intricate weaves, choreography set to bounce music (which originated from Black LGBT culture), all topped off by the breath taking visual of Beyonce drowning with a N.O. police car. The lyrics alone are an anthem for Black culture. Combined with the video, this is possibly one of the most powerful commentaries on the Black American experience both historically and presently that our generation has ever seen.

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The young, Black boy dancing in front of an all-white police force is by far some of the most powerful imagery. At a very high level of generality, even justified acts of violence, such as those taken in self-defense, still perpetuate violence.  And, as we have seen many times, even when the oppressed react totally justifiably, by defending themselves violently against a violent oppressor, the oppressor simply makes it worse and creates more violence and pain. The dancing child is innocent. Making and performing art, such as dance, until the coercive power of the state surrenders is the only act of resistance that will ultimately decimate that power.

Symbolism

The symbolism throughout Beyoncé’s video is iconic:

Beyonce standing on a cop car

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The Black Owned Hair Store

 

Natural Hair

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Blue Ivy

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The Young, Dancing Black Child

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#CarefreeBlackGirl Realness

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Mardi Gras

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Messy Mya
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If you don’t know Messy Mya, get thee to YouTube immediately! The fact that Formation was also used to spotlight important & noteworthy Queer black people like big freedia and messy mya really makes me feel a way. Messy Mya whose real name was Anthony Barre was a New Orleans based comedian and rapper.  known for his raspy voice, Day-Glo hair and the withering shade he delivered in numerous YouTube videos.

Messy was funny, raw and politically incorrect. His videos, which clocked tens of thousands of views, addressed the people he saw everyday and the violence that was part of their regular life. As a marginalized, queer, Black man, Messy Mya in all of his wildest imagination, ribbing, and capping would not have believed that the world’s biggest pop star would use his voice in a video. He would have been overjoyed. Messy Mya, a household NOLA name, was shot and killed at age 22. The city has had the highest or one of the highest murder rates in the country since I was a child. In focusing on Black New Orleanian lives

 

Big Freedia

Big Freedia, a New Orleans-based bounce rapper, was just one of the many surprises heard on Beyonce’s hypnotic, new single. While Formation wasbig-freedia-god-save-queen-diva-book-lead largely about Beyonce revisiting her roots, the song also touched on larger themes of race, gender and sexuality. For Freedia, speaking out on the issue of police brutality was especially powerful.”It’s very important that she has this platform to keep speaking on,” Freedia says. “Police brutality is still happening all over the world, and they try to brush it under the rug, but it’s still a big issue. It still needs to be dealt with.””It hit home with a lot people,” Freedia adds, saying the entire New Orleans community is behind the track. “The whole city is just gagging.” It is important to note that while Big Freedia has personally adapted the use of female pronouns, the “Queen of Bounce” doesn’t identify as transgender.

 

 

Superbowl Performance

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My friends and I sat in our dorms basement anxiously awaiting Beyonce’s performance. There was bout 6 white kids there with us watching the game, cheering for Peyton Manning. I, on the other hand was cheering for Cam Newton and Beyonce in the honor of Black History Month and Blackness altogether. Beyonce’s arrival on our TV screen caused us to erupt into an array of endless screams before hurrying to hush so that we could hear what she came to perform.

Can you imagine the drama behind the scenes that must have gone down between her team and the Superbowl organizers for her to perform this song?! She performed that song at Super bowl 50 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s formation (1966) in the BAY AREA! The Superbowl performance was nothing short of amazing but of course, not everyone felt that way.

 

 

Reception

Its amazing to hear why white people don’t like Beyoncé’s new video. They say its too ghetto or they don’t feel included.

Literally everything is created to satisfy white people, everything is centered on the white experience, white people are in everything, but now that Beyoncé wants to be proud of her blackness, guess who has a problem? White. People.

Mad White People

I’ve seen comments by white people calling [Beyonce’s] performance “racist.” That’s not what racism is. What those white people really mean to say is: “I was expecting to be entertained, but instead I was confronted by an unapologetically strong black female performer with references to groups which existed to challenge and dismantle the racist infrastructure of white privilege that I refuse to acknowledge yet from which I benefit, and I was made to feel uncomfortable for a whole 75 seconds.” It’s hard to say who was the most upset but I’ll definitely have to give the “You Must Be SUPER mad” cape to Tomi Lahren. Tomi Lahren is an American television, online video host and conservative political commentator. She currently hosts Tomi for TheBlaze.

Tomi Lahren

 

Rudy Giuliani

 

When innocent Black people are victims of police brutality time and time again, no one wants to talk about it. News stations stay quiet. White feminists, probably those similar to Tomi Lahren, are nowhere to be found when women of color are the victims of racism or other attacks. They only speak out when it comes to white, cis, straight women.

However, when a Black artist such as Beyonce comes along with a song and performance  to make a statement against all the racism and defends black people, white people complain as if it is the worse crime ever, as if it is a disaster to defend our own race against all the oppression and racism that has been antagonizing us for years. No one has a problem with police officers killing innocent people based on their skin colour but everybody seems to have problem with a non-violent Black woman singing about loving herself and her people.

Many times we have to deal with the fact that all forms of media are filled with white actors or characters and lack any form of true representation for people of color. While there are so many amazing actors available, they aren’t valued. Yet, white people have the nerve to complain when there are no white dancers in Beyonce’s video or performance at the Superbowl.

 

Hoteps

When she went to the march for Trayvon during the Zimmerman trial,the Black conscious community accused her of trying to steal attention from the seriousness of Trayvon’s death. So, she slid to the background, stopped going to marches, but bailed out protesters during the Baltimare Uprisings and donated millions of dollars to #BlackLivesMatter. Then, the conscious community became upset and said she was just throwing money and not using her celebrity to bring light to the issues. tumblr_o2b6k6mC6R1su8zaro1_540Now, she performs at the Superbowl, the most viewed television event of the year, with her backup dancers dressed as Black Panthers and her fist in the air. She’s using her celebrity in a very public way to support blackness, and people are saying that she’s only doing it for publicity.

Granted, I don’t know Beyonce’s heart. I don’t know her intentions but let’s think this through: Do you really think Beyonce needs any type of publicity stunt when her surprise album went platinum with no promotion? She’s been here the whole time and the black “conscious” community has been attacking every effort she makes. Every. Single. One. It’s so sad that so many “conscious” people want to discredit what Beyonce is doing because of what she’s not doing. How about this, stop criticizing and pick up where she left off. Attempting to discredit her because she supports gay rights or rocks blonde weaves is far from “Pro-Black”.

This is a woman who not only financially supports black causes but has risked alienating her most lucrative audience to make a statement on behalf of her own black Americans. tumblr_o267s7nl6z1uy0b3do1_500Yet these same people who judging and ridiculing do nothing but look “the part” and talk a good game, while making no effort to invoke change. Just because you may feel like you need to rock a Afro in order to be proud of being black, many don’t. Watching Hidden Colors twice a week, creating false memes about Egyptian history, eating an Alkaline diet while wearing your dashiki will not set your people free. Be CONSCIOUS of the fact that being pro black is just that, being pro black and not a Afro or being a Hidden Colors enthusiasts … put your money, time and life on the line for your people and stop idolizing self severing rebellion.

 

 

Black Panthers

It’s 2016, internet & libraries are easily accessible, and yet there are white people that STILL have the nerve and uneducated gall to compare the Black Panthers to the KKK.

The original Black Panthers were an armed group founded to defend black people against being killed in the streets and police brutality. They were formed as an act of resistence when black people were being unjustly murdered. Beyonce’s performance is nowhere near unprovoked. A news anchor said the performance deprived “little white girls” the opportunity for racial harmony. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani thinks she used her platform to “attack police officers,” and also believes her ties to the Black Panther Party should be investigated. Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke called the Black Panther Party a “subversive hate group.” Just like almost 50 years ago when the party was founded, people are still abundantly clueless about who the party is and what they stand for.

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Ultimately, the Panthers focused on Black liberation and safety of Black Americans. The Panthers were strategic in their approach. One of their most notable tactics involved the Panthers following law enforcement officers around town. Therefore, when the cops would pull over a Black person, and prepare to become unnecessarily volatile with them, there stood the Panthers right behind them, watching and waiting, while armed and reciting legal statutes. That was only one of many tactics they used. Their largest accomplishments included an array of other community initiatives. They had weapons training, self defense, free breakfast programming and their own newspaper. They raised money to pay for bail and legal funding for people and they used to notify the community of their rights and encourage people to know the laws and protest any that were deemed unjust. That type of defiance irked the local police and struck a nerve with the FBI. They were taking back the streets and providing the protection the police were never interested in bringing to their neighborhoods from the very start.

These comparisons of the Black Panthers to the KKK are not only ignorant butoffensive and infuriating. Was the BPP roaming through white neighborhoods, terrorizing them and hanging them? Name a white person lynched by the Black Panther Party (You can’t.)Name a white person chased off their property/land by the Black Panther Party. Name a police department so infiltrated by the BPP that they let them kill white citizens with no investigation or consequences. Did the Black Panther Party ever walk into a police precinct, take the white prisoners and kill them with the approval of the police? Did the BPP ever kill a white man for whistling at a black woman? Did they ever kill a white man for being accused of raping a BW? Did the BPP ever hang a white man in the public square while blacks danced in the background? The answer to all of these questions is HELL NO. So stop trying to make yourselves the victim. Stop the madness. NOTHING that any Black group has ever done to/said about white people can ever or will ever compare to the oppression black people have faced. White people, you are not oppressed in the US and you never have been. You’ve never known a country that didn’t stand for YOUR interests to the outright exclusion of others. NOTHING that the Black Panthers or any black group or individual has done can ever or will ever compare to the fucking KKK. Did the BPP establish “sun down towns” where white people had to leave by sundown under threat of bodily harm or death if they didn’t? Because the KKK did all that and MORE. They terrorized Black people from coast to coast for over a hundred years and are still kicking today.

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“My daddy Alabama….”

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“Momma Louisiana…”

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“You mix that Negro with that Creole, MAKE A TEXAS BAMMAAAAH!”

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Conclusion

Is This Beyonce’s Story To Tell?

Maris Jones of BlackGirlDangerous wrote an article detailing her feelings in regards to Beyonce’s storytelling approach for Formation. In short, Maris feels as though Beyonce using Post-Katrina imagery was insincere and utterly despicable. I, however, disagree vehemently. I won’t take away from Maris’ emotions, those are for her to own but I will stand by my belief that Beyonce is advocating for causes she truly cares about. The story  of New Orleans pre & post Katrina is not for anyone to dictate.

Others have shot down Beyonce’s video in honor of Messy Mya saying that “it would have been easy for Beyoncé to dedicate Formation to Messy Mya and other victims of gun violence. She provided no context for his life or death.” However, that is far from the truth. While Messy Mya did die due to proximity violence, the systemic struggles that he dealt with were directly addressed in the video.


 

This video is not for white people.

It is not for white sorority girls.

It is not for old white men.

I’ve had so many people say that Beyonce is not doing “enough”. I don’t know what it is that Beyonce isn’t doing enough of but I simply encourage all those people to get to work on their own terms. Liberation takes the efforts of many.

Formation was also so important because i have never in my life seen Louisiana Creole Culture represented in the media in this way. Never. That aspect may not seem like a big deal to anyone but to literally never see the meals you eat or the customs you follow or the people who deal with the same racial issues as you on TV or in film/music videos is something that people like me have to experience everyday. I remember becoming emotional while watching it for the second time when I had finally overcome my excitement. Initially I didn’t know why I was so happy but it dawned on me quickly. There were girls in the video with skin and curly hair and bodies like me. Creole culture is never in the media, outside of the South, nobody knows what/who we are. It’s always been really difficult for me to navigate Creole heritage because I was never sure if that counted as Black. Seeing Beyonce merge Black and Creole culture together in her video and having her dancers in all shades of black was an amazing experience and I commend her for that.

All of those 4c afros? Can we talk about not only the reclamation of our nostrils and baby hairs, but our power as well? Can we talk about a field of Black WOMEN in BP berets? Please? I want to hear what you guys are thinking.

Please, let’s be clear: Beyonce did not have to do this (Or did she? Do you think Black Artists have an obligation be activists?). Sure, it’s nice and it shows an overall consciousness for their overall…existence but in the grand scheme of things, they don’t have to be any more active than us. Artists at some point reach a certain level of success that can exist alongside their humanness. It is not their artistry that demands a need for consciousness and action, but it is their Blackness that should seek to be aware and informed which leads to revolutionary actions.She could have dropped a safe, apolitical dance track, gone right out on that stage and performed 7/11, and her pocketbook would have been just fine. She did not have to release a video celebrating every bit of her melanin, and ours. She had no need to sink a police car in Post-Katrina New Orleans or amplify the voices of Black queers. She didn’t have to publicly, unambiguously, and unapologetically cement her place at the perpetually fraught intersection of Black and Female.

She didn’t have to, but she did. And in so doing, she has given us all leave to be not just pro-Black, but pro-hot sauce, collard greens, wide noses, and a million other things we’ve been taught to believe mark us as inferior. Black girls are magic, and Beyoncé just waved the mahogany wand. Rejoice.

 

If I wasn’t already proud of being Black and from the south, Beyonce would have changed that up for me today. Formation is not a PLEA that #BlackLivesMatter, it is a warning that they do.

 

What did you think of the video? Comment & Share!

 

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