Editor in Chief of Naked Politics
The last weekend has been a formidable one for all Beyoncé fans. Bey has echoed the surprise release her last album, by casually dropping fans a new song and video, and forever cementing it in our memory with one of the most epic Super Bowl performances ever last Sunday.
Ordinarily, a new Beyoncé track is always an earth shattering, stop-whatever-you’re-doing moment. The bass thumping song Formation gives us what we’ve long become accustomed to from her: brazen female strength, an unapologetic embrace of female sexuality, and an unashamed love for herself and her accomplishments. But Bey reaches new political heights in this song.
Firstly, it’s an unabashed celebration of being black and being proud of your roots (the title itself alludes just as much to the formation of Beyoncé herself, as well as to how it is explicitly used in the song as a command to “get in formation”). She cleverly pays homage to her roots with a parade of black women donned in 19th century style dresses, juxtaposed against a more modern, 90’s style double denim clad dancing squad.
Most importantly, in a world where white features and attributes are prized as being the most beautiful, she proudly states that she loves her “negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” and her baby Blue Ivy’s natural fro. We’re so used to seeing a white washed (pun definitely intended) version of black females. Black women with lighter skin, thinner noses, and straighter hair, such as Zoe Saldana, Rihanna or Thandie Newton tend to be the media representation of black women. From the get go, black women are taught not to love their natural selves on quite a fundamental level. I myself have been complimented many times for my hair, because it is capable of looking so straight (thanks to my Indian heritage and my beloved ghds). Accepting the compliment, I always feel a lingering twinge of guilt, because I know the subtext of what people are really saying is that “your hair is beautiful because it is akin to being white”. My hair is capable of mimicking white hair, therefore that makes it more beautiful.
Formation flips this unfair perception; Beyoncé’s slaying with her black features. She doesn’t need to play down her blackness, she owns it. The sense of empowerment from this is incredible. So many little black girls who wish their hair was straighter or their nose less broad know that this song speaks to them. Beyoncé is using her creative abilities and power as a famous individual to shape a world where black girls can slay and be proud of who they see in the mirror.
Secondly, and perhaps even more pertinently, in her appreciation for black culture and her mixed roots, Beyoncé has not shied away from one of the biggest issues affecting the African American community: police brutality. This is in sharp contrast to other artists who are happy to embrace and appropriate African American culture to enhance themselves artistically (cough- *Iggy Azalea*- cough *Miley Cyrus*) but are not overly bothered about speaking out against the very obvious racial divisions that affect blacks in America.
Blacks are three times more likely to be killed than whites by the police, despite being only 14% of the population, suggesting many police officers don’t think black lives matter. Beyoncé has embraced the Black Lives Matter cause, having donated over $1 million to the organisation, despite much negative reporting on them. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, a man who avoids facts and statistics as though he’s got some sort of allergy against them, branded them a “hate group” akin to the Ku Klux Klan. I can only assume Fox New’s response to her performance at the Super Bowl was for all the new readers to go into a collective meltdown.
Despite this, the video is awash with imagery directly alluding to these issues, from Yoncé draped on a drowning police car, to a black child confronted with a barrage of police officers against a back drop of a wall sprayed with the sentence “don’t shoot us”. At the Super Bowl, her dancers were dressed Black Panther-esque uniforms, sporting afros. She deliberately chose such an occasion, to bring as much attention as possible to the gaping inequality and galling daily disadvantages black people have to face, whilst remaining a strong and proud member of her community. White middle class America had no choice but to face up to the glaring racial cracks in their society.
Beyoncé always keeps us guessing, but this is a turn I did not expect. I am so glad that she has decided to use her artistic talents to do something truly ground breaking and keep the world’s attention focused on issues that are so important. Even Beyoncé can’t solve the deeply entrenched racism that is soaked into the American psyche. But she has created an incredible piece of work that gives these issues the recognition they deserve. Someone as powerful and well respected as Beyoncé bringing this to the fore on such a big stage might just be a turning point for many Americans. That is surely something to celebrate.