Let me get the disclaimer out of the way. I don’t listen to Beyoncé on the regular. I know ya’ll thought I was serious last week when I said that Bey called me up so I can use her Formation title for a sermon series. But I was just joking (hee hee hee). I like Beyoncé, but I usually have other things to do and other music to listen to that enables me to get my day-to-day ministerial and pedagogical business going. Honestly, the last time I bought a Beyoncé CD (yes, I said CD) was when she was a part of Destiny’s Child. Right. But every now and then Bey will come out with something and I will throw a YouTube Video on heavy rotation. And that leads us to her latest piece of musical art — Formation.
When the video first dropped last Saturday I experienced, as I’ve stated before, Black Joy. But now, I am just Black Annoyed. So as an American of African descent, as a woman—a dark skinned woman, as an unwed mother of a black male child, as the pastor of Black Baptist Church in the most diverse region of the country and centered in the heart of historical Black Mecca, as an adjunct lecturer for multiculturalism studies in the largest public university in the country, let me just say these few things. Then Imma be done.
1.Beyoncé is an artist. She is not Harriet Tubman, She is not Fannie Lou Hamer, She is not Shirley Chisolm. She is not Setima Clark, she is not Angela Davis. Ok… that’s too far back? She is not Tamika Mallory, she is not Alicia Garza, she is not Michelle Alexander, she is not Johnetta Elzie, she is not Bree Newsome, she is not Rev. Traci Blackmon. Beyoncé is a Generation X performer (let me repeat that word….performer – p.e.r.f.o.r.m.e.r., performer) whose audience is mainly other Generation Xers and Millennials, many of whom have absolutely NO CLUE about any of the the aforementioned females. Sad? Absolutely, but true. With that in mind, it brings me to number…
2. You may not like the lyrics or the words that Beyoncé uses, but it is a vernacular and argot of a generation. We can bemoan the use of certain words and hold panel discussions, write dissertations and articles and host podcasts.The reality is because we live in a free society — people, regardless of their color, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation are going to use language that might be be offensive to someone. And yes,we should continue to educate people about the importance of the words they use and their impact. But really, artists like Beyoncé expose a (mostly) uninvolved generation (regardless of race, class or gender) to relevant issues that they would not normally be exposed to. If you’re reading this article please don’t tell me about the many, many young people you know who are involved. I know them as well. But for the last seven years I’ve taught college students who have no idea who their councilperson is, no idea who would be mayor should the mayor die and last week when I mentioned Beyonce’s half-time performance my students thought that my reference to the Black Panthers was that Beyonce’s dancers were dressed as actual panthers — like as in four-legs. So, some of you are talking about the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party, when young people have no clue about a Black Panther Party — until Beyonce. Sad? Absolutely, but true.
3.To those of you who think that Beyoncé has misappropriated Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Black Lives Matter, etc. What this performer/artist has done is to keep these issues in the forefront of America’s short memory. You don’t like Beyoncé swinging her braids on the steps of the Big House? You don’t like Beyoncé looking sexy on a sinking police vehicle against the backdrop of New Orleans? Get real. Beyonce’s brand is “sexy”. She wouldn’t have made it this far if she did not fit the Western world’s definition of what sexy looks like for a woman of color. Is that wrong? That’s another article for another day. It is what it is until we deal with that. However, the fact that “sexy” Beyoncé (woman of color), the artist/performer, is sitting on TOP of a police car (often a symbol of oppression and violence in our communities) and IT is drowning in the waters of Hurricane Katrina is HOT! If you don’t get it, I do. And so does somebody else. And that’s what counts. Somebody got it. Stop thinking everything gotta be about how you feel. Brings me to #4…..
4.Now, I am not a part of the LGBTQ community, so I cannot speak for LGBTQ people. But I’ve been reading about a lot of brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community ragging on Beyoncé having Big Freedia’s voice in her video without Big Freedia being seen in the video. Yes, transgender woman are subject to horrendous acts of violence and have had their voices misappropriated. Yes black women, overall, know pain and have had our voices misappropriated. But Big Freedia herself said in an interview that she was thrilled to be a part of the project and you know what? I had NO clue who Big Freedia was until I read the article about her as a result of being in Beyoncé’s video. Which was, by the way, before I heard all the brouhaha about her voice being used without her being seen. So no one is saying that sampling Big Freedia’s style is revolutionary or original. But a) Big Freedia said she was excited, and b) now I, and loads of other folk, know who Big Freedia is. And perhaps one day she or someone like her, will be dancing and singing during the Super Bowl half-time show. Remember, a voice is be a powerful weapon.
5. Some of y’all upset because Bey referenced “them papers” as revenge. I don’t know about you, but when I heard that line, I threw up the fist! As a black women, we are the lowest paid of the lowest paid. Our work has been disregarded even though it is needed. Our worth has been devalued but our labor, our minds, our energy, have all been recruited without being compensated. We’ve been made to feel like crap while others with less skills and poor habits advance. And because we exist in a country where capital is not only necessary but valued, YES, them papers iz indeed revenge for many women. That’s why some of us may not always agree with Oprah’s advice or spiritual beliefs, but Oprah rocks. ‘Cause she got her papers and she got them honest. You go Oprah! That’s why when Beyoncé looks dead into the camera lens and says “I’ll get your song played on the radio….” I said, “Girl, you tell ‘em. Let ‘em know WHO will get their song played on the radio, girlfriend! (In the words of Dr. Freddie Haynes, “Don’t hate. Appreciate.”) Next….
6. Color, color, color. As a dark skinned sister who used to get called tar baby, midnight, blackie, spook, dirt girl, mud face and any number of other names (by other black people), I am keenly aware of the sensitive issue of color in our community. So when I read an article that was putting down Beyonce’s dancers because of their color….. What the….? Then someone got upset because Blue Ivy’s hype girls were dark skinned and not dressed as cute as Blue Ivy. Huh??? She’s Blue Ivy!!! When in the world in the performance industry is the celebrity “out-celebritied” by the hype folk around him or her?? Let me break this down for you— Beyoncé is a multi-million dollar brand. She is the focus on the stage. Blue Ivy is “The Brand’s” daughter. She is the focus wherever her mama and daddy want her to be the focus. I was feeling good that Blue Ivy’s hype girls were the last shade with live and free hair. And speaking of hair. Did you notice that all the sisters had live and free hair… different hair…. colored hair……natural hair…. So different, so unique, so beautiful!
7. Finally, let’s stop expecting people to be something that they’re not. The 12th Chapter of Romans mentions that everyone has different gifts. This means that we all have different assignments. The problem is when we expect people to drive in somebody else’s lane. Stop expecting Beyoncé to scale Bree Newsome’s flagpole. Stop expecting Beyoncé to preach in Rev. Traci Blackmon’s pulpit (yes, it’s God’s pulpit, y’all know what I mean). Stop expecting Beyoncé to coordinate a protest like Tamika Mallory. That is not what Beyonce does. Given the culture Beyoncé was raised in and the privilege which she now enjoys, I think she’s doing doggone well. Stop expecting apples to produce lemonade. We need each other. Black people are not a monolithic group of folk. We do not always agree. But we all have an assignment. You do you… I’ll do me. And let Beyonce do…Beyonce. In the meantime, power to the people. And pass me my hot sauce outta my bag.