Beyoncé once again broke the Internet when she released “Formation” Saturday. People on my Facebook timeline have talked about almost nothing else for the last few days.
Is this Queen Bey’s #BlackLivesMatter anthem? Maybe. What I do know is that the Queen is an expert at encouraging some of us black women to love on ourselves, exactly as we are, just a little bit more. For me it’s clear Beyoncé sees herself as a part of the movement for black lives, and believes that black lives matter — and ultimately, that’s what matters.
How do I know? Because in a little under five minutes, Bey told us who her people are, how that makes her who she is, and that she could care less about conspiracy theories about her man being part of the illuminati, or what you think about her daughter’s natural hair. She told us to forget the haters, because the best revenge is being successful; that she likes her men black, with the nostrils to match; that she’s rich, but don’t think for one second that she ain’t country, too; that she carries hot sauce in her purse; that she didn’t come here to play around; and that she is, ultimately, the Queen.
The lyrics of the song are complicated — and so is the movement itself. The images in the video conjuring the man-made tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, police violence, resistance and black life in the South showed that the Queen is multifaceted, complex, full of contradictions and black as hell. In it, she invokes Southern heritage, traditions and tragedy. She uses magic to remind us that we have the power to change the dynamics between police and the communities they’re supposed to protect and serve.
And then she literally writhed on top of a New Orleans police car, in floodwaters, and drowned with it. She drowned what has become a very visible symbol of state-sanctioned violence in the floodwaters that emerged from state-sponsored violence and neglect of poor black people in the Gulf Coast.
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.
There have been some important critiques of “Formation,” Beyoncé as a celebrity, and what she represents to and for black women who are not celebrities. The inclusion of queer and trans traditions, resistance and cultural contributions, and her celebration of capitalism — an economic system that is largely killing black people, even if some black people, like her, achieve success within it — have also been a source of important critique. Another powerful critique is the one that shows concern about how Beyoncé used images that resurrected the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, from some who feel this was not her story to tell. These are important conversations to have, but they should not be limited to Beyoncé. I argue that these are questions that the movement for black lives and even the Black Lives Matter national network must continue to grapple with, and it is imperative that we form visionary solutions to resolve them.
However, we must also remember, without giving undue leeway, that Beyoncé joins only a handful of celebrities courageous enough not just to reference a growing movement happening around her, but to proudly place herself within it. Let’s be clear: It’s not just “Formation” in which she identifies herself as part of the movement. It’s also in her practice, from her monetary support for the movement for black lives, to her contributions to her own community by building housing for poor people in Houston, to her attendance at protests and demonstrations centered around the same message we saw in her video: the demand to stop killing us.
Movements are multi-faceted, and never without contradictions. Even the most radical among us grapple with those contradictions. That’s why, even with the criticisms — some of which I agree with — we as a movement should celebrate that we have helped organize arguably one of the most iconic celebrities in the world to use her extensive platform to celebrate black resistance, to place herself in history as one who is resisting, and who puts her money where her mouth is. It’s not perfect, but none of us are.
Go ‘head, Queen Bey. Welcome to the movement.