In Formation

Beyonce-Knowles-Pepsi-Super-Bowl-50-Halftime-backup-dancers-zana-bayne

So…I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not a member of the Bey-hive but I’m not archly against Beyonce. I find her music fun but I’m not expecting her to be everything for me as a Black woman and a feminist.

Nevertheless I found it bewildering that without exception, the British press reported on her Superbowl performance as “race baiting” or “stoking a race row”. I would hazard a guess that they all subscribe to the same news agencies. But…even so, to reflexively take that editorial line without question in their news pieces (there have been a range of comment pieces) shows how such overt Blackness is seen as a negatively provocative and threatening, even by the liberal media (looking at you, Guardian).

Of course, the performance was political and made reference to the Black Panthers and more than a passing nod to current movements such as Black Lives Matter. This was done even more explicitly after the show when her dancers gave the Black Power salute and held up a sign in protest about the death of Mario Woods at the hands of the police. Taken together with her new video dropped the day before, Formation, it was all political. The fact that was instantly read as inherently threatening a race war and prompted hyperbolic comment from people such as Rudy Guiliani, who interpreted it as an attack on the police, shows that the politics are still salient.

It’s something I’ve been turning over in my mind as I look at the rise of Bernie Sanders in the US and Corbyn over here. These old Socialists, derided as dinosaurs and dreamers by their own parties and most of the media, have captured the imagination of a great many young voters. It’s galling for Clinton that younger women are more likely to support Sanders. Of course, they shouldn’t plump for Clinton just because she’s a woman, but it’s interesting that her historical run (as a woman who actually stands a chance) hasn’t lit a fire.

And as with Corbyn, I’m with Gary Younge in that I expect the reaction to Sanders’ rise to be dismay, hysteria and ridiculing his supporters. In the UK, no one has stopped to ask why Corbyn’s ideas and some of his ideals have traction. Could it be that the problems he’s identified – with capitalim, privatisation, austerity etc- are still crying out for a solution? As with Sanders. And….the Black Panthers. The conventional wisdom goes, well, capitalism won, it’s awesome and we’re all doing fine. Oh, and we’re post-racial now, too, so why the Black Panthers thowback?

To an extent, their reaction to the apparent resurgence of these ideas (and I would say that Black politics has never gone away, just retreated from the spotlight perhaps – that’s not to say that many activists have not been campaigning or organising in the time before Black Lives Matter – and nor is that the only movement in town) is illuminating. If these movements are redundant are the ideas have been defeated by progress, why the panic?

Maybe the renewed fire in these movements is because the solutions advanced for the problems they identified have been found wanting –  and the cosy political consensus isn’t interested in solutions because they don’t see the problem.

Could it be that we had a financial crash in which no one was held responsible but for which everyone else but in particular the poor, disabled and the young have had to pay? Could it be that politicians have waxed lyrical about cutting welfare and gleefully shredded the social safety net while increasing corporate welfare and being pathetically grateful when the likes of Google deign to pay some tax because the mood caught them on a Friday afternoon? Could it be that the issues the civil rights movement was fighting for – voting rights, economic inequality, housing, policing, social justice – have seen progress but are still outstanding? Black Lives Matter is articulating all this for a younger generation of digital natives.

Which brings us back to Beyonce. It was a risky performance (for a very mainstream bankable performer), but the fact that it resonated (horribly for some, gloriously for others) shows that these conversations are live, right now. I also find it interesting that her Formation video roots itself in New Orleans – an article I read recently on Black Lives Matter pointed out that the backdrop to the movement isn’t just police violence but a post-Katrina political context.

I won’t go into the detail of her performance at the Superbowl and the Formation video- the visuals, the representation, the politics, the blackness – not when so many others could do and have done it so much better. Like these two women:

One: “On Jackson 5 Nostrils, Creole vs Negro and Beefing over Beyonce’s Formation” by Yaba Blay:

A work as racially and emotionally charged as “Formation” is bound to cause tension. And because Beyoncé so often evokes something very personal, we need to approach one another with more care and caution. After all, it is very possible to enjoy the “Formation” song and video and take issue with it at the same damn time. Because we’re human.- Yaba Blay

Two: “Beyonce and Forms of Blackness” by Michelle R Smith:

When Beyoncé does something like turning out the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show, and black people start arguing about whether that was a “good” thing or a “bad” thing, we’re not really arguing about Beyoncé’s performance.

I mean, yes, some people love her singing and dancing, and others don’t, but that’s not really the root of the conversation, I don’t think.

I think what we’re really arguing about is how we want to see blackness represented in the media. And underneath that I think we’re arguing about what we really think black people need to be doing with themselves and doing about our collective “situation.” – Michelle R Smith

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2 thoughts on “In Formation

  1. Shane Thomas says:

    Just to add a couple more pieces to what’s fast becoming a ‘Formation’ syllabus. They both make different but equally salient points 1) https://t.co/a3zcv3dMol and 2) http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2016/02/dear-beyonce-katrina-is-not-your-story/

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