Staying in Formation

On February 6, 2016, Beyoncé Knowles released her first single in two years, “Formation”, on her husband Jay Z’s streaming service, Tidal. The video dropped the day before her hotly anticipated Super Bowl performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. She then performed it in front of 114.4 million people. The song and its accompanying video, which you can watch here, have been surrounded with controversy since their release. 

In the video, which Knowles directed and starred in, several statements about issues surrounding life as a black American were expressed. The film was shot in New Orleans, paying homage to New Orleans’s Creole culture, Beyoncé’s Creole roots and Hurricane Katrina. The majority of the backlash and controversy surrounding the video concerns the supposed disrespect for law enforcement displayed in the video, and people have taken aim at Beyoncé for being “too pro-African American rights.”

First of all, the so-called disrespect concerns a scene in which a young black child breakdances in front of a line of police officers and next to a wall spray painted with the words “Hands up, don’t shoot”, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. “Hands up, don’t shoot” is one of the chants repeated by protestors after the shooting deaths of many unarmed black people, especially teenagers, including Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Trayvon Martin.

A Miami police union urged officers all over the country to boycott the Beyoncé world tour. In a statement, Javier Ortiz, president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, accused the singer of using her recent Super Bowl performance “to divide Americans by promoting the Black Panthers and her antipolice message.” The tour is set to begin on April 27 at Marlins Park, Miami. Police officers are threatening to not do their jobs because Beyoncé’s performance offended them. So basically, their employer did something that angered them, so they decided not to do their jobs. Many workers can attest to being angered by something their boss did or said, but they kept on doing their jobs because their jobs were for the greater good. These police officers are not only protecting Beyoncé by policing her concerts; they are protecting the thousands of fans that attend these concerts. Boycotting Knowles’s concerts means that these fans are at greater risk. Knowles has plenty of personal security; if the officers boycott her concerts, they only hurt Knowles’s fans.

A sketch on comedy show Saturday Night Live made fun of those criticizing Knowles. In the sketch, Aidy Bryant’s character watched the “Formation” video, horrified, asserting that this was the day that Beyoncé “turned black.” This sketch was perfectly on point because most criticizers of the video and the song don’t like the strong African-American culture represented in “Formation.”

Beyoncé has been a lightning rod for controversy in the past, drawing critics for her sexuality, her dress choices, her parenting, and her music. Now she can add her culture, ethnicity and race to the list. The message that Beyoncé is putting across is not ‘racist’ or anti-white; nowhere in the song does she say anything that puts whites down. And Beyoncé, a black woman, is unable to be racist as racism is based on oppression, and neither her song nor her video preach any type of white hate or anti-white discrimination.

For those trolls who say that the Super Bowl is no place for a political statement like this: grow up. Everywhere is a stage for statements, political or otherwise, and whether a celebrity wants to make a fashion statement or a political one, the world’s a stage if they want it to be. Beyoncé advocated for an important cause without attacking anyone or discriminating against anyone. She should be celebrated for using her power (Beyoncé is the most powerful celebrity according to Forbes) to bring attention to an important movement.

If one can talk about God at an awards show, that one can talk about black lives, and African American culture for that matter, at their own performance at an over-glorified game of fetch (The Super Bowl). Not allowing a black celebrity to talk about her culture and use her art to make the extremely basic statement that people of color should have rights on her own stage is unacceptable. Knowles should not be ashamed of her culture, and nor should the people of color who are told that nobody needs to hear about them or their culture in popular culture, and that they need to conform to Eurocentric beauty and entertainment standards.

Recently and historically, there has been a lack of non-white faces at awards shows, on television shows, on movie screens, and in pop culture in general. A powerful pop star who uses her platform to push boundaries and force you to look at her art with its pure boldness deserves to be celebrated, not boycotted and demonized.