How Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ Just Stepped Up The Visibility For Black Feminism & #BlackLivesMatter

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Perhaps she was the missing piece in the current conversation about black feminism. And if Beyonce is going to raise her voice about issues that concern the black community, you better believe it goes beyond just the artistic and activist space. It. Is, Political.

On the day before the Super Bowl this year, Beyonce released the music video for her track ‘Formation’ which just about broke the internet (for a break-worthy cause, we might add). The video opens with her splayed on the top of a police car which is half-submerged in a body of water, which a voice over that jarringly asks: “what happened in New Orleans”. If there was any doubt about ‘Formation’ being a confrontational look at the struggles disproportionately facing black America, you aren’t paying attention.

There are three aspects to Beyonce’s video which are important to point out: the inclusion of black women in the feminist movement, the issue of black people being pushed aside and caught in cycles of poverty most clearly seen in natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and of course, the killing of black men and women by then hands of police force around the country.

Each of these issues has been rumbling under the surface of the mainstream zeitgeist for a number of years now, and with such a huge celebrity like Beyonce bringing her message to such an elevated platform like the Super Bowl Halftime Show, in the middle of the 2016 Presidential election, to us it feels like a tipping point, but only time will tell.

There are many black women who have been very vocal about the way their voices, stories and lives are being pushed aside by the more “favorable” white feminist voices. In ‘Formation’, we see Beyonce unapologetically singing about her sexuality, her body, her family, and the aspects of her life which she embraces, rather than playing into the stereotypes which attach negativity to it. She sings about her husband having big nostrils, she talks about liking hot sauce, and of course rocks an afro in a way that positions it as a powerful icon, as opposed to something that needs to be changed in order to be acceptable.

Aliya S. King form Essence Magazine puts it like this: “Black women particularly know the challenges that come with being intentional about power—how we get it, how we keep it, understanding that we deserve it. We’ve often been depicted as loud, shrill, neck-swiveling caricatures of womanhood. Beyoncé takes every single negative label that’s been slapped onto Black women and proudly claims them all. She’s loud, shrill and neck swiveling throughout “Formation.” And dares you to criticize.”

There are a few key issues that hold members of the black community at the center of poverty cycles. Beyonce addresses the Hurricane Katrina disaster in a way that alludes to the gross inaction of the Bush Administration. There has been wide criticism of the racial inequality during the recovery process. Social activist and organizer Latoya Lewis told the Huffington Post how Katrina was a turning point in the current fight against racism, long before black lives matter came along.

I think Katrina was… one of the most modern times where this country showed us how they feel about black people and people of color. People were leaving their homes and really walking into danger because there was nothing provided for us. Or if they did stay in their homes, they had to go up on the roof to get some air so yea, you didn’t have to check the color of people’s skin to airlift people off the roof because the majority of people left to die here were black people,” she explained.

It is something that has forced a closer look into the ways poverty disproportionately affects black men and women in our society. Whether it be the closure of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood centers in areas which mostly serve low-income black women, the re-drawing of voting district boundaries in order to ensure black people have a harder time accessing voting booths, the current water crisis happening in Flint Michigan, a city make up of 52% African Americans, or the lack of justice being served to the police who blatantly show disregard for humanity and the law by mercilessly gunning down young black men and women in a way that people of other races would never experience, the inherent racism happening systemically and intentionally is self-evident.

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Which brings us to the final point about police brutality being brought into the harsh glare of public scrutiny thanks to the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Names like Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Grey, Mike Brown and many, many more are forever etched into the already-blood-stained history of America whose slavery and segregated years by far outnumber the years of freedom for African American people. Let’s just let that sink in for a moment…

In Beyonce’s video, we see the confronting image of a young boy dancing in front of a line-up of riot police who have their hands up in the air instead of the boy , and in the next shot there is a spray-painted message on a wall demanding “stop killing us”. The message could not be any clearer. In fact so potent was the Black Lives Matter aspect of ‘Formation’, that at the Super Bowl performance, her back up singers posted a video and some images of them holding up a sign saying “Justice for Mario Woods”, a young boy who was gunned down, in a firing-squad manner, for appearing as a threat to group of officers who allegedly thought he was about to pull out a knife. How any police, or sane person, can justify what happened in this video, is beyond us.

Speaking of the back-up dancers, you may have noticed their outfits at the Super Bowl looked a little familiar. That’s because they were dressed like Black Panthers. It was a big middle finger to every racist thought, attitude and person who has no problem with the institutional racism happening in America today.

The entire Super Bowl Half Time Show performance was a big middle finger to the current political race as well, conservatives in particular. The men of the GOP have been shockingly vocal about their disdain for women’s reproductive rights, same sex marriage, and their support of the police force who some believe are the most “hated” and targeted group in the country today. Hilarious. Not ONE statement, not even from the one black candidate in the Republican race, has come out and made any public statement about the need to investigate the blatant racial profiling and targeting happening in our communities.

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While Republicans like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are happy to slam President Obama for not using the words “Islamic terrorism” to describe what ISIS are doing around the world today, they have conveniently left out all verbiage to do with Black Lives Matter, and Ben Carson even went as far as to say it was “sickening”.

This is not just some trending story about a celebrity performance at one of America’s most beloved annual sporting events, it is a stark reminder that this is a very real problem that will not be solved by denial or division. Black feminism is part of the Black Lives Matter movement for the simple fact that it is about enabling the voice of black women to be heard on the same level as other feminists.

Many are praising Beyonce for stepping up the fight and not shying away from her platform, instead using it as a way to point out exactly where she stands and why she will not be a complicit voice during this struggle.

“Everything we’ve been taught to steer clear of as Black women is on display and Beyoncé urges us to shed all our hang-ups and be true to who we are: Rock your fake hair or wear it natural. Have sex on your terms with who you want and when you want. Get your paper. Don’t be afraid of being powerful. Be humble and gracious—but never miss an opportunity to thump your chest and praise yourself for your accomplishments. Understand that you won’t always be understood—and that’s okay. Understand that there will be people who don’t want to see you win—and that’s okay too,” writes Aliya King at Essence.

You can watch her Super Bowl Halftime Show performance alongside Coldplay and Bruno Mars below:

 

 

 

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