My friend sent me a message yesterday that said “I love Beyoncé’s new music video but it makes me feel really white!” YES. That’s exactly how it should make you feel! Let’s be real for a second. Women like my friend and I have enough role models who look like us: our cup overrunneth with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry lookalikes. This video was made for women like my boyfriend’s daughter, a beautiful 14 year old girl with natural hair and gorgeous cheekbones, who lives in a culture that tells her white faces are more beautiful.
Have you seen the video? God, it’s good. Watch the whole thing.
Pop music is not just pop music when it’s done right. I scrolled through Beyoncé’s Instagram last night, and saw a plethora of comments which said things like, “I always felt self-conscious about my hair and my nose and you have made me feel so much better.” What is more important than helping women realise their inherent beauty?
The whole thing reminds me of when Nicki Minaj took Miley Cyrus to task by saying you couldn’t embrace some parts of black culture but not all of it. Beyoncé’s video is a beautiful celebration of all things black, from dancers with natural hair to champions of New Orleans’ bounce scene (Big Freedia), images of New Orleans post-Katrina, cops putting their hands up and Blue Ivy beaming at the camera with her afro in full effect. It’s so strong and powerful that it gives me chills from head to toe.
The lyrics fire back at criticism about Blue Ivy’s hair (there was a petition circulating online to get her hair brushed — yes, really), and rumours that Beyoncé was going to change her nose. In this video she is telling us she loves her family exactly as they are… And herself, too. Radical. Self. LOVE.
Beyonce just keeps on coming, first with appearing in front of a glimmering FEMINIST sign at the VMAs, and featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her song ***Flawless. And now she’s written a song for black women to feel proud of themselves. That this is not the end of her personal mission: it is only the beginning.
This is such a beautiful demonstration of a woman with an incredible platform who is using it to its fullest advantage and potential. Beyonce is — rightfully — angry about the injustices she sees, and she wants to do something about it. Of course, in true Virgo style, she does it all with total grace. So many celebrities seem to only be concerned with pushing their new fragrance, but Beyonce is urging us to wake up and recognise what is going on in the world. Sure, she is a businesswoman, and making money is what businesses do. But that’s okay. You can make money and still be socially conscious! She is using her wealth and influence to do something massively important, to contribute something meaningful to the cultural dialogue, to shift the status quo.
There is more to Formation than a celebration of black culture. Formation is a radical self love anthem — emphasis on the word radical — written by one of the most influential women in the world, one who has also spoken up about her struggles with dieting, body image and perfectionism. She is loud and proud about her blackness, her appearance, her family history. She is dominant and unapologetic. She is fully owning this shit. And this is a beautiful dichotomy which reminds us that even though we may STILL have moments where we doubt ourselves and our looks, we can still SLAY. We can still rule the world! There are revolutions to be created and we don’t have to be perfect to make them happen, to encourage them, to see them carried out. That inner voice which tries to suppress our joy will always be there in some capacity, but we can choose to overrule it and go out there and do important things. That is the definition of empowerment and strength.
This video wasn’t made for women like me, even though I love it, can appreciate it and also see how groundbreaking it is. This video was made for the girls and women who are told that black isn’t beautiful, who feel like outsiders, who feel “less than” and “other”. Beyoncé is the baddest bitch on the planet, and hearing her sing about how she loves the parts of herself that are a reflection of her ethnicity and heritage is so massively empowering to women who are constantly told the opposite.
This video was not made for white women like me and that is exactly why it is essential that we watch it. Without seeing music videos and movies made by black artists, without hearing the words spoken by people of colour, and without reading books by people who are different to us, we will never learn about anything except our own — dominant, heteronormative, white — culture. Without being conscious and paying attention, we will never fully grasp the immense privilege afforded to us simply based on the merits of having white skin.
The truth is that we will never be able to truly see the world through the eyes of a person of colour, but the more we can engage, listen, and pay attention to the stuff that is “not for us”, the closer we will come to understanding. And that’s good for all of us. Understanding leads to compassion and strength and the chance for us all to work together to create a better and more unified world.
When she sings “Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation,” she is encouraging women to rise up, to work collectively, to affect change in their communities and around the world — and that’s not just limited to people of colour, that’s a call to arms for everyone. As a white woman, one of the most important things I can do is be an ally, to actively speak up when I hear ignorant shit, and — most importantly — be quiet and listen when someone else is speaking about their experience.
One song is not going to undo the damage done from hundreds of years of oppression, reverse institutionalized racism, or revoke the incessant messages that tell women of colour that they’re not good enough. But it’s a start. And it’s a beautiful one.