Rethinking Formation

I too want to join the discourse about Beyonce’s song, video, and performance of Formation. I’ve read so many articles, comments, and posts about it. It’s been quite exciting. Bey was right when she said, “You know you that chick when you cause all this conversation.”

I really liked the video. It had a lot of really meaningful things in it. From the newspaper with MLK on it, scenes of New Orleans, and a line of riot police surrendering to a little black boy in a hoodie. I was definitely impressed by its political stance. The director did an amazing job.

I enjoyed some of the lyrics too. I liked how she spoke to some of the judgements about her family; them being a part of the illuminati, Blue’s uncombed hair, and Jay-Z’s nose. I laughed out loud at the nose line.

But I definitely wasn’t empowered.

Nothing about the song left me feeling inspired or motivated to get into formation. I have a lot of coordination, but I don’t care to prove that to Bey.

I used to be a big Beyonce fan. When I got married, I had a dream that I went on a double-date with Beyonce and Jay-Z. Creepy, but true. Beyonce always seemed pretty cool. And I loved all her songs. I could sing along to all of them. I listened to the entire 4 album on repeat for a 12-hour bus trip to New York. I was committed.

Then came Drunk in Love.

For some reason, I first heard the song performed at the Grammy Awards in 2014. I was so excited because I love a Beyonce performance. But as Jay-Z rapped, I froze when I heard him say “Ike Turner”. Thinking I misunderstood, I googled the lyrics to the song.

n ’97 I bite, I’m Ike, Turner, turn up. Baby no I don’t play, now eat the cake, Anna Mae. Said, “Eat the cake, Anna Mae!”

I couldn’t understand how it was possible that they just made a reference to Ike Turner beating Tina Turner. I saw the movie “What’s Love Got to Do with It” as a child. Laurence Fishburne has only recently recovered from the role of Ike Turner in my mind. Even after 3 Matrix movies as Morpheus, I still saw flashbacks of Fishburne forcing cake down the throat of Angela Bassett, playing the role of Anna Mae (Tina Turner).

I also couldn’t understand how it was possible that on the same album Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the feminist poet and writer, was speaking over a song about women empowerment. I had hoped that Beyonce stole the recording. Unfortunately, Chimamanda actually agreed to work with Beyonce, this self-proclaimed feminist. I could only assume she hadn’t heard the whole album first.

In 2012, activist and artist Harry Belafonte was asked  if he is happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today. He said “Not at all… And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example.”

After the comment, Beyonce’s publicists released how much money she gives to charity, while Jay-Z let us all know that his very presence IS charity and chastised Belafonte in his music.

As a Youth Worker, I often have conversations about how amazing celebrities are. Many of the teenagers I’ve worked say to me, “But they give so much money to charity!” as I berate them for idolizing another self-absorbed artist. Yes, it’s so great how much they give to charity. I’m confident that it makes a huge difference on their taxes, too. But I also want my teens to understand that there are people that actually give to the point that it has an impact on them. A million dollars to Beyonce is the equivalent of $20 to me — yup, I’m broke.

So is Formation Beyonce’s moment to talk to about her social responsibility? Has she finally realized that as a pop artist, people all over the world look up to her and her actions? Has she finally discovered that she can be a voice to millions for the people that don’t have a voice?

Very doubtful.

If I hadn’t seen the video, the lyrics to Formation would have just been another song by a Black artist telling me how rich they are and how expensive their clothes are. Just another Black artist talking about their big ego and how they get their’s. It was just another Black artist showing the middle finger to all their haters.

Hypercapitalism does not motivate me. I never want to buy a car that no one else in the world owns, or an island that no one else can visit. For that matter, I never want to rock a Givenchy dress or fly in a helicopter or buy Jordan’s.

But I do want to work hard for my dreams.

I dream of freedom, peace, equality, and clean water for everyone. And maybe Beyonce dreams those for everyone too. However, I’m willing to sacrifice myself for those dreams — not use them to get you all to spend hundreds of dollars on my concert.

As we celebrate Black History Month, I pray our children and youth are left with more than the belief that the “best revenge is your paper”.

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