By Tochi Onuora
Beyoncé was the word of last weekend. Her release of the fantastic music video for ‘Formation’, and her performance at the Super Bowl halftime show has left the world in no doubt over who’s the Queen (sorry Liz).
As always, somebody feels the need to complain. The music video for ‘Formation’ has been the source of controversy stateside, as has her aforementioned performance, with one side heralding it as artistic propaganda, another complaining that it’s racist to white, and a third dismissing it altogether as superficial
If you haven’t seen the video in all its glory yet, I’ll give you a quick opportunity to watch it right here.
…Is Beyoncé racist?
No. She is not.
It’s a political statement, especially with regards to black femininity. For example, take the scenes showing Beyoncé on top of a sinking police car in a flood. This is not only a reference to the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused to New Orleans, back in 2005, but also an homage to the time that Fox News, naturally, accused Kendrick Lamar of inciting violence by performing on top of police car at the Black Entertainment Awards.
Kendrick made a statement about police brutality towards black Americans, and in showing this in the video, Beyoncé echoes this. ‘Formation’ is a rallying cry to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
The other iconic shot supporting this is the one of the young child dancing in front of a group of armed riot officers, in ‘Formation’. The image is powerful, and one that successfully conveys the disproportionate response to, and unfair treatment of, black people by the police. The video even pans to a wall with the graffiti “Stop Shooting Us”.
Formation is about female empowerment too. Specifically, black female empowerment. In various scenes, Beyoncé dances, in Formation, with black female dancers. However, this isn’t the usual somewhat misogynistic presentation of female dancers that we’re accustomed to in mainstream media. We see them dancing together, sexily, in control of their power. Every dancer (and in fact, every person in the video, bar the riot officers) is black.
Now, it’s possible to talk forever about the importance of black hair, and with great humour as seen in Good Hair by Chris Rock. In the video, every dancer is seen with natural hair. They are powerful, they are in control, and they are wearing their hair how it grows naturally.
This may seem insignificant to many, but it isn’t. Black women (and men) constantly have to adhere to Western standards of beauty. This includes the Western style of straight hair. So biased are people against natural Afro hair, that black women are, for example, unlikely to be offered jobs if they wear their hair naturally, or even in a neat way, such as braids (of course, they’re far less likely to be offered them anyway). People like my mother have hence had to deal with the fallout of endless relaxation (chemical straightening) treatments and so on.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with relaxing your hair by choice. There is something wrong however, when you have no choice but to do what is assumed by many. It’s quite hilarious at times. It doesn’t even cross many minds that black hair does not grow straight. I am not unfamiliar with the question “How do you get your hair to be like that?” Beyoncé empowers black women, showing natural hair to be beautiful, whilst the video as a whole shows black people to be powerful.
Now for the controversy. During her performance at the Super Bowl, members of the National Sheriffs’ Association meeting in Washington turned off the screen, calling the performance anti-police. Police officers have written in saying that they were offended. People have taken to Facebook to call for a Beycott.
The video calls the police in the US out on their failures. Is that anti-police? I guess. I’m guessing if a group of people frequently beat you up/shot you dead for walking down the street, you’d be an ‘anti-those-people’ person too.
Furthermore, some people have been complaining that the video is racist (and likewise her performance), for only featuring black people. Well, if you’re calling it racist, you don’t understand the term ‘racism’ and you don’t get the point of the video – black empowerment.
People need to stop jumping on the reverse-racism #AllLivesMatter train because it’s only heading to a dead end. It’s not enough for Beyoncé to quietly allude to the struggles of Black Americans. These statements are needed for the problem to be brought to attention. If you can ignore it, it’s not doing its job. Formation has incited a conversation, and made a point.
It’s now our job to get information to stop freaking out when somebody calls out racism with something more than a cautious condemnation, and to actually take it as a cue to start fighting for change.
Stop calling Beyoncé racist. Seek accurate information, then get in Formation.