Link Round-up: Beyoncé’s “Formation” Of Cultural Perseverance and Historical Trauma

Still from "Formation", a reference to Storyville, the red light district in New Orleans.

Still from “Formation”, a reference to Storyville, the red light district in New Orleans.

One week after Beyoncé ‘s newest single and music video “Formation” was dropped, voices from across the aethernets are still buzzing. The video collapses historical linear time,  unapologetic and demanding in its visual college of the complicated history of southern US black culture. It is not steampunk, but engages in the historical narrative in the tradition of other African diasporic art movements I admire, such as afrofuturism and steamfunk, and deserves to be highlighted.

“Formation”‘s launch is deliberately-timed for powerful political, commercial, and mainstream impact: released on Trayvon Martin’s birthday and two days before Sandra Bland’s, and also before Beyoncé’s planned performance at the SuperBowl. Many commentators, black and non-black alike, have taken to the task of analyzing and critiquing the levels of meaning behind it. Below are some of the many insightful, dynamic viewpoints from the black community written over the past week.

But first, check this video out:

If You Ain’t Got In-“Formation” by Tiffany Lee from Black Girl Dangerous

If these aren’t your experiences, references or reactions, that’s okay. And if this video didn’t give you life, that’s okay too. But if these aren’t your experiences and you’re out here saying any variation of “this video makes no sense/is dumb/kinda scary,” “she’s not even singing,” “Beyoncé fans are stupid,” “what’s she even saying?” or anything that has anything to do with a politics of respectability, then you need to stop.

We know that Beyoncé isn’t necessarily our Black Feminist Hero – there are way too many activists and folk who are out there fighting, supporting, and holding together Black communities for us to be under the simplistic illusion that Beyoncé does all of that for us. And I look forward to all the juicy Black folk critiques  – because nothing is Blacker than reading and being read.

Getting in Line: Working Through Beyonce’s “Formation” from Red Clay Scholar

Beyoncé said “I’ma make me a world.” She conjured New Orleans’ past, present, and future, calling upon the memories and sounds of New Orleans pre- and post Hurricane Katrina. Because rule number 1 in the south is that the past is always present and the past and present is always future. Still shots of preaching reverends, half-drowned buildings, the weave shop, and plantation houses against a sparse synthesizer that sounds like a tweaked electronic banjo from the Bayou sonically position Beyoncé squarely in the middle of a messy Black South. Katrina is not just a historical event. It is a springboard for re-rendering southern trauma and its association with blackness. Trauma is the spring board of southern blackness. But its foundation is resilience and creativity. Beyoncé’s New Orleans – because there are multiple New Orleans and this one is undeniably hers and her sister Solange’s rendering/conjuring – doubly signifies resurrection and the city of the dead.

Dear Beyoncé, Katrina is Not Your Story by Maris Jones from Black Girl Dangerous

This could have all been different, Beyoncé. The disconnect between what is being said in “Formation” and what is being shown cannot be ignored. You inspire while you slay, but know that all of the glorious Blackness in this video is really just a film reel for a sound bite espousing Western capitalist ideology with lines like, and “Earned all this money but they never take the country out me.” Even in showing me how down with the struggle you might be, you are still dredging up images of Black suffering without forewarning an audience that continues to be marginalized in both their city and country or following through by critically engaging with those images. Your anthem doesn’t match your outfit. You might get me to turn up at a party, but you’ll only find me in formation when your words and actions line up.

Hot Sauce in Her Bag: Southern Black identity, Beyoncé, Jim Crow, and the pleasure of well-seasoned food by Mikki Kendall from Eater

During Jim Crow, Black people could pick up food at establishments that served white people, but they often could not eat in them. When custom demanded that Black people be served separately from whites, they were often required to have their own utensils, serving dishes, and condiments. So it was customary for Black families who were traveling to carry everything they might possibly need so that (with the help of the Green Book, the guide that helped Black travelers eat, sleep, and move as safely as possible) they could navigate America in relative comfort.

On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ by Yaba Blay from Colorlines

I cheer Bey on as she sings, “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” But I cringe when I hear her chant, “You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma” about her Alabama-born dad and her mom from Louisiana. This is the same reason I cringed at the L’Oreal ad that identified Beyonce as African-American, Native American and French and why I don’t appreciate her largely unknown song “Creole.”

Having grown up black-Black (read: dark-skinned) in colorstruck New Awlins, hearing someone, particularly a woman, make a distinction between Creole and “Negro” is deeply triggering. This isn’t just for me but for many New Orleanians.

For generations, Creoles—people descended from a cultural/racial mixture of African, French, Spanish and/or Native American people—have distinguished themselves racially from “regular Negroes.” In New Orleans, phenotype—namely “pretty color and good hair”—translates to (relative) power.

Slay Trick: Queer Solidarity (?) in Formation from Queer Black Feminist

But, this movement is all about self-identified Black queer women, transwomen and genderqueer folks leading this movement. So, in some ways this call ignores that, a movement already established. I know folks say it calls attention to it, but it feels just the opposite to me when we have a full fledged movement happening that is full of leaders, actually, predominately led by Black queer women, transfolk and our allies. Just look at the leadership in almost every BLM chapter: Chicago (BYP), Minneapolis, Oakland, Los Angeles. The “ladies” are already in formation, leading the work. So, though this may be a “nod,” a recognition as many are suggesting, the explicit acknowledgement of the queer work in this movement–the queerness of strategy, tactic, and focus–is muddied by the safe position that Beyonce continues to occupy. And while she is being targeted in some ways (I’ll say more when endorsements/collaborations start to fall), can we put that into context of the everyday targeting that Black Lives Matter activists face on the front lines? That Black queer (cis and trans) women and transmen face everyday?

We Slay, Part 1 by zandria from New South Negress

“Formation” is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the “punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens” in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines. Movements for black liberation are led by black folks at the margins who know we must all get free to sink that car. Folks who know that we must be coordinated, and we must slay. And because I recognize black southern country fence-jumping feminism as a birthright and imperative, I have no tolerance for the uncoordinated–those who cannot dance and move for black queer liberation, black trans liberation, black women’s liberation, at all intersections.

Black Lives Matter Co-Founder to Beyonce: ‘Welcome to the Movement by Alicia Garza on Rolling Stone

Black Lives Matter is rooted in some of these fundamental principles. We have come together to fight back against anti-black racism and state-sanctioned violence, in all forms. We are complex, multi-faceted, and led by what are still unfortunately considered to be non-traditional leaders: folks who are women, queer, trans, disabled, immigrant, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, poor and working class, Southern and rural, urban and coastal. We are comprised of the complexity of who black people are, not just in the U.S., but around the world.

Response to Formation in List Form by rad fag on Radical Faggot
(The whole list is worth reading for some pithy points of critique)

21. Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.

22. You–not her–are the Black visionary, the budding potential for revolution.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Link Round-up: Beyoncé’s “Formation” Of Cultural Perseverance and Historical Trauma

  1. This video is…a Beyonce’ video. The references to Katrina are lost on people who lived it but didn’t hear a peep from her about it AT THE TIME. That was the time to “show up”. But since the whole world listens when she speaks, let the worship continue. I’m like, “Whatever”.

  2. Pingback: Banshee Mag | 'Cause I Slay: Beyonce - Formation