The Blog

Beyoncé, White Feminism and Systemic Racism

Last week Beyoncé released the video for her new single Formation, and then followed it up with a mind-blowing Superbowl performance of the song. As per usual with anything Beyoncé does, the public were quick to look for ways to criticise her and seemingly landed on the political elements of the video, which I've spent the past week catching up with to make sure that as a white woman, I understand exactly what racist critics are attempting to argue. Beyoncé's Superbowl performance involved a troop of dancers dressed in outfits representative of the Black Panther Party, to celebrate the women who were involved in their campaigns. Obviously this really got the twitter abuse flowing and the track has become a hot news topic since its release, but if there's one thing we can count on Beyoncé for, it's sticking by her political values and making a strong statement regardless of certain members of the public objecting. White feminism has been a problem since the beginning of feminism and its continued existence has been made clear by specific groups of feminists criticising Beyoncé for not 'being inclusive of all women' with her recent themes. This was obviously followed up by people pointing out that women of colour really deserve some mentions of their own having been overshadowed by white women since the beginning of time.

The music video for Formation references New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina and contains footage of Beyoncé sat on top of a sinking police car. This is paired with powerful lyrics celebrating black history and culture as well as making a stark comment on police brutality, systemic racism and racial violence. At one point during the video a young black boy dances in front of a group of white police officers armed with riot gear, this is followed by graffiti that reads 'STOP SHOOTING US'. The scene has been acknowledged as a reference to the shooting of Trayvon Martin who would have turned twenty-one on the fifth of February just before Beyoncé's video was released. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have publicly shown their support of campaigns like Black Lives Matter despite the criticism of right wing media outlets that are desperate to claim that these campaigns act as a declaration of war or a danger to the public. This video and Formation's lyrics serve to reinforce this support and draw attention to racial injustice.

Following this inevitable backlash from right wing groups and white feminism groups, the Superbowl performance on the first Sunday of February built upon Beyoncé's message, involving a powerful dance routine with women of colour in costumes representative of the Black Panther movement. Beyoncé's performance made a statement against both racism and misogyny but as with the video, was seen by certain media outlets as an insult to police officers and followed up by the right wing comments that arise when anything race/women/lgbt+ related comes up in the news. The main issue with this backlash is that these people who claim that political statements against racism are not inclusive of white people or represent some sort of attack on the public, are no where near as quick to comment when racial violence is addressed in the news. Specifically in relation to the Superbowl performance, it's also important to remember that the Black Panther Party was originally created for self defence, allowing Beyoncé to point out that self defence is still incredibly necessary for people of colour particularly considering recent race related attacks by police forces and the public. Ronnisha Johnson and Reema Calloway, organisers of the Black Lives Matter campaign, also succeeded in getting Beyoncé's backing dancers to pose with a 'JUSTICE 4 MARIO WOODS' sign, drawing attention to death of a twenty six year old black man at the hands of police officers in December.

As far as the song Formation is concerned outside of its strong political statements, the track is very much in line with Beyoncé's self titled album, released in 2013 and described as experimental. It seems Beyoncé is continuing on the road of more experimental material and is still going strong in regards to working important social commentary into her music. Despite mixed responses to these social comments, the song seems to have been popular among fans, reaching number two with Billboard and the Twitter Top Tracks Chart. I personally enjoy this experimental genre that works in a vast variety of sounds and voices. Formation is upbeat, powerful and captures the attention of its listeners immediately before going on to hold it right up until the last few seconds.