We’ve started the year with two cultural schools of thought, on one hand there’s the loud and slightly ridiculous Stacey Dash phenomenon and on the other, we have the #OscarsSoWhite. So thank goodness that the Queen is back to shake things up and push us forward, Queen B that is. This past weekend, just the day before her highly anticipated Super Bowl collaboration with Coldplay and Bruno Mars, Beyonce dropped the world on it’s head with the release of her latest empowered single,’Formation’. More than just a song, ‘Formation’ is a statement – ‘Formation’ is a movement; ‘Formation’ is an ode to the rise of Black Feminine Energy – and it’s time to get in line.
Let me back up for a second.
After 31 years on this pseudo-green Earth, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit that the ideas of race, ethnicity, cultural adversity and then diversity run rampant in my veins. If you are who you surround yourself by, I’m socio-culturally middle class, with a multicultural twist. Minority Report, Oreo, Chocolate Sprinkle. My nicknames say it all, but it runs deeper. When standardized tests were distributed in school, I always took longer than everyone else figuring out which box to check for ethnicity – what if I didn’t see my box? Does that mean I didn’t matter – do I not count? Can I check more than one box? Where do I fit in here?
The multiracial, only child of a split family, I always had issues reconciling my ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and the notion that they might invariable be two different identities were always kept at bay. Remember Sun In? That shit turned my hair bright orange, not to mention warnings about sunscreen never seemed to apply to me. When my dad remarried to my step mom and the three of us would go out together, people would infer I was adopted; fast forward twenty years later, and they mistake my fiance for their son.
Silicon Valley born and raised, I grew up in the tiny and incredibly educated suburb of Menlo Park with my mom, and Palo Alto then Los Altos with my father. They were nice areas to be raised in and all that jazz, but let’s get one thing real for a second, they’re not the most diverse areas of the country; in fact they’re pretty monotone, sometimes painfully so. Whether it was with family, or in social endeavors, I always felt like the technicolor sheep of the family – never fitting in and always standing out.
Mentally, sonically, emotionally, I grew up in a boombox, self-identifying with Hip-hop and rap, including Janet Jackson’s anthemic Rhythm Nation 1814; but academically and socially, I attended programs where, in one way or another, I was the diversity. Whether it was attending Castilleja Middle School during the academic year, or their BRIDGE Program over the Summer, I wavered between a drop of milk in oil and a drop of oil in milk; an ever ebbing cascade of racial complexities that arose from a bi-cultural background that up until that age hadn’t been explored. Then, by the time I transferred back into Public School as a Junior in High School, Menlo Atherton High School had gotten national recognition with a center spread in ‘Teen People” as the most diverse yet segregated High School in America.
Serendipitous to consider it now, but it was around that same time that Destiny’s Child came out with their debut, self-titled album. In a moment where I couldn’t find a cultural footing, somehow, with them, I found resonance, a voice, a mainstream media identity – or in my eyes, hope. At 16, while away at an out of town basketball tournament, I walked into the room while several of my teammates were discussing their disgust with interracial relationships. As I slowly sulked into the shadows, shuddering at each syllable, I faintly but distinctly overheard the words “…they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, and definitely shouldn’t be allowed to have children.” My heart and ego sank in time as my head hung low for the duration of the tournament. After, in an effort to reconnect to my roots, my aunt escorted me to a seminar in Los Angeles for Young African American Women; around the same time, I became a camp counselor in West Menlo Park and was quickly adopted under the wing of East Menlo Park’s more diverse subset of counselors where I became a master domino player, learned the proper way to eat fried chicken, not to mention the difference between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. And in whatever down time I could muster, I buried my head in multicultural literature from James McBride’s The Color of Water to timely tomes from Danzy Senna, Caucasia and Symptomatic.
Combined, the ideas drilled in my head lead me to believe the next large sociocultural revolution would be a mixed race revolution, and we would be leading at the helm. But invariably, the events themselves, made me feel even more alone. It was then, that the idea was finally and formally drilled into my head that there was a difference between being genetically ‘African American‘ and culturally Black.
Beyond the entertainment value, viral witticisms masquerading as lyrics and a host of regal outfits – the video contains a not so subtle history lesson delivered with a passionate one two punch in under five minutes. Starting with emotional imagery and vocals that ask ‘What happened in New Orleans‘, Formation’ delves into the modern Black experience, exploring the nuanced variety of genetic variability. Cascading through Southern cityscapes and landscapes, including estates and plantations, ‘Formation‘ offers a bevvy of emotional imagery: a cop car – and city -underwater, a breakdancing toddler stalling a line of police with their hands in the air, ‘Stop Shooting Us’ haphazardly spray painted on an otherwise barren wall and coordinated feminine empowerment.
Imagery that grew only stronger with her performance the next day at the Super Bowl’s halftime show; decked out in gear halfway reminiscent of the 1970’s Black Panther movement spliced with Janet’s Rhythm Nation video, Beyonce urged a generation to mobilize and get in ‘Formation’. The end result was a provocative performance of a ‘visual anthem‘ sure to live in cultural infamy.
Fast forward to three days later, and you’ll meet exactly what’s wrong with this country and could invariably elect someone as ignorant as Donald Trump; In light of the controversial dance ‘Formations’ and dress during her performance invoking the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X and supposed dissent against the police -not to mention a display of their own cultural ignorance – protesters are heading to NFL’s New York Headquarters on February 18th . Not only have people willfully avoided history textbooks or contextualizing social issues like the suffrage and civil rights movement, but on top of that their ignorance has become ego driven arrogance; and I’m not sure what frustrates me more – an echoed rhetoric that minorities, especially women, are only here to entertain and not educate, or the idea that people are more offended by the message of the song than the actions that drove the creation of this performance.
I’ll be the first to admit that I never paid much attention in my European History classes and found most of my United States history courses beyond boring; but when it came to the Civil Rights Movement, I had an uncanny desire to devour all available knowledge. And I know this: The Black Panther Party was made of revolutionaries that fought for a culture that had been undermined for their entire cultural history to be recognized as equal. Yes, they were born out of the failed non-violent Civil Rights Movement of MLK Jr and Medgar Evers but the movement didn’t promote violence, it promoted fairness while protecting the community from the racist behaviors of others while simultaneously pushing citizens to police the police – an idea that is still echoed in today’s society.
To the calls of it’s Football and not Hollywood, last time I listened to Sportscetnter I got a whole earful about girlfriends and wives, houses and style; things that invariable have jack all to do with competitive sports. And now, we’re taking a critique to a traditionally all white variety of Halftime Entertainment. So for a second, let’s talk about the NFL. Let’s discuss the amount of sex crimes and prostitution rings that are cracked down on during high profile games every year, the egregious amount of drunk drivers that get into accidents leaving games or the fact that from start to finish, NFL games are riddled with advertisements parading the US Military as a revered enterprise. Yet a five minute segment that gives weight to a population more often misrepresented and underrepresented in mainstream media receives a bevvy of backlash? It’s time that people get their priorities in formation