Beyonce's "Formation" Lyrics Were Pro-Black & That's Really Important To Me
As a black woman, I didn't really think there would be any backlash and controversy over Beyoncé's "Formation" song and video after it was first released. I was too busy relishing in its greatness to notice and remember that oh, of course any celebration of blackness would make white people uncomfortable. For about 72 hours, I was riding on a high of #BlackGirlMagic, feeling powerful and seen. Except then I started to read about people being upset that the only white people in the video were cops. Then they were upset that everyone in the video was black. I was surprised because that made sense, seeing as Beyoncé is (and, uh, always has been) a black woman, and because "Formation" is very much a celebration of black Southern pride. At first, I didn't understand the unrest and disproval. Then, I looked deeper.
I saw post after post of shock and distaste shared across my social media feeds and I realized something: It felt like people didn't ever truly grasp that Beyoncé was black woman. For maybe the first time, I realized that people saw a blackness doesn't that didn't match what's historically been fed to us on TV. Blackness isn't just ghettos and black-on-black crime. It's is everywhere, and it is beautiful, but for people who didn't realize it: blackness was "suddenly" showing up in the form of our world's biggest celebrity. "Formation" and Beyoncé's subsequent Super Bowl performance unapologetically celebrated her blackness, calling all black women to join her in that. "Formation" was pro-black in every single sense of the world, which in no way means that was anti-white. Being "pro-black" wasn't a bad thing. In fact, it was a beautiful thing.
When Beyoncé came out surrounded by rows of strong, beautiful black women with big hair, with strength, dressed to honor the efforts and the memory of the Black Panthers, I threw my fist up. They didn't just walk out; they stormed that field. They made their presence known, and I felt it.
I'm not a big sports fan, but I watch the Super Bowl every year for the commercials and most times I enjoy the halftime show. This year, I just happened to catch the Coldplay, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars halftime show while picking up food. When Beyoncé came out surrounded by rows of strong, beautiful black women with big hair, with strength, dressed to honor the efforts and the memory of the Black Panthers, I threw my fist up. They didn't just walk out; they stormed that field. They made their presence known, and I felt it. I swelled with pride.
I felt like the strong pushback against a movement that so clearly hinges on self-love and appreciation stemmed from the fact that white people couldn't understand it. It wasn't theirs, so they didn't want it. It wasn't theirs, so we couldn't have it.
As a black woman and mother, the only response I have for myself and for my children in an age where we're constantly being under attack for being black has been to love ourselves more, to stand together, and to rise above. Seeing Beyoncé march on to the field embodying love, strength, and power — how could that ever be discouraged, or even worse: looked down upon?
In the minutes and days after her performance, what many white people took from her proclamation of self-love and value was that by being pro-black she was being anti-white. Even though she didn't say anything to that effect and never even did anything even remotely anti-white, I felt like the only thing white people took away from her blatant appreciation of blackness was a distaste for those with skin that paled in comparison to ours. I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now.
I would love to understand what about her video or her performance or her existence is anti-white in any way. How does someone loving themselves for who they are make another person — any other person — feel threatened? This is a beautiful example of self-love, appreciation, and pride. So, remind me again, what's the problem with that?
You can't say that being "pro-black" means you exclude any other race, mainly because it's not true. And mainly because the people saying it are not black people. Being proud of your color and your culture has nothing to do with hating others with different backgrounds. I felt like the strong pushback against a movement that so clearly hinges on self-love and appreciation stemmed from the fact that white people couldn't understand it. It wasn't theirs, so they didn't want it. It wasn't theirs, so we couldn't have it. For me, what I heard in the unrest was fear.
Being white in America is the status quo. It's what, in many respects, our country views as right and good. So how very fitting for Beyoncé — a proud black woman — to, on national television, instruct us to get other black women to get into formation, and to do so while wearing all black. How fitting that she chose to do it on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers' own formation. How fitting that black women loving, appreciating, respecting, and being proud of themselves has kickstarted another national conversation of what it means to be black in America. How fitting that Beyoncé stood in her blackness, and people didn't like it.
With lyrics like "I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros, I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils," Beyoncé let her true blackness shine through. She spoke those words without shame — she spoke them with pride. That is being pro-black. That is loving yourself. There's no anger in that. There's no hatred for white people. There's no underlying meaning; no hidden message. I would love to understand what about her video or her performance or her existence is anti-white in any way. How does someone loving themselves for who they are make another person — any other person — feel threatened? This is a beautiful example of self-love, appreciation, and pride. So, remind me again, what's the problem with that?
Being proud of yourself, your color, and your culture is something we should be happy about. How could something so beautiful and honest be met with so much hate and disdain? What are we so afraid of in this country, that when black men and women come together to raise each other up, the white people surrounding us attempt to stop that? In response, I hope more artists and creatives push more pro-black work into our lives. I hope the message of self-love lingers because for so long we've lived in a pro-white world.
As a black woman, this is what I want: I want to live in a world where all people are equal. Where being pro-black puts nothing at risk for other cultures and colors. Where our blackness as seen — not as a threat to the status quo but as an expression of self. Being pro-black strengthens us. And I'll continue to be pro-black. It's who I am. It's what I believe in. But that doesn't mean I'm against anyone with skin that looks different than mine. It just means I love the skin I'm in.