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This past weekend Beyoncé dropped the most articulate and
artistic piece of music to her haters and her fans, and to black girls and women all over the country. The single "Formation" took the Internet by storm; it's only been one day after Beyoncé's Super Bowl halftime performance, and people are already calling for a boycott of the singer for sending a harsh message to the police.
I first found the music video on my Facebook page, when one of my best friends posted that Beyoncé was basically God. I was confused and unsure about what she was referencing, so I clicked through the link to find a beautiful image of Queen Bey lying on top of a police car, half-immersed in water. I was immediately captivated by the images coming from the screen.
The image of Beyoncé sinking on a police vehicle, of a very young hooded black boy dancing before a line of police officers in their riot gear, of the words painted on a wall saying "stop shooting us," is frightening and clear.
And then there are the images of women donning glamorous fabrics, pearls and bright colors, chanting incantations designed to put you in your place. The mix of French and African cultures can be hauntingly aristocratic and tribal at the same time.
I thought of my grandmother who was born in Louisiana, who raised me and exposed me to the Creole culture. I was moved to see the state, particularly the city of New Orleans, play a huge role in the music video. While Beyoncé isn't from Louisiana, the singer pays respect to her roots—to her mom's heritage is Louisiana Creole and her father as a black man from Alabama.
Blue Ivy's beauty is affirmed and solid in a way that black girls have not seen or experienced for centuries.
The message in "Formation" speaks plainly and clearly to the black American experience that began in the South. Beyond Louisiana's unique history and its rich political and racial landscape, the state is also where we watched thousands upon thousands of black people be displaced during Hurricane Katrina. We watched as black people, including elderly and children, waded through the waters without support for several days. Beneath the unique blends of culture found in Louisiana exist a layer of poverty impenetrable on many levels. But music, dance, art, food and sexuality continue to be an expression of these communities, and Beyoncé gives the spotlight to what many black Americans count as ours.
So she repeatedly says, "I slay," as she calls the ladies to get in formation in order to slay. This is a unique and deeply rich black experience, filled with hot and raw sensuality, swamps, jazz and smoldering Southern wet heat. And Beyoncé took us there, back to our grandmothers' memories, to our early days, to our current conditions as uniquely experience through the varied black American narrative.
Even the lyrics "I carry hot sauce in my bag, swag" is so black and so country, I can only laugh as I consider the many occasions I regret not having my own. In that line alone, there's a throwback to slavery and our ability to make scraps from the master tasty and flavorful.
Artists have the charge, when they take it, to speak to the masses in ways that politician, spiritual leaders and lay people cannot. Artistry is a common language most can feel. Like Nina Simone's "Mississippi God Damn," "Formation" blasts the racist practices of living and thriving in our nation today. Kate Forristall wrote a very moving piece titled "Formation Doesn't Include Me — And That's Just Fine," which I thought was the most considerate and thoughtful examination of race from a white person in a very long time. "How many centuries were our black brothers and sisters relegated to the position of audience?" Forristall asks. The black experience has continually been raped and scavenged by the parent cultural without giving any appreciation to our deep contributions. So thank you for sitting in the sidelines this time and cheering us on.
I hope women, especially mothers like Beyoncé, will create more messages of celebration and truth for our babies to see how valuable we are
As a powerful artist during a time when celebrity carries a lot of weight, Beyoncé's messages in this hyperconnected world can be very impactful. Our children continually get messaging
that we, black people, are not free or not as free as our white counterparts.
History shows that we are not protected, celebrated and held in the same esteem
as our white counterparts. But Beyoncé turns the tables (for just a moment) on these
historical and current traumas as she places her beautiful daughter, Blue Ivy,
front and center, wearing an afro like a crown, stepping forward into the
camera in her white dress. Her beauty is affirmed and solid in a way that black
girls have not seen or experienced for centuries. Art is the sword used to slay
mediocrity and outdated belief systems that continue to suffocate the masses, and Beyoncé welds that sword, giving rise to new dialogue.
As a black woman and mother of a young son, I pay homage
and great respect to any and all women who are willing to claim an empowered
position for ourselves and our children. I speak to black women and moms each
day who can't understand or stomach the current racial tensions in our nation.
We simply just can't accept that we haven't found or created the social
tools to heal our wounds around race, slavery and racism.
we raise a new generation of children that will touch humanity anew as
Americans? I hope women, especially mothers like Beyoncé, will create more
messages of celebration and truth for our babies to see how valuable we are. And
maybe that message will ripple beyond black homes and into the hearts of all
Americans regardless of race and gender. I hope all parents will teach their children the authentic history of
our beloved America. Because knowing the history of our nation will explore why black lives matter—and why music like Beyoncé's are not to be ignored.