Six Beyoncé Pieces By Women of Color That You Should Read Right Now

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Hey there, Monday afternoon Internet. Are you still recovering from a wings-and-Budweiser hangover? (Note: Was not paid to name that beer brand specifically.) Or maybe you're dealing with whiplash after trying to recreate the dance moves from Beyoncé's video/Super Bowl performance of "Formation," the new Black Lives Matter-soaked single she dropped on Saturday -- a track whose lyrics we all knew, because she's Beyoncé, by the time of her performance on Sunday.

I have written about Beyoncé before, and it should come as no surprise that I generally believe she's a force for good in the world. She is not without fault, but she is undeniably a marvel of an entertainer as well as a consummate businesswoman. I also think she's expanding notions of what pop music can be, the ways it can shape culture and drive much-needed conversation, and using her platform at the top of the charts in a more interesting and impactful way than perhaps any artist in the last 30 years.

That said: I don't want to hear my own Beyoncé opinions right now. And, while some of my favorite music writers are white, I don't want to hear their Beyoncé opinions either. To be clear, I understand the impulse and obligation that major news channels have, when an artist drops a video as racially and politically charged as "Formation," to "translate" it for mainstream, confused, white audiences. But if there's one thing black feminism doesn't need, it's old white male music critics summarizing it in the hopes of making it more palatable.

With that in mind, instead of parsing each frame of Bey's new video or waxing poetic about what it means for most aggressively corporate, traditionally whitewashed sporting event in the country to have featured a Southern-born black woman singing about "negro" noses and Afros during the most-watched entertainment spectacle of the year, I'd like to use this space a little differently.


Thus, here are some pieces about Beyoncé's new song that were written or co-written by women of color. You should read them. Fun extra credit homework: Start noticing bylines in general. When it comes to a topic like a video that deals directly with America's treatment of black female and queer bodies, especially, it's worth noting where and to whom you're turning when you want insightful cultural commentary.

'Beyoncé's Formation reclaims black America's narrative from the margins,' by Syreeta McFadden in The Guardian (UK)
"Beyoncé’s work shows that revolution can be beautiful; protest and celebration are not contradictions when imagining a black future that isn’t overrun by images of black pain and death."

'Beyoncé Drops ‘Formation’ for the People, the Black People,' by Danielle C. Belton in The Root
"What if I told you 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?"

'Beyonce's Black Southern Formation,' by Zandria F. Robinson, Rolling Stone
"...The video for 'Formation' does not settle for restrained allusions to black southern identity or an easy conversion of black southern into black American. In her latest work, Beyoncé opts to tell a sweeping history of her southern identity and the black South writ large, bringing the weight of black New Orleans, past and present, and black women's and queer black men's cultures to the task."

'Beyoncé works hard,' by Rawiya Kameir, The Fader
"Beyoncé’s success with 'Formation” doesn’t come from the fact that she is publicly claiming a politic, but that she is casually weaving that politic in with the rest of her aesthetic."

'Beyoncé in ‘Formation’: Entertainer, Activist, Both?,' Jenna Wortham (as part of a roundtable with Wesley Morris and Jon Caramanica) in the NYT
"Beyoncé’s control is an exquisite study in self-restraint, especially in the current social-media-saturated climate. One could also read this as an existential call to action to her listeners and viewers: 'Black women, join me and make your own formation, a power structure that doesn’t rely on traditional institutions.' It’s also not insignificant that she’s electing to parade her substantial wealth and ability to outearn most men in the music industry (including her husband, Jay Z) during the Super Bowl — the flagship event of male virility and violence in this country."

'Get What's Mine: 'Formation' Changes the Way We Listen to Beyoncé Forever,' by Naila Keleta-Mae, Noisey
"Just as Billie Holiday brought social awareness back with 'Strange Fruit,' 'Formation' has the potential to usher calls for black freedom from anti-black racism, state-sanctioned violence, and institutionalized poverty back to the forefront of black popular music. We would all be well served by that change."

Update, Feb. 9: Here are two more recent critical pieces also worth your attention. 

'Beyoncé’s capitalism, masquerading as radical change,' by Dianca London in Death and Taxes
"If the 'best revenge' or the answer to progress 'is your paper' as the lyrics to 'Formation' suggest, Bey’s brand of activism is ultimately doomed. Viewing monetary prowess as power is not only a familiar (and flawed) trope within her genre, it is also a predictably capitalistic formula for agency. Prefaced by a reminder to 'always stay gracious,' Bey’s suggested route towards liberation is contingent on two things: respectability and the mobility that comes with affluence."


On 'Jackson Five Nostrils,' Creole vs. 'Negro' and Beefing Over Beyoncé's 'Formation' by Yaba Blay, Colorlines
"So while it may seem innocent that Beyoncé describes herself as a mixture of Creole and 'Negro,' this particular celebration of her self invokes a historical narrative that forces some of us to look at her sideways...Had this been any other artist, I likely would have pounced on these contradictions immediately. Instead, I’m now facing my own. I'm asking myself what it is about Beyoncé that can silence even me, a scholar who researches and writes about color issues and who grew up in a city where the deep shade of her complexion literally determined who she could be friends with."