What always mystifies me about Beyonce is her ability to ruin the lives of the same Black women she puts on for in her music and videos. Immediately after the release of her latest song “Formation”, I played the song on repeat for the next hour, screaming expletives at my computer screen and reaching for what was left of my edges. The balding effect could be felt across the nation, as Black folk took to adopting all caps and exclamation marks on social media in celebration of Beyonce’s new masterpiece. I was overwhelmed during each and every one of my three hundred and seventy replays of the video. The video is filled to the brink with Black imagery, from the line of women dancing with huge afros to the short glimpses of New Orleans culture. I heard Beyonce utter the word Negro and I almost fell out. Watching the video felt like all of the Black Girl Magic I had ever dreamed of exhibiting was alive in its rawest form on my screen, with a proud Texas bama heading the mission.
There are so many subtle nuances that writers have began to touch on, like the importance of this video as resistance and the Black queer ideology that laces the video. I will leave it to the theorists to continue to create these connections; instead, I want to connect the video to the important moments of my identity formation to make apparent the impact that twenty four hours with this video has made on me, and women like me.
The song begins with a familial role call of sorts, where Bey calls upon her Southern heritage. Miss Tina and her Louisiana ties blended with Mathew Knowles’s Alabama roots to create Beyonce’s Texas identity. Beyonce acknowledges that her identity is not a monolith; she is formed of mixtures turned blends turned amalgamations to create her identification. I am reminded of my own heritage: born to two African parents, from the same country but from two drastically different regions and tribes. Freetown and Masiaka breeds me, a child born on a different continent in the District of Columbia. My identity was a source of confusion for me, with a childhood deeply rooted in my African lineage but a notable difference between my parents and me. I never knew whether my African-American identification was fraudulent or freeing. Though I still have my moments of conflict, I feel pride in the identity I’ve been able to create for myself, on the backs of Fela Kuti and Ghostface Killah alike.
Then there’s Blue. The minute I saw her smile smugly into the camera with her hands on her hips and a halo of beautiful kinks framing her face, I teared up. To see the beauty of her, no doubt a victim of internet mockery for those same curls she now proudly wore in her mother’s music video was a moment of pure joy for me. I am moved back to moments with my baby cousins who were amazed anytime I responded to questions about how I got my hair like that with “it grows out of my head like this.” I think of Alida, who during my last trip home told me that she no longer wants to get relaxers and asked if I could do her hair like mine. What strikes me the most, however, is how I am aspiring to have the same confidence as that four-year old.
Beyonce splices the video with an audio clip of Big Freedia (The Queen Diva, You Besta Believe-ah, You Already Knoooow) delivering my motto for the rest of 2016: “I did not come to play with you hos. I came to slay, bitch.” I have been in love with Big Freedia since watching a short documentary on Bounce music, which later led to an obsession with her reality show and fixation on New Orleans in general, so much so that a birthday present from a friend was to see Big Freedia live. This same friend knows that when she plays her, it is guaranteed that I will drop everything I’m doing and pop it for the gods and the ancestors. Freedia’s music is without a doubt the key that unlocks my carefree Black girl from my waist and my hips into the universe. I am free like Freedia in so many ways when I dance to her music: free to be bold, to be queer, and to take up space.
Beyonce closes out the video with my favorite scene from the video. In front of a line of police officers in SWAT gear we find a Black child executing killer footwork. When the child concludes the dance, they raise their hands with their chest swollen with pride, which leads the officers to also put their hands up as if they are surrendering. Then Beyonce drowns a whole police car like its a Hot Wheel. An obvious middle finger to the police state and nod to the movement to end police brutality, this scene felt like a punch to the gut. I immediately remembered being a part of actions where my crew and I were face-to-face with police officers. How tense my body felt and how badly I wanted to feel the same strength everyone around me felt, but how defenseless I felt in the presence of the police. I imagine a new era of us creating dance circles around police, celebrating the dances that were ours before they were commodified. Physically showing the officers like that Black child did that we don’t die, we multiply.
Somewhere amidst all these feelings of Carefree Black girlhood, I thought about a field trip with my students to an art gallery in Downtown Chicago. They were prepped with a speech about how as Black children from the West side, people were going to make assumptions about them during our trip downtown and it was our responsibility to prove them wrong. I remembered how hard they pushed back against the respectability, taking pictures imitating the artwork and putting their own flavorful spins on them. The joy on their faces when they crowded around my phone to see how dope they looked. I thought about how they decided to record themselves dancing to the Do It Like Me Challenge right in the middle of the gallery but were shut down because it wasn’t “the place for all of that.” How at this point in the year, they were convinced that if they could hype me up enough, they could get me to dance so a number of my girls chanted “get lit, get lit, ayeee Ms. B!” as we walked down the street together and again, were shut down. I remember the moment where they finally got their chance, standing on the rooftop of the balcony, waving at the people below. As they noticed that white people weren’t waving back, they took it as a chance to scream at them about the fact that they weren’t wearing real clothing in 30 degree weather. In this moment of pure hilarity and joy, I saw the Carefree Black Girls radiating in so many of my students and after this video and being reminded of that moment, I’m setting a silent goal to bring that joy out as often as I can.
Beyonce gave Black Girls a History Month blessing and for that, I’m thankful.