I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never really been a Beyoncé fan. It’s not that I think her songs are bad, or that I actively dislike her. It’s more a case of figuring her for a pop singer I just didn’t connect with. (And, believe me, there are plenty of those, despite the fact that I am an unabashed pop music fan.)
So when the media started going nuts about her Super Bowl performance, and the Black Panther-esque get-ups her backup dancers were wearing, I didn’t think much of it. After all, I don’t watch the Super Bowl, either — not even for the commercials or halftime performances.
But when a friend of mine posted an image from Beyoncé’s new video, “Formation,” on Facebook – and a link to Bitter Gertrude’s post “White People: Shut Up About Beyoncé” – I became very interested. What on earth could have white people so riled?
Could it be this picture?
The image in question is one of defiance: Beyoncé stands, shrouded in black, eyes concealed beneath the wide brim of her hat, middle fingers on both hands raised skyward.
In short, Beyoncé flipping the bird drew me in. Her giving no fucks made me give several. I wanted to know more. I liked this rebellious attitude of hers. Bring it, I thought.
So I looked up the video.
NPR has published the “clean” version, where Beyoncé’s middle fingers are blurred out, along with some commentary from dream hampton. Funny Or Die has the “dirty” version, if you prefer, along with some moderately humorous commentary on all the hubbub. (I prefer the dirty version, and dream’s comments, personally.)
Before reading any commentary, I watched the video. The images you’ll find there are stark. They are visually stunning. And they may even offend you.
Here’s why: With this video, Beyoncé is no longer simply an entertainer. Her video is a call to action, a call to power.
Sound scary? Maybe it’s because you’re on the wrong side of history.
Suddenly, the Black Panther dancers at the halftime show make a whole lot more sense. During the Super Bowl show, you might have wondered about the meaning of the dancers’ attire, given the fact that the performance seems to be more a musical battle between Beyoncé and Bruno Mars – it’s boys vs. girls, a toned-down, family-friendly take on “Formation.”
But that’s not what the video is about. That’s not what the song is about. Not at all.
“Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation,” Beyoncé sings.
She’s not talking about a pep squad cheering at halftime. She’s talking about a squadron of beautiful black women, taking back their power.
Now I see exactly what’s got the Internet haters so upset. This song is loud and proud. It’s #BlackLivesMatter writ large. It shows plenty of images of black southern lives, and the only white folks in the video are cops in riot gear.
That ought to tell you something, right there.
But Beyoncé is not content to leave it with a tagged wall that says “Stop shooting us.” Instead, she envisions a future where a black boy can dance in the street before a phalanx of cops, batons itchy for a beating, and disarm them with nothing more than his dope moves.
That, alone, is awesome.
And that police car swallowed up by the floodwaters at the very end of the song?
I take it to mean this: you sank us during Katrina, and now we’re gonna sink YOU.
Right the fuck on. America should still be ashamed of itself for what happened in New Orleans. Especially when dumb assholes go around saying things like “Thanks, Obama!” when it was George Dubya Bush at the wheel for that one. Kids, this is why you must learn your history. (But I digress.)
So, should white people be scared of this song? It’s a dumb question, but let’s humor it for one hot second.
The obvious answer is HELL NO.
Not if we’re not all a bunch of racist motherfuckers. (Fuck you, Donald Trump.)
Not if we’re not all a bunch of black life-taking murderers. (Fuck you, George Zimmerman.)
Not if we’re not all a part of that Thin Blue Line that shields thugs, rapists and murderers from punishment. (Fuck you, Daniel Holtzclaw. Fuck you, Brian Encinia. And fuck you to the hundreds of cops who have shot first and asked questions later.)
Not if Black Lives Really Fucking Do Matter.
In short, not if we’re on the right side of history.
If you’re white and you’re mad about this video, you’ve missed the point. It’s not about you. Shut up.
So one final thought: This video has made me love Beyoncé. I can’t stop watching it. There’s just so much to see.
Thank you, Beyoncé, for making this song. For sharing this video. For sharing your vision. I know you don’t need my support or my props, but I get it. I see you. I feel you. You slay.