With the releasing of a visual masterpiece on HBO this past Saturday entitled "Lemonade," Beyoncé has yet again, redefined and set a new standard of what it means to be an icon. Her work now aligns her with her predecessors, that include the late, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and now sadly, Prince. Although captivated enormously by the 60-minute film, it also led me to reminisce and reflect on my experience with her video "Formation."
So there I was, 2 months ago, it was the Saturday after the Super Bowl and I was doing what most twenty-something New Yorkers do: spend money on a brunch that I could easily make at home and drink mimosas that have more orange juice then champagne in them. On this particular day with "Brunch with the bros" as I like to call it, we were discussing the extraordinary and lackluster events that took place throughout the week. I am not a sports guy, but I am a culture consumer and because it was the week after the super bowl I brought it up. Mostly everyone wanted to talk about Cam Newton's loss, but I was interested in talking about Beyoncé.
You see the Saturday before I watched Beyoncé's music video 'Formation', and, quite frankly, she owned it in every way possible. Her lyrics were unapologetic. Her dance moves were luminous. It had viewers finding it impossible to turn a blind eye to the empowerment of the black body and specifically black women.
I appreciated its take on black empowerment and feminism. When I asked the 'bros' what they thought, everyone at the table only commented how beautiful Beyoncé was and that she was "a good dancer." Now let me preface this by saying that my friends are black men who are well-educated, successful, and lovers of black women, but cannot truthfully contextualize the experience of black women.
I tilted my head like Tom Brokaw, leaned in like Barbara Walters, and spoke directly and concisely like Ed Bradley as I asked the following questions:
What did you think of the message in her video?
Did you feel she was brave to go onto the Super Bowl half time show and perform a song that she knew would be controversial?
What did you think about it being in New Orleans?
What about the actual imagery? Presenting southern blackness, black feminism, gay black men, the black church?
As loud as the restaurant was that day, the crickets at the table were louder. My brilliant, successful, black male friends had nothing to say. They couldn't wrap their heads around why I was so concerned about these topics or why I was asking these questions. I wondered how that could be.
As someone who is currently in a PhD program at Columbia and aspiring to work in journalism to tell stories and educate the world, I am not usually surprised. I read and I watch what is happening in the world. The growing multiplicities of hate, ignorance, sexism, racism, homophobia, fascism seem to flourish, and the list continues to expand daily. However, I am a black man (surprise) and because I walk in this life as such, major issues that pertain to my homogenized group naturally stick out to me. But I refuse to not acknowledge the struggles of other groups.
If you look at the history of every major struggle that the black man has faced in this country, the black woman has stood behind us, holding us up, rather then standing beside us. They continuously express the truest form of solidarity that only someone with a unconditional level of compassion can have. Women like, Coretta Scott King, Betty Shabazz, and Myrlie Evers, are all black women who supported, nurtured, and loved their husbands through threats, hate crimes, and, ultimately, their husbands' murders, to then only continue to carry their husbands' legacies throughout their own lives.
There would've never been a Colin Powell, the first black secretary of state, if there wasn't Alma Powell. There would've never been an Eric Holder, the first Black U.S. Attorney General, if there wasn't Sharon Malone. There wouldn't be a Barack Obama, the first Black president, if there weren't Michelle Obama.
Black men we must tell the truth. We never would have made the progress that we have made if it weren't for black women. They have been our friends, our partners, our spouses, our mothers and our grandmothers.
So when I ask you, black men, what did you think of Beyoncé's "Formation," video, you should acknowledge it's unapologetic tone, it's presentation of southern blackness, it's declaration of black feminism, its imagery of the black church. You should also note, Beyoncé's choice to include the imagery of a young black boy in a hoodie dancing defiantly in front of police. He dances as she sings, 'I slay' to then, only seconds later in the video, pan to a glimpse of 'stop killing us' spray painted on the wall. Beyoncé not only shows solidarity with black men, but also reinforces the history, or 'herstory,' of the black woman in the U.S. - which some black men with the same platform have yet to do.