Beyoncé: political, powerful, and black

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

American singer and songwriter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has never been one to back out of the spotlight. Since her split from Destiny’s Child in 2002, she has had an impressive solo-career, becoming one of the most dynamic artists in contemporary pop music. In the past, however, she has been criticized for dismissing her black heritage and giving a bad message to young black girls in need of strong role models. During the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, she refuted those criticisms with the first performance of her new single, “Formation.” This song highlights a message of black strength and beauty, becoming an anthem for Southern women of color. Despite criticisms, it is one of the most political pop songs in recent history. I find her message powerful and important, an essential voice in modern America.

Beyoncé has worn many looks in the past. From nude to dramatic makeup, all black to dynamic prints and any number of hairstyles and textures, she has displayed her impressive grasp of both high fashion and street fashion. The main complaints of her appearance tend to relate to her skin color, that it’s too light. A mix of African-American and Creole, many complain that she highlights her whiter features for fame and glamor. Under certain lights, her skin can appear peachy, but her glorification of black beauty in the Formation video and halftime show display not hatred for her blood, but love and admiration.

When bell hooks, American author, feminist and social activist, called Beyoncé a terrorist, she framed it as a display of anti-feminism on the singer’s part, especially harmful to young girls. Her picture on the cover of the 2014 Time’s “Most Influential People” issue was in black and white, washing her out and, as hooks claimed, falling in line with popular beauty standards that glorify white features.

“…you are saying… that she is colluding in the construction of herself as a slave,” hooks said, in response to a statement by author Janet Mock.

“Formation” shows none of this. It is not a video or anthem for white people. She glorifies the afros and raised fists of the Black Panthers, the tea rooms of wealthy black elites (present in New Orleans throughout history), and the dark features of her young daughter Blue Ivy. This imagery is powerful and imagines a future for the continued glorification of black features in popular media.

Other criticisms attack her thematic use of New Orleans in the video — quotes from New Orleans bounce artists Big Freedia and Messy Mya, visual references to the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, and distinctive Mardi Gras imagery. Beyoncé is from Houston, Texas, though her mother was from Iberia Parish near Lafayette, Louisiana. Many claim that her use of these images is harmful and appropriative, glamorizing an event that traumatized thousands.

Perhaps had this song been released a year after the storm, it would be inappropriate. But having a song and video that even mention a disaster that disproportionately affected communities of poor people of color in popular media is incredible. With imagery associated with police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it’s comparing this disaster to current threats to these communities and further invokes a sense of solidarity. This is reinforced by her glorification of black beauty.

“Formation” is a strong political statement. Claiming otherwise is nothing short of ignorant. But the statement is different from “this video is racist against white people.” It’s Beyonce’s way of showing her love for her race and community, as well as the importance of solidarity. It’s her message to young black people that they can become something great, directly opposing many of the messages they receive directly or not in their everyday lives. Lastly, she is clearly stating that police officers shooting young black people is inexcusable and ignoring it is no better. In doing so, Beyonce has made her mark as one of the most political pop singers in history, eclipsing artists who were once content to produce music that stayed firmly out of the political scene.

Kathryne is a junior in Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]