by Tiffany Lee
Last Saturday afternoon, Beyoncé dropped the video for “Formation.” Ever since then I have seen non-Black people casually dismissing the video on social media.
If all you saw was Beyoncé in the middle of overturned houses ‘wading in the water’ and your reaction was, “oh my god, how could she capitalize on Katrina? How tasteless!” then this video was not made for you. That means you are also probably someone who had to Urbandictionary.com “Bama”, thought “bitch” only had one meaning, and got confused by Beyoncé’s use of “babyhair” twice in the same sentence. That also probably means you are someone who doesn’t, and shouldn’t be, using the term Negro, because this is the first time you heard the word “slay” in a sense that ain’t got shit to do with any type of dragons.
The brilliance of “Formation” is that it boiled down and stewed Black life, art, and culture into an epic 5-minute music video. “Formation” isn’t about Beyoncé or even about her constant conflation of capitalistic success with feminist liberation. This video is about how Black folks have learned how to sing songs, kiss babies, yell for joy, make love, and recite poems all while holding a mouth full of our dead.
Within the first 45 seconds of “Formation” I thought about that Ntozake Shange line when Indigo laughs out loud because her mama chastises her for having “too much South in her.” As the video progressed, I found myself rubbing the back of my thighs because it had me thinking ‘bout sticky summers on my grandma’s plastic covered couch and my mama’s knees on my cheek when she greased my scalp.
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I clapped out loud when I saw a man use bulletproof bodega glass as a backdrop for his stage and my womb stretched out of my body in fear and joy as I watched that little Black boy dance in front of a line of cops. It reminded of the time that I threw Toni Morrison’s Beloved across the room right after the dead baby showed back up on her mother’s porch.
After the first time Beyoncé said “if he fuck me good imma take his ass to Red Lobster”, I dropped out of my seat because it cut to that epic Black older aunty side eye. Then I couldn’t get up off the floor because Beyoncé just keeps saying it again. I’m all too familiar with that same shade that happens at Black family functions every day.
Many of us who watched this video over and over and thought about all them water references and how it connected to the mermaid colored hair on the girls in the weave shop. We’re the people who, when we think of New Orleans, we don’t just think about the levees. We remember the flood of people who moved down to New Orleans after the storm, buying up all our people’s houses when they couldn’t afford to fix them.
If these aren’t your experiences, references or reactions, that’s okay. And if this video didn’t give you life, that’s okay too. But if these aren’t your experiences and you’re out here saying any variation of “this video makes no sense/is dumb/kinda scary,” “she’s not even singing,” “Beyoncé fans are stupid,” “what’s she even saying?” or anything that has anything to do with a politics of respectability, then you need to stop.
We know that Beyoncé isn’t necessarily our Black Feminist Hero – there are way too many activists and folk who are out there fighting, supporting, and holding together Black communities for us to be under the simplistic illusion that Beyoncé does all of that for us. And I look forward to all the juicy Black folk critiques – because nothing is Blacker than reading and being read.
But just please don’t be out here casually dismissing the video just because you ain’t got in-“Formation.”
Tiffany Lee is a spoken word artist and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Gender and Women’s Studies and Afro-American Studies.
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