This archive is constantly being updated…keep checking back for more. For a selection of posts that center the voices of black women from New Orleans, see here: Doing and Being Intellectual History: #Formation as Curated by Black Women.
I wrote this on my Facebook wall on February 8th:
In case my politics of citation is unclear, I am sharing posts about #Formation written by black women, +1 for those written by black southern, NOLA/Louisiana women (the VSB post was the exception, but that was funny). You don’t have to agree or like Beyonce or the video, but you do need to listen when the kindred are speaking. This is theirs and they are ours and we are theirs and they’ve got something to SAY. If you fall in this category and I can share or boost, please send your link my way…
I’m compiling them here for archive purposes only. If you decide to use any of the material here–cite the author and link to the original post as much as possible. Give the author their due. If you decide to use them in a class, ASK permission of the original author first. Yes, even if your class is today. If you want to use this post as a bibliographic reference or reading list, you don’t need my permission but let me know (I’m curious who will use this) and do please link to the original post. Otherwise…read on…
In rough order of appearance on my TL (minus the VSB post):
Beyonce’s Formation is Her Best Thing Yet and it’s the IDGAF Anthem | Luvvie AjaYi at Awesomely Luvvie (2016)
“This video is Blacker than onyx (the color AND the rap group from the 90s). It is Black pride, Black love and Black people being brilliant and bold. And the fact that it dropped 6 days into Black History Month is the cherry on the sundae of deliciousness. What they did there? I see it. And I appreciate it.
It is so unabashedly NOIR that it is bound to piss off some white folks. If you are a white woman or man and you’re about to write a thinkpiece about how any part of that video offends you or put you off, please put your pen down because we do not give a nary of an ounce of damb. We are not here for it. And you should just sit this one out. Phone a friend if it made you made because it wasn’t for you. Take a ride elsewhere, chile.”
We Slay, Part I | Zandria Robinson at New South Negress
“While “No Angel” gave us a Texas Bama vision of Houston, the visuals for “Formation” offer up New Orleans as convergence place for a blackness that slays through dreams, work, ownership, legacy, and the audacity of bodies that dare move and live in the face of death.” – Zandria F. Robinson #formation
“We create from what we can imagine. We are living right now inside the imaginings of people whose mental illness makes them believe they are superior to other human beings. This video is part of the resistance, the new imaginings that we use to pull ourselves towards liberation.
I feel so proud of Beyonce, so moved by director Malina Matsoukas’ vision in action, and just want to say thank you everyone who shaped this incredibly timely work. We needed this, and we need more artists to deliver this kind of flawless politicized work. Art is our public sphere, our culture shaping cauldron. This is a precious black love offering.
“Is it possible that Beyoncé, in her red and white dress, was summoning Mami Wata, the water deity who could be both a healer or lure travelers to their watery grave? I’m particularly fascinated by the end of the video, where Beyonce lies on top of the car as it drowns and an unknown man says “Look at that water boy! Oooh lawd!” One possible intention here is a visual reminder of the many unknown souls that drowned and possibly took their place by Mami Wata’s side during Katrina. Yet the commentary, paired with Beyonce and the car’s ‘drowning,’ doubly signifies upon how we fetishize black death and the feminine power of water and rebirth.” – Regina N. Bradley#formation
“The idea of a secret technology recalls a time when certain African expressions were prohibited in the Americas (i.e., drumming). Symbols and rituals were hidden and embedded in art/crafts (ex. quilting), dance and rhythms, all of which formed the basis for black cultural production that eventually spread around the world. The African Cosmogram (cultural, spiritual and ritualistic map) is a technology that plays a key role in this development. Formation continues the progression of this technology that engages viewers through a lens of radical blackness: the video is unapologetically black.” – Nettrice Gaskins ##formation
For the unsoutherner.
“You’ve got Big Freedia and them, but do you RESPECT the (southern/New Orleans) culture?” Two queer, southern women on #Formation
Beyoncé as Conjure Woman: Reclaiming the Magic of Black Lives (That) Matter | By Janell Hobson for MsMagazine
“The black conjure woman herself has long been a figure demonized in American culture. But black culture has survived due to her resourcefulness in preserving the cultural memory from the African continent by remixing it with other cultures here in North America through food, healing rituals and practices and chanting—note how the song itself falls somewhere between Beyoncé singing and rapping. Her lyrics are deceptively simple, reduced to local Southern lingo and repetitive phrases. In reclaiming black life, Beyoncé returns to a simplicity of language, in which the simplest phrase—”Slay trick, or get eliminated”—is loaded with exponential meaning.” – Janell Hobson (with references to Kintra Brooks and other black Southern women scholars)
Posted three days early. Because this is a Beymergency.
On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ | Colorlines (#nolA)
“I cheer Bey on as she sings, “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” But I cringe when I hear her chant, “You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma” about her Alabama-born dad and her mom from Louisiana. This is the same reason I cringed at the L’Oreal ad that identified Beyonce as African-American, Native American and French and why I don’t appreciate her largely unknown song “Creole.”
Having grown up black-Black (read: dark-skinned) in colorstruck New Awlins, hearing someone, particularly a woman, make a distinction between Creole and “Negro” is deeply triggering. This isn’t just for me but for many New Orleanians.” – Yaba Blay, daughter of New Orleans #formation
“I think it’s a stretch to call Beyonce an activist. And I don’t know that activist is such a compliment. What we need out here is organizers. No, what she is is a cultural force and artist and icon. She might be her own goddess, might have her own little Orisha power, but she’s not an activist. I think that she’s someone who is paying attention like anyone her age to what is going on. This is her generation’s movement; she’s absolutely a millennial, and she’s tuned in to what’s happening like we all are. So she doesn’t live on some other planet, which I think we tend to think of pop stars, and Beyonce in particular. [Laughs.] She’s very much in this world, paying attention to what’s happening, and affected by it. You know, she’s raising a daughter.” – Dream Hampton #formation
Beyonce’s ‘Formation’ Is Activism for African Americans | Omise’eke Tinsley and Caitlin O’Neill for Time Magazine
“But don’t get it twisted: Bey’s black feminism isn’t only for cis-women. The song starts with a voiceover from media personality Messy Mya, killed in an unsolved transphobic murder in 2010, who tells us “Bitch, I’m back by popular demand.” “Formation” also features queer New Orleans queen of bounce Big Freedia and footage from Abteen Bagheri’s 2014 documentary That B.E.A.T, which explores New Orleans bounce music and queer culture. Femme and fabulous, Beyonce’s formation loves and celebrates the art of black femininity in every kind of body brave enough to own it.” – via Omise’eke Tinsley and Caitlin O’Neill #formation
“My fellow white people: Listen. Listen. Listen. This is a Black moment, rarer than rare in this culture. If you don’t like the way Black artists portray white people, work on changing the impact of white people in Black lives, not on telling Black people they’re wrong about their own lives.”
“The spirit of resistance has been here for a long time contrary to a facebook post I saw: “Bey is getting New Orleans and everybody woke.”
Another Facebook post I read: “New Orleans is the blackest ever.”
Approximately 100,000 Black people didn’t come back to New Orleans. Yes, you read that right.
Do the math.
New Orleans is getting more millennial white every day….”
“#KingBey is not igniting a liberation movement. She is inspired by it. She was raised by it. She is a product of it. How she walks the path blazed by her heroes and sheroes is her choice.” Thembisa Mshaka on #Formation
“I’m from a small town on the bottom edge of Mississippi, very near New Orleans and the Louisiana border. My family has lived there for generations. A few of us left in the ’60s for Chicago and Los Angeles and Texas, but whether for a visit or to retire, we always return. So when I saw Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, I understood. I knew who she was portraying in the video, and what she was trying to tell me and all the other bamas.”
Before Beyoncé made ‘Formation,’ Zora Neale Hurston laid out her roadmap | Regina Bradley for The Washington Post
“Even in front of the largest audience in the world, it was a daring act of vulnerability, offering up a rendering of black protest and recognizing the historical and cultural agency of black folks on the biggest sports stage available. As my friend Crystal Hayes wrote, Beyoncé is “no longer legible to America.” She is stepping away from a more universally appealing trope of feminine blackness in favor of an experimental and boisterous black womanhood that has room to make critique of social-economic issues. At this point in her career, she has slayed most of the challenges – and bank accounts – where her creativity and longevity were questioned. Being conscious, bringing attention to her black community, is a final destination.”
“In “Formation,” which invokes both Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement, Beyoncé attempts to politicize black tragedy and black death by using them as props for popular consumption. That isn’t advocacy. While some people are gagging at the idea of Beyoncé atop a New Orleans Police Department squad car or sitting in a 19th-century living room in plaçage attire, I’m reliving trauma. I’m thinking about how the system failed us. I’m thinking about how the central government and the head of state left us to die. I could speak about the incompetence of some local leaders, the breakdown in communication of authorities, the lawlessness of police officers and troops. I could speak about the vicious racist vigilantes who hunted evacuees down like dogs for trying to secure safe ground for themselves and theirfamilies. But I don’t.“
“Bey, I hear you trying to unapologetically assert your Southern Blackness when you sing, “My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma.” I’m here for it. I can support that, even though you do not acknowledge the complicated, and often divisive, nature of colorism inherent in Creole identity politics. But, showing Hurricane Katrina inspired images and inserting yourself into the storm narrative is just as insensitive as using Katrina’s aftermath as a conversation starter when you meet a New Orleanian. Our trauma is not an accessory to put on when you decide to openly claim your Louisiana heritage.”
Hot Sauce in Her Bag: Southern Black identity, Beyoncé, Jim Crow, and the pleasure of well-seasoned food– | Mikki Kendall for Eater
“There may be white Beyoncé fans who also carry around their own personal bottles of hot sauce, but hearing her say she has hot sauce in her bag isn’t a shout-out to them. She’s talking to the Southern and Great Migration Black Americans listening — to them, to us, it hearkens to home. To childhoods spent at fish frys, church picnics, and visiting relatives. It’s a reference to a cultural connection, one that spans the diaspora of Black American identity. You might prefer Crystal to Louisiana, you might only use it on greens that your Grandma didn’t cook, you might rely on someone else having it, but you definitely used hot sauce. You definitely grew up seeing it used by the people that raised you, the people who gave you a sense of your roots, no matter where you were in America….
At a recent weekend-long event, I kicked myself for giving up the habit of carrying hot sauce in my bag. Every meal was provided to our group, but none had seen salt, pepper, or garlic in any meaningful way. The event’s organizers had made noises about wanting to increase the diversity of its attendees, but apparently no one involved had considered the diversity of cultural expectations of how food should be treated. Food may just be fuel for some people, but for many marginalized communities, it represents community, connections, a way of expressing your culture in public without care or concern for how it might be received by those who do not share it. And for communities that have struggled to have the right to eat in peace in public or in private, it can mean even more.” — Mikki Kendall (child of Chicago, btw, hey!!!) on blackness, history, and the food politics of #formation
Lynnee Denise posted this on Facebook:
“And how she claims the story of migration in her thighs? Beyonce’s video reads like Beloved’s Revenge or Dirty Daughters of the Dust. Like Congo Square crunk meets Marie Laveau’s wrath. And the assumption that those of us who see her have an underdeveloped analysis is old and tired, she’s not above critique, but to you I say, may her evolving snatchery hush your mouths. The Black South Matters.”
“So, that relationship: one I see as largely feeling oneself in relationship to a man, your man, is troubling, because of what it says about possible collaboration with other, marginalized groups. In particular, queer Black women. This is also clear in Formation, which folks have rightly situated as queer: starting with the addition (but no visuals) of Messy Mya and Big Freedia at key points in the song. Hat tip to that. But, it also feels kind of easy in that, if you are going to do something Blackity Black and gay in New Orleans, you better hit up Big Freedia, recognize Bounce and acknowledge the Queen(s). More importantly, this positioning of gay Black man–genderfucky as both are, with Big Freedia claiming female pronouns–only speaks back to her position as a straight (cis, light skinned, beautiful) Black woman. I mean include and lift up all my gay Black brothers for real, especially the self-proclaimed sissies, punks, queens, and fags. Love ’em up, fiercely ’cause they’re ours. But, why are we always gagging when a mainstream artist includes us? It’s clear that contemporary R&B/hip-hop is infused with Black (male) queerness: from production, styling, choreography, language and sound.” – Andreana Clay over at Queer Black Feminist on #formation”
“I know, I know. I don’t do well with the internecine kinds of vitriol and criticism that black women inflict on each other, in the name of critique and truth-telling. I’ve witnessed our vehement criticism of everyone from Oprah to Beyoncé, to the fictional Olivia Pope. So that’s the thing about this debate about Bey’s feminism. For all the intellectual posturing that frames it, our investment in whether Beyoncé gets to be a feminist or not is deeply personal and emotional.
Prof Imani Perry: Stopped. Body Searched. Arrested. Cuffed To A Table
Beyoncé Formation: Creole Sideye, Black South Motherland, Black Queer Expression
Host: Esther Armah
Prof Imani Perry & Monifa Bandele. Dr Yaba Blay & Lynnee Denise
Jenna Wortham in a roundtable for NYT – Beyoncé in ‘Formation’: Entertainer, Activist, Both? – The New York Times
Jenna Wortham: This video feels like the ultimate declaration from Beyoncé that the tinted windows are down, the earrings are off and someone’s wig might get snatched, judging by the scene in the hair store about 1:22 minutes in.
She wants us to know — more than ever — that she’s still grounded, she’s paying attention and still a little hood. I think she wants us to know that even though she’s headlining a mainstream event like the Super Bowl, she has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, nor is she afraid to do it on a national and global scale.
“As a scholar whose work focuses on t-shirts and the black protest tradition, I am concerned with the political power of clothing and the inroads that can be made through discursive activism and dress. The larger takeaway is that Beyoncé’s performance and video are a provocation toward dialogue. It’s an invitation to question the ways we hold and make space for community concerns. In the end, we can work through the controversy over colorism, afros, and Negroes’ noses and also embrace “Formation” for the bama banga it is. I believe “Formation” will be added to the growing playlist of music that helps sustain us emotionally and spiritually in our everyday black lives. And other songs have inspired activist communities without fitting the traditional definition for protest music. We have to dance, laugh, and love each other to survive.”
Yaba Blay and Shantrelle Lewis with Kaila Story and Jaison – Strange Fruit #159: Love and Criticism for Beyoncé’s “Formation”
“Blay points to the scene where Blue Ivy is dancing with two other, darker-complected girls. Blue Ivy wears what looks like a contemporary sundress, while the other girls are dressed in Victorian-looking outfits suitable for much older people.
The scene might not have stuck out to viewers who didn’t grow up in New Orleans, but Blay says in that community, skin color is more nuanced. “While the rest of the country was rocking with the one-drop rule, in New Orleans, literally every single drop made you something else,” she says.
Dr. Blay joins us this week, along with another New Orleans native, Shantrelle Lewis, who wrote an article for Slate about the ways in which Katrina imagery and New Orleans bounce music is exploited in the “Formation” song and video.”
Janell Hobson, Visualizing Music: Representing Black Culture, Community, and Politics for The African American Intellectual History Society
“Beyoncé’s visual album BEYONCÉ constantly reflected these tensions, but “Formation” grapples with a community and larger society shaken by state violence and the movement of resistance represented by #BlackLivesMatter, which she and her partner Jay Z have supported financially. Nonetheless, her video does not signify on images of violence, represented in recent videos like Nicki Minaj’s “self-defense” track for “Looking Ass” (Fig. 5), Kendrick Lamar’s denouncement of urban violence in “Alright,” or Rihanna’s revenge fantasy in “Bitch Better Have My Money.” The main elements of violence in “Formation” are structural and state violence: represented by Katrina’s flood waters and the implied police brutality of a police cruiser, which Beyoncé sinks by video’s end. Mostly, however, we see images of peace – of a young boy dancing before a line of police men in riot gear, who surrender to him rather than gun him down, just before a wall of graffiti reveals, “Stop shooting us.” Strange then that black life, not black death, elicits controversy. As Stacey Patton already noted, if we are not dying or placed in servitude to whiteness, then any affirmations of black love, black success, and black life will be an affront to white supremacy.”
“Certain White people seem to feel betrayed by Queen Bey, who not only conforms to White beauty standards, but is also shouting out affirmations of Black features—twerking and hailing full noses and natural black hair while endlessly tossing her butt-length blonde weave almost as a parody of Whitegirl flossing.
While focused on Bey, the anger is so not about her. It’s about Black women’s voices and bodies and how we move them through public spaces—especially those spaces that White people have deemed their domain. And the Super Bowl certainly fits into that category. She is merely the symbol, the messenger, or the latest avatar of affirmative Blackness. None of it is anti-White or even anti-police. It is, of course, pro-Black, pro-justice, pro-equality, pro-let’s-stop-this-racist-madness-in-the-name-of-White-Supremacy, though.”
Bené Viera Interviews Former Black Panther Erica Huggins – Black Panthers Party Explained – Beyoncé’s Formation Superbowl Performance | Teen Vogue
“By the time we chat Huggins has admittedly watched “Formation” and the Super Bowl performance many times. She is in awe by the historical references, the art, the beauty of black womanhood, the message. She has very little interest in the backlash. She lived through it when her BPP friends were being incarcerated, assassinated, and criminalized by the press. Although she is not surprised that people are likening the BPP to the KKK, she’d rather tell you what they truly stood for instead of rebutting the opinions of the misinformed.”
“Her representation has been lauded for being “unapologetically black,” an embrace of all the things that pop culture either whitewashes for profit or disregards entirely. So it’s either incredibly savvy or completely ironic that Beyoncé chose New Orleans as the backdrop for the assertive blackness of “Formation.” There is perhaps no city in America where being black has historically been defined, by law and by social custom, in so many different ways. Blackness here has been measured in drops and fractions, measured against paper bags and disguised with French and Spanish terminology, divided into backatown and Uptown neighborhoods and left to drown as a community. Blackness, here more than anywhere, is complicated, and Beyoncé’s experience of it may be unapologetic, but New Orleanians at Mardi Gras time didn’t exactly agree that it was theirs.
From Friday until Fat Tuesday, the biggest, brightest parades rolled day and night throughout the city. In between the dozens of papier mâché floats depicting Roman and Egyptian gods and Greek muses, mostly black high school bands, cheerleaders, dance teams, flag and baton twirlers marched in tight formation, executing songs and routines that had been polished to dazzle weeks before. The weekend parades, particularly the superkrewes that parade at night, count as prime time; inclusion in them is an honorific reserved for the schools that really get down, whose basslines and high-stepping is never not on point. Except this year, when, mid-eight-count, someone from the crowd yelled “You came to slay!” a sparkling majorette broke her gameface and threw a laugh of recognition in that direction, just this once.”
“Relations between Texans and Louisianans could be tense. Knowles Lawson told Ebony magazine that black nuns at her Catholic school in Galveston treated her poorly as a girl. Meanwhile, some black Texans claimed that Creoles acted superior. Indeed, as New Orleans native Yaba Blay reminds us, “people who are light skinned, with non-kinky hair and the ability to claim a Creole heritage have had access to educational, occupational, social and political opportunities that darker skinned, kinkier-haired, non-Creole folks have been denied.”
By the late twentieth century, however, “Creole” was less of a racial marker than an ethnic one. Catholicism, French surnames, Creole/Cajun cuisine, and zydeco music defined Creoles, regardless of whether their ancestors were free in 1860. Furthermore, generations of Creoles of color lived in or near black communities. In Houston and Galveston, the groups frequently shared neighborhoods and institutions. They also intermarried, as when Tina Beyincé married Alabama-born Matthew Knowles. The “Texas bama” roots mentioned in “Formation” refer to the merging of two cultures, one from the Anglophone southeast, and another from French Louisiana.”
Erin Marie Meadors – FORMATION as Propaganda: Beyoncé’s History-Making Art & the Future of Black America — Medium (NOLa)
“We are the ultimate Do Whatcha Wanna peoples, and there is a canon of songs and culture from jazz to brass band to bounce back to Mardi Gras Indians to the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club to one of struggle and resistance about the box and how that checkmark could prove to be the death of us. This latter fact is all the more a relevant concern and one of urgency in the post-Katrina landscape. And night after night in concerts across the globe, Beyoncé invites guests to be free and make memories with her…”
Last, I posted this on my Facebook wall on February 8th. I’m reposting it here:
I’d love to see an editorial up at NOLA.com or The New Orleans Advocate or GoNOLA.com or OffBeat Magazine or. Gambit Weekly or elsewhere NOLA bounded that covers Beyonce and #Formation and is written by a New Orleans black woman/woman of African descent. Was one posted and I missed it? If not, I’m looking for it. More than one, please, as diverse opinions abound. And of course, I’d love to see the author paid for their work. I hear freelancer rates are around $200 for 800 words, but as you are major publications, I’m sure your rates are higher…
NOTE: I decided not to compile links across formats without permission. If you wrote a post/note on your FB wall or Tumblr and want it linked here, let me know.
last updated: 2016 February 16 | 13:17:01