Beyoncé’s “Formation” has us — and everyone, hopefully — thinking about justice
If you are a person who a) watched that boring-ass Super Bowl or b) has spent 30 seconds on the internet in the past week, you are aware that Beyoncé dropped a new song on Saturday. If you spent, let’s say, five whole minutes on the internet, you are probably also aware that it and the accompanying music video are a little controversial.
“Formation” is utterly fantastic, the kind of song that makes you a little mad if you’re not listening to it right now. I would guess I’ve looped it at least 100 times this week — even though it was really not written for my benefit.
This is no rallying cry for women everywhere, no “Single Ladies” or “Run the World.” Beyoncé didn’t make “Formation” for white women, and that is 100 percent OK. Both the reproductive rights movement and feminism in general have historically failed to take into account the concerns and experiences of women who are not white — to great detriment.
So it really doesn’t matter why I think “Formation” is amazing; instead, I cede the floor to women of color around the internet who have written smart, beautiful things about a very important song. Without further ado:
SHOT: Too often, actors in the fight for access to abortion and contraception forget — or simply ignore — the fact that women of different colors have very, very different experiences of reproductive rights. This piece from Pacific Standard offers a brief examination of why the reproductive justice movement is so important, focusing on the coercive sterilization of Latina women at the Los Angeles County Hospital in the 1970s (which, ICYMI, we wrote about a couple of weeks ago): “Our “right to choose” also goes far beyond choice — it’s a struggle to be seen with dignity and autonomy.”
CHASER: “Beyoncé has been accused of not caring enough about Black Lives Matter and of being a bad feminist (or not one at all); on “Formation,” she raises two middle fingers to all sides of her Illuminati-truthing haters with a bold intersection of the two fights. She is a Black Feminist, full stop.” — Dee Lockett, “Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’: Young, Gifted, and Black”
SHOT: What does reproductive justice have to do with the Black Lives Matter movement? Everything, actually, according to a new article from Kanya D’Almeida at RH Reality Check: “‘Reproductive justice is very much situated within the Black Lives Matter movement … This isn’t just about the rights of women to be able to determine when and how and where to start families, but also our right to raise families, to raise children to become adults.’”
CHASER: “‘Formation’ is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the “punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens” in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines. Movements for black liberation are led by black folks at the margins who know we must all get free to sink that car. Folks who know that we must be coordinated, and we must slay.” — Zandria Robinson, “We Slay, Part I”
SHOT: A new Brandeis brief puts forward a warning to Supreme Court justices as they prepare to examine Whole Women’s Health v. Cole: Be wary of laws written by men to protect women’s interests.
CHASER: “It’s old and new south; it’s dark and dirty south; it’s Chantilly lace and denim jacket south; it’s baby afro, baby hair and pink and purple wig south; it’s second line and pentecostal holy ghost south; it’s southern gothic and bounce south; it’s my granny, grandaddy, auntie, uncle, cousin south. It is us, it’s for us, and it’s not concerned if white people understand.” — Syreeta McFadden, “Beyoncé’s Formation reclaims black America’s narrative from the margins”
SHOT: California’s “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are really just glorified anti-abortion advocates, have been fighting aggressively to keep the right to withhold information about abortion and contraception from their clients. A federal judge just knocked down an attempt to block a law requiring these centers to provide medically and legally accurate information about women’s options when it comes to pregnancy.
CHASER: “What if I told you that Beyoncé was always political? Even when she was doo-wop popping in Destiny’s Child? What if I told you that to be black in a public space, with all eyes on you, and choosing carefully how to handle that spotlight is a form of politics, a negotiation between the self and the world that all black people must make?” — Danielle C. Belton, “Beyoncé Drops ‘Formation’ for the People, the Black People”
SHOT: A federal judge issued a restraining order that blocks the Center for Medical Progress from releasing any more of their “investigative” videos into Planned Parenthood, ruling that “the group’s projects ‘thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions.’”
CHASER: “Her idea of swag is keeping hot sauce in her bag while she’s decked out in Givenchy. That’s baller, and that’s why the world slash Internet is going nuts. It’s a dab in a video form, playing on a loop; it’s phenomenally delicious.” — Jenna Wortham, “Beyoncé in ‘Formation’: Entertainer, Activist, Both?”
SHOT: Personhood USA is a Denver-based anti-choice group that works to pass “personhood” legislation, which would criminalize abortion. Having been unsuccessful at the state level, the group is now taking its attempts to the city level — starting with Colorado Springs, of course.
CHASER: “She sings to those of us who grew up black in the American South, who swam through Hurricane Katrina, who watched the world sink, who starved for two weeks after the eye passed, who left our dead floating in our houses. She sings to those of us who were displaced, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Hartford, who lived for months or years or still live in those other places, when the living heart of us is bound so tight with oak and pine we can barely breathe.” — Jesmyn Ward, “In Beyoncé’s ‘Formation,’ A Glorification Of ‘Bama’ Blackness”
SHOT: Grist’s own Amelia Urry looks at how the Zika outbreak — and its related concerns, both real and exaggerated — serves as a fresh example of how climate change disproportionately affects women. And Aura Bogado explains why the way we talk about Zika really, really matters.
CHASER: “I’m more than willing, in fact, and deeply interested in listening to Beyoncé skeptics put forth their critiques. What I’m not interested in? Naysayers whose screeds drip with blatant misogynoir, or general misinformation about what it means to be a black woman in America. And that’s the bulk of it. The hierarchy of identity in this country means no one but black women knows what it’s like to be a black woman. That’s why the affirmations we make of ourselves get misconstrued as a threat to white people or to black men.” — Doreen St. Félix, “Considering ‘Formation’ And The Politics Of A Black Woman Pop Star”
DIGESTIF: The IUD makes an appearance in Playboy. Not like that.
NIGHTCAP: In case you’re interested, a counterpoint to all the pro-Beyoncé pieces above: “In ‘Formation,’ which invokes both Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement, Beyoncé attempts to politicize black tragedy and black death by using them as props for popular consumption. That isn’t advocacy. While some people are gagging at the idea of Beyoncé atop a New Orleans Police Department squad car or sitting in a 19th-century living room in plaçage attire, I’m reliving trauma. I’m thinking about how the system failed us.” — Shantrelle Lewis, “’Formation’ Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma”