Why can’t we all just get in Formation?

Oluwaseun Matiluko praises the way Beyonce has defied the media and popular culture and celebrated her own blackness.

‘I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros, I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.’

Beyoncé doesn’t play by the rules. Unannounced, she released a new song which garnered huge critical acclaim and criticism.

Beyoncé’s song ‘Formation’ is influenced by various aspects of African-American culture. From ‘baby hairs’ to ‘hot sauce’ she fully embraces her Texan roots and black heritage. Admittedly, there is no political stance taken in the song itself, but it is exceptional for being one of her only songs that talks about her blackness. As a recent Saturday Night Live skit suggests, some white people were shocked to discover that she’s black.

Prior to ‘Formation’, all of Beyoncé’s songs were carefully crafted in order to appeal to a wide audience. This is the first time that one of her songs has been significantly curtailed to her black fans. I don’t think this is a bad thing, there will always be art which will appeal to some more than others.

At a time where it is consistently reinforced that black women are uglier or inferior to white women, this song, embracing wide nostrils and natural hair and encouraging every black woman to be a ‘Bill Gates in the making’, has a profound deeper meaning. Beyoncé is reminding black women that they ‘slay’.

Beyonce - Mairead Finlay

The music video accompanying the song is also powerful. This is where her polemic political message comes through. There are two distinct images that show Beyoncé’s solidarity with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Her lying on top of a cop car in a flooded street is an obvious reference to Hurricane Katrina’s devastating effects on the black population of New Orleans. At the time there was intense criticism of the government’s response to the suffering of black people in New Orleans. Beyoncé paying homage to that reminds us that in America black people are still treated poorly. Following on from this, at the end of the video, the water levels rise and Beyoncé falls below the surface. The later image of a boy dancing in front of a police squadron, who have their hands up, and the message ‘stop shooting us’ scrawled on the wall are obviously messages against police brutality.

As mainstream America is finally waking up to the issues of police brutality that black people face, I think it is amazing that a celebrity of Beyoncé’s stature has spoken out. We’ve seen how often, when black celebrities speak on black issues the media crucify them – the Smith family boycott of the ‘Oscars’ springs to mind. Despite the risk of heavy criticism Beyoncé has brought more awareness to the cause than could have been raised by most protestors.

Nonetheless, the critics came for her. Yes they did. Somehow, her telling the police to ‘stop shooting us (black people)’ is wrong and anti-police.

That’s what the hundreds of people who purported to protest against her claimed (in reality only 2 people came to the anti-Beyoncé protest). That’s what those boycotting Red Lobster, a food chain that was mentioned in the song, claim. That’s what the head of the Miami Police Union claims. Really? That’s what they took from it?

Obviously Beyoncé isn’t anti-police. She is anti-police brutality. Nowhere has she made a generalized sweeping statement that all police are in the wrong. But unarmed black people have been shot by the police. So what is wrong with her saying ‘stop shooting us’? Surely disagreeing with this statement only suggests that the police should keep on ‘shooting us’.

Then they criticised her Super Bowl performance. Instead of focusing on Coldplay’s performance, Bruno Mars’ exceptional dance moves or Beyoncé’s devastatingly good vocal performance, people want to talk about clothes.

Specifically the clothes of Beyoncé and her dancers, which were reminiscent of the attire of the Black Panther Party. Again, due to this allegiance with the Black Panther Beyoncé is accused of being ‘anti-police’ and ‘anti-white people’. Once again this statement is false.

There is a photo of some of the dancers with a ‘Justice 4 Mario Woods sign’: Beyoncé’s objective is to bring attention to the fact that black lives do matter. The Black Panther Party were also against police brutality and were not, as some people have claimed, a terrorist organization.

As a black woman, ‘Formation’ has made me even prouder of my black skin. Now excuse me, whilst I ‘get in formation’.

Illustration by Mairead Finlay

One thought on “Why can’t we all just get in Formation?

  1. Excellent post! I wish more white people could understand that it is perfectly acceptable for a black artist to make art that white people (myself included) are allowed to appreciate but not participate in. The reaction to Formation from white people basically drove this point home. It’s like the most threatening thing that any person of color can do is demand the ability to keep something for themselves. White people are historically terrible at dealing with that…

    Thanks again. A great piece of commentary!!!!!!!


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