Within hours of Beyoncé dropping her latest single “Formation,” I had heard the song, seen the video (multiple times) and sat back while supporters and haters alike dove into the details of the five minute experience.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, I think we should all admit that at one time or another, we have jammed out to, been empowered by and aspired to be like Beyoncé. Everyone likes Beyoncé so stop pretending you’re too cool to admit it. Now that that’s out of the way, we can begin dissecting this video as if we were in a 10th grade biology class.
The song’s rhythm, lyrics and imagery all feed into a creole and southern gothic gumbo. Beyoncé is clearly feeling her roots in this song, and if there’s one thing that makes people uncomfortable it’s a confident woman proud of herself and her heritage.
Throughout the video, Beyoncé embraces embraces elements of black culture that are usually cast as negative stereotypes. From loving husband Jay-Z’s “Jackson Five nostrils,” to the countless women rocking natural hair, Beyoncé breaks down labels to rebuild them.
The video opens with a powerful scene: Beyoncé, beautiful as ever, standing on a New Orleans police car submerged in a flooded community. This not-so-subtle reference to the devastatingly poor governmental response to Hurricane Katrina reminds listeners that this series of mistakes has yet to be fully resolved. This systematic neglect seems to be specific to the poor, black communities in New Orleans.
Because the NOLA area has a large intersection of black and lower class citizens, many have argued that this poor reaction to the video underscores the deep-rooted problem of racism in the United States. For those who don’t remember, rapper Kanye West said on national TV in 2001 that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Regardless of how true that statement is, one thing is certain; Hurricane Katrina destroyed the lives of thousands of black families, and Beyoncé has not forgotten about them.
The theme of racism within government is revisited when a young black boy wearing a hoodie is pictured break dancing as a dozen police officers face him. The screen then pans to a graffitied wall that reads “stop shooting us.” The phrase popularized by the Black Lives Matters movement looks to address the institutionalized racism plaguing the nation, and it seems that pop’s biggest star is looking to do the same Much of the controversy around “Formation” is centered around Beyoncé’s support of the movement.
To this I say: get over it. Beyoncé does not once say she hates police. Nor does she advocate for violence, racial superiority or anything other than basic human rights. The facts are clear. The opposition is wrong in assuming that the Black Lives Matter activists are asserting that their lives matter more. It’s a matter of equality, not superiority.
The fact of the matter is that injustice is a huge problem everywhere, denying that is turning an ignorant blind eye to huge social problem. If you have never been faced with discrimination, consider yourself a lucky one. But just because you have never been faced with discrimination, doesn’t mean you can dismiss those who have.
We can all agree on the fact that Beyoncé has a strong voice. She is looked at by many as an embodiment of a strong, successful African American woman. She has the respect of many and is constantly in the limelight. Her using her music to serve as a voice for those facing discrimination should gain her nothing but more respect and admiration.
Beyoncé has an unparalleled platform, and I believe she has every right to use it. The Queen has once again proven she does not need anyone’s permission to live her life. She has left her mark and continued to stand up for what she believes in. And I further believe that it’s time for the rest of the nation to get in formation.
Rachel Yelverton studies political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.