By now, the world has probably gotten word that Beyoncé broke the Internet with her latest masterpiece, “Formation.” Released yesterday, the video has already garnered millions of views on YouTube. After experiencing “Formation,” Black people took to social media to laud Beyoncé for highlighting Southern Black expressions in the lyrics and in the video, such as her references to hot sauce, Red Lobster, and J’s. She makes it clear that though she has stacks, she is still a country girl at heart, a true Texas Bama. Beyoncé displays New Orleans as the backdrop for the video, and she also features the voices of New Orleanians Messy Mya and Big Freedia. Centering New Orleans was quite a political move since it is a majority Black city that has a rich culture, but its Black citizens have been and continue to be marginalized (pre and post Hurricane Katrina). Yes, “Formation” uplifts this oppressed group, all while grounded in Black feminism.
Beyoncé confirmed that she identified as a feminist in “Flawless,” and since then, she has faced criticism because some feel that she doesn’t portray the “ideal” image of feminism. With “Formation,” Beyoncé shows that she could care less what the haters have to say, and she is not here for anyone policing how she chooses to express herself. “Formation” reminds us of who spearheaded feminism in the first place—Black women. In the video, she showcases her daughter and other Black girls/women with their natural hair, portraits of Black women, nostalgic clips of Black women of the Southern elite class with their fans, and Black women posted in a beauty supply store. Beyoncé also talks about her sexuality and has no problem rewarding her man after good sex, a statement that slams gender roles and expectations.
These feminist ideals are further validated when Beyoncé proclaims that when she sees something she wants, she goes after it; she grinds hard until she claims it. She does not adhere to society’s expectations of how a woman should navigate the world; she does not need permission to do what she wants because she is in control of her life. Such a statement could be considered what Patricia Hill Collins describes as the development of “subjugated knowledge” as an act of resistance. Historically, every aspect of Black women’s lives has been controlled, including their work and reproduction. Society has also formulated negative images to represent Black women (hot mama, mammy, and welfare queen). In response to these images, Black women have pushed back and engaged in acts of resistance to challenge their oppression. This has included Black women developing their own knowledge and definitions of themselves. Beyoncé continues that tradition in “Formation,” as she pushes back on society’s perception of Black women and exclaims that she is going to take what is hers. What is hers includes the autonomy, dignity, and self-expression that have been stripped from Black women.
The recurring line throughout the song is “slay,” a term that means kill, eliminate, or exterminate. According to Beyoncé, she slays, and we slay as well. Some may take this to mean that figuratively, Beyoncé is referring to how she slays the music industry, fashion, and everything in between. As Queen Bey, she has “eliminated” those who have threatened her throne and family. Yes, Beyoncé is slaying the industry, but I believe she is also hinting at something deeper. If you’re slaying, then it implies that there is something to “kill, eliminate, or exterminate.” When Beyoncé says that she slays everyday, I believe she is revealing that in addition to being a boss, she is faced with challenges as a Black woman and must slay them. Black women have always encountered obstacles, roadblocks, and opposition. But we did not just sit back and succumb to them; we slayed. Fannie Lou Hamer slayed. Audre Lorde slayed. Marsha P. Johnson slayed. Angela Davis slayed. Pauli Murray slayed.
“Formation” demands that White people recognize Black expressions, and reminds Black people that Blackness is beautiful, from our Afros to Jackson 5 nostrils. The song and video also serves as a testament that Black women will continue to disrupt the status quo. Black women will continue to work to slay the white supremacist, patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic, classist system that imprisons us all. Alicia Garza slays. Patrisse Cullors slays. Opal Tometi slays. Elle Hearns slays. I slay. You, Black woman, slay.
Thank you, Beyoncé for the reminder.