Our Formation

I promise yall. I was trying really hard to keep all my little feelings about Beyonce's Formation to myself. I planned to read all the {positive} thoughts, and leave the rest alone. But it turns out I have been inspired not only the video itself but by the {thoughtful} pieces that have been written about it. 

You should know that while I have always appreciated Beyonce's presence in the entertainment business, I never donned wings for the BeyHive. What I have loved most about Beyonce is how hard she works at her music career- she dances hard, she sings hard and she goes hard on the creativity. (I mean dropping an album with no announcement- like whoa!) In addition to her career, she seems to take very seriously the relationships in her life as daughter, sister, spouse and mother. Its unlikely that her life is perfect, but I dont need it to be. Beyonce puts in werk. (Yes, werk). And for that, and a handful of songs that make me dance around my living room, I give thanks. 

So, when I saw on twitter that we had a new video from Beyonce, I was prepared to watch it one time, give twitter one good scroll for black twitter reactions and move on with my weekend. Instead it was two hours before I finished processing #Formation! Truthfully, I might still be processing it.

Now, I cannot tell you what Beyonce intended for this video. I wasnt there as she made each choice. There are some references that are clear- "I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros"* doesnt require a whole lot of analysis. Beyonce fired back at anyone who assumed Blue Ivy's fro was an accident, mistake, or lack of time for a busy mother. Nope. Beyonce is digging her child's natural hair texture, and apparently so is Blue! But my point here, is that I have no intention of trying to tell you what Beyonce was trying to do. I can only take what she did and tell you how it made me feel.

Beyonce on top of a police car in the flooded waters of Katrina. 

A grill that glows like the lights of a police car. 

A corner store.

Multiple elements of Mardi Gras.

The hair store filled with wigs. 

The twang that screams southern life. 

The porch. 

Negro and Creole. 

Hot sauce in my bag. 

Even the church house made an appearance speaking to another meaning of the word "slay". For those of us who grew up in the black church, watching those going through it become slain in the Spirit was a regular Sunday ritual. 

While I probably would have loved this video no matter which pictures of black southern life she chose, it is not lost on me that Beyonce chose the ones that are considered by mainstream (and lets be honest, the bougie among us) to be the most un-respectable images.

Beyonce could have taken us to the South and showed a full-size grandmother cooking macaroni and cheese with some candied yams and biscuits in the kitchen. Or back folks in their church finest raising a handkerchief in the air, nodding contentedly at the sermon. Or college students walking the campus of an HBCU carrying heavy backpacks and school books. Or a couple jumping the broom. She could have given us some red beans and rice, a black marching band rocking the stages at a football game, or black and white photos of the civil rights movement. All entirely honest and respectable. 

Instead she gives us afros, blue hair, and blonde braids. She gives us negro and creole and nostrils like the Jackson 5. She gives us hot sauce in her bag while declaring that she wont ever submit her country roots to our respectable, bougie politics. Here, she doesnt mean "country" as equivalent to southern. She means "country" as in I am here for socks with sandals, twerking in the parking lot, pulling out hot sauce in a restaurant, wearing furs when its clearly not cold, doing whatever I want with my hair including blue, orange or platinum blonde, eating crawfish on the curb, dancing till my curls fall out in church, and she even refuses to silence the ways black queer culture has been inseparable from defining southern black life. 

Beyonce released a video that asks, "Does anything good come out of Nazareth?" and answers, "I slay. We slay".  I think thats a yes. 

And if that defiance wasnt enough for us, she goes two steps further. In the midst of all the voices shouting "if you were just obedient to authority, they would stop shooting you." Beyonce gives us a little black boy in a hoodie dancing with abandon before a line of officers in swat gear. Dancing with abandon. Fearless. Far from bowing down to the formation he stands as one, so confounding them that their hands raise in surrender.   

And then the police car sinks under the weight of her body in the flood waters of Katrina. 

The layers. I am still processing this, but suffice it to say, Beyonce has given us a powerfully defiant anthem that challenges us to rethink who is respectable, dignified, worthy. She even reminds us that MLK was "more than a dreamer" but also defiant against the established order. When alive he was far from being considered respectable. He was more than a dreamer; he was an agitator, one of the best in fact. 

All of this while giving us a battle cry for all black women to dream, work and own it, to get in formation with one another, to never forget the child-like joy of running in circles in with your friends. As her body slides under the water, she reminds us that our work is not in vain.  Our formation is defiant. Our formation acknowledges its roots. Our formation contains joy and sadness and isnt always respectable. Our formation matters.

Thanks, Beyonce. 


 *this line is actually even clearer! "I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros" Love! 

If you like this post, you may also like: Making Lemonade 


Austin Brown