Reclamation Through Formation
by Olivia Gauthier
On Saturday, February 6th, Beyoncé released a music video for her song “Formation” and followed up with a live performance of it during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. These successive events sparked yet another fire as people disagreed over the central message of the song: black pride or black supremacy?
The music video, with visual displays and memorable lyrics, celebrates black culture in a timely manner with the Black Lives Matter, an activist movement that is calling for black liberation. The video displays a number of unforgettable scenes including: Beyoncé on top of a New Orleans’ police car in the middle of what appears to be a flooded area, a line of female dancers with natural hair, and a young black boy dancing in front of a police line.
Each scene speaks to a relevant aspect of black life: the scene with the car submerged in flood water speaks to the past debate of whether or not black people were purposely not being given help during Hurricane Katrina; the female dancers with natural hair shows pride in the face of institutions that deem natural hair “unprofessional” and “unkempt”; the young, hooded boy dancing in front of the police line calls to the war against police brutality. In a solemn manner, when he is through dancing, the boy raises his hands and the policemen raise theirs as well.
The lyrics, repetitive and at some points seemingly nonsensical, are another point of pride. Two lines in particular, coming one after another, celebrate black features that for a long time have been deemed unappealing in terms of beauty.
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros.
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.”
African Americans have distinct physical features that do not fit within the typical European standards of beauty. These include dark skin, tightly coiled hair, wide noses, and full lips. With her lyrics, Beyoncé commemorates the features that for years have been considered unattractive. Black women took to Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media to express their delight and saying for the first time in their lives, they are proud of their “negro nose” and other physical characteristics.
Naysayers of the song believe it promotes an anti-police agenda. The sinking police car, the message “stop shooting us” that shows momentarily, and the boy dancing in front of the police have been called “offensive.” Additionally, the Black Panther outfits were seen as an anti-white call to action.
I cannot speak for anybody besides myself. I cannot say for sure what the true message of “Formation” was. I can only speak for myself and say what I know as a black woman. I know that when I first watched the music video, I was in awe. I know when Beyoncé sang about her Negro nose, I touched my own and smiled. I know when I watched that little boy raise his hands in front of all those police and they raised theirs, too, I wanted to cry. I know that what I saw, and what I felt when I saw it, was something that will not escape me for a very long time.