Before you read what I have to say about “Formation,” scroll down and watch it.
Her evocations are manifest, encompassing so much recognizable imagery from black life. From a police cruiser sinking in the New Orleans floodwaters, to “Stop Shooting Us” graffiti, to the young black boy in a hoodie in front of riot cops, we see things that remind us of what has made our blood boil and our tears run.
But here, Beyoncé turns our sorrow on its head, making these images empowering and even welcome. For instance, the boy in the hoodie pop-locks in front of the cops rather than running, eventually provoking them to raise their hands. Beyoncé’s video is about using these recurrent symbols for black people—woman, child, and man alike—instead of fodder for commentary about us.
Beyoncé tells you how much she likes black hair, noses, and remaining “country.” The Red Lobster line is boldly sexual, but it also makes all of us hungry for some cheddar biscuits. Virtually every frame is dripping with unapologetic black pride and power, saying: You’re going to see this America how we do. There is value in that.
Arguments over black representation in media and pop culture too often make “diversity” primary. That’s life through a white lens. The urgency is not about others seeing us amidst that whiteness; sometimes, we need to see ourselves. Beyoncé serves up a reminder that we should never stop saying that we matter.