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Beyonce's "Formation" Lyrics Celebrate My Own Southern Black Roots

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The haters came for Beyoncé after her now infamous Super Bowl 50 performance on Sunday night. People were incensed, claiming her performance was tantamount to hate speech, race baiting, and was so anti-police that many now plan to protest in front of the National Football League’s Headquarters. Beyoncé's "Formation" song and video performance involved back-up dancers, all of whom were female, dressed in black to honor the Black Panther Party movement. It featured a performance choreographed very much in the shape of an “X” to represent Malcolm X.  At its apex stood Beyoncé singing her new single, "Formation," while lyrics such as “I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” echoed through our screens at home. And it all happened during Black History Month, no less. On what many consider the most American day of the year, Beyoncé confronted America with an undeniable expression of black pride.

Where there is love, there is always hate, and I watched versions of each as I scrolled through my Facebook feed in the minutes, hours, days after her performance aired. A friend posted a screenshot of someone’s relative claiming that the Black Panther Party was the same as the Ku Klux Klan, and that Beyoncé was possessed by the Devil. A high school friend who, like me, moved away from our rural Virginia town and became a Yankee — a hipster Brooklyn-living Yankee at that — agreed with a racist comment that the Beyoncé, Chris Martin, and Bruno Mars sandwich resembled an Oreo. A video of a black man claiming that Beyoncé’s performance represented a racial “double standard” in America made its way down my feed as well.  The sheer madness of ignorance disgusted me so much that I decided to give up Facebook for Lent.

But this last example, this man’s video, really stuck with me. Plenty of artists have used the Confederate Flag as a symbol during national, televised performances, especially country artists, singers, and performers. Being from the South, I have a dysfunctional relationship with the "Rebel flag," as we call it. Now I rarely even notice when a truck drives by with a rebel decal pasted in the rear window, nor do I pay attention to the flag flapping in the wind as it hangs from a neighbor’s porch. It is as ubiquitous as the Waffle House back in my hometown.

The performance we all witnessed this weekend, the video, which was seeped in gothic imagery, and the song itself are each an expression of cultural pride so deeply Southern that it is the antithesis of the Confederate Flag: it represents freedom.
This was not an example of hate speech, race baiting, nor was it anti-police. Her performance, this song, the video, are examples of love, specifically love rooted in Beyoncé’s Southern identity. As a Southern woman, it's a love I know incredibly well.

I understand the argument that the flag is a representation of Southern pride — whether or not I agree with that assertion is something else, but still, I get it. Southerners of all races are often ridiculed: stereotyped as simpletons, rednecks, fat, poor, uneducated, lazy, and most often, just plain old trash. It's not unreasonable for a group of people to cling to a symbol they understand represents their ancestors at their most courageous, their most admirable, when they fought for what they believed was right, despite how wrong they were.

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But the history of the flag cannot be ignored: the fight for the right to own a human being, evoked during murder, waved at lynching parades, cloaking mass shooters — the hate staining its fabric erases the love those who proudly display it may want to express. Its purpose was to represent a group of men who believed so fundamentally that blacks were so inferior that they were only worth three-fifths of a person, and so in my opinion, that makes the Confederate Flag a symbol of sheer hate and overwhelming oppression. For someone to allude that Beyoncé's performance was tantamount to a white artist displaying the Confederate flag is an utter fallacy and completely ridiculous.

Rooted in this is the sense that black women represent the base, the lower levels of society, so low that we are often invisible. Yet, you, right now, are reading an essay written by a black Southern woman and America just watched my country sister, a superstar, perform her black experience on national television.

The performance we all witnessed this weekend, the video, which was seeped in gothic imagery, and the song itself are each an expression of cultural pride so deeply Southern that it is the antithesis of the Confederate Flag: it represents freedom. This was not an example of hate speech, race baiting, nor was it anti-police. Her performance, this song, the video, are examples of love, specifically love rooted in Beyoncé’s Southern identity. As a Southern woman, it's a love I know incredibly well.

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Whereas the Confederate flag was designed as a symbol of oppression, a symbol meant to support enslavement of black people, not freedom, "Formation" stands as a new flag, and it sings and sings and sings with the power of a people so inspired and so alive that it seems near impossible for us not to succeed.

Beyoncé sings, "My daddy Alabama, Mama Louisiana, you mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama," and it is not only a celebration of who she is as a person, it's a testament to the love and power and importance of the places and the people who've made and shaped her into the black woman she is today. Beyoncé's "Formation" lyrics spark a reminder of something I've forgotten in the days and years since I left my own hometown: I am nothing but the sum total of everywhere and everything and everyone who's shaped me. Beyoncé does not ask for permission to love her roots, she simply tells you she does. She doesn't put it out into the world and ask for permission — instead, she puts forth her pride boldly.

I will probably never move back to the South, yet I will never leave it behind. I am a running down a dirt road in bare feet, fatback and fried everything eating, Country Music and big trucks loving, Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry watching, code switching displaced country girl whose Southern accent always comes out when I’m back home, angry, or drunk. And although I may not do so, my relatives do carry hot sauce in their purses.

"Formation" represents the love she has for her black heritage, all representations designed to promote black pride in order to uplift the race, not bring white people down. Matter of fact, "Formation" has absolutely nothing to do with white people, to be honest. It's not a song for white people. It's a song for black people. No, it's a declaration for black people. Whereas the Confederate flag was designed as a symbol of oppression, a symbol meant to support enslavement of black people, not freedom, "Formation" stands as a new flag, and it sings and sings and sings with the power of a people so inspired and so alive that it seems near impossible for us not to succeed. In terms of symbols representing the Southern experience, "Formation" is the one I choose to carry.

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More importantly, for me, the song stirs a well of Southern pride within my own “yellow-bones” (although where I come from I’m considered a “red-bone”). When I first watched the "Formation" video, I was struck motionless. Everything about it represented what I connected with my own southern identity.

When I heard this line from the song: “earned all this money but they never take the country out me. I got hot sauce in my bag, swag,” I wanted to scream, “Oh my God, that’s me!” I will probably never move back to the South, yet I will never leave it behind. I am a running down a dirt road in bare feet, fatback and fried everything eating, Country Music and big trucks loving, Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry watching, code switching displaced country girl whose Southern accent always comes out when I’m back home, angry, or drunk. And although I may not do so, my relatives do carry hot sauce in their purses.

Courtesy of Tyrese Coleman

From the Katrina imagery, to the Daughters of the Dusk, to Gullah Island, to the Marie Laveau allusions and lyrics such as: “You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama,” "Formation" is an ode to the South, the black woman’s Southern experience. The amalgamation of imagery and words combine to create a unique representation of the black Southern female. Rooted in this is the sense that black women represent the base, the lower levels of society, so low that we are often invisible. Yet, you, right now, are reading an essay written by a black Southern woman and America just watched my country sister, a superstar, perform her black experience on national television. We see it, we want it, we stunt, yellow-bone it, we dream it, we work hard, we grind 'til we own it. We slay.

I felt more southern pride watching the Beyoncé video than I have in a long time. Her words are the tome of my own black southern experience. I am yellow-boned; I have family members who carry hot sauce in their purse. More importantly, despite our invisibility as black women, especially as southern black women, we slay. No matter how much this country tries to pull us down, we still slay.