I was getting ready to get food when Beyonce dropped her epic, Melina Matsoukas directed video Formation. It was two hours later when I heard my stomach groan in protest that I realised I was still sitting naked and hungry, face awash with tears. “Is it that serious?” Yes. Beyonce has long signified to me, and many others, what true glory looks like. In this, her latest in a never-ending parade of wig snatching masterpieces, Beyonce presents us with so many powerful images; the police car drowning in Katrina, the black boy wearing a hoodie dancing in front of a line of police officers, “stop shooting us” spray painted on the wall. I could spend hours analysing each of them. But because I know for a fact that Beyonce wants me to win in my own life too, she’ll be happy if I focus on just one; black women’s hair.
In June 2014, a petition was started on Change.Org calling for Beyonce to comb her daughter, Blue Ivy’s hair. The petition demanded Beyonce and her husband Shawn “Jay Z” Carter take care of their daughter’s hair because it had developed “matted dreads” and that the parents of the then two year old had “failed at numerous attempts” to do her hair. Beyonce heard and must have seen all the memes calling her a bad mother because she addressed it in Formation telling all the naysayers straight, no chaser that she likes the kink in her baby’s hair and its tight African coils. While it might seem trivial to others that Beyonce even acknowledged such blatant misogynoir (anti-black woman misogyny) directed at a child, I personally love it. Have a seat, let me tell you you why.
Beyonce has experienced a level of access and success other black women entertainers have been unable to attain in part because of her complexion. This is not to say that Beyonce is not supremely talented or that to be light skinned equates success, I mean remember Javine? To be black with dark skin is to be seen automatically as aggressive or intimidating. Being light skinned means that Beyonce is more palatable and acceptable to white audiences. Beyonce knows this and has skilfully used this to position herself as a powerhouse so influential she no longer does face to face interviews and yet brings the Western world to a halt whenever she so chooses. However, Beyonce’s ability to freely transcend racial boundaries has not been passed onto her daughter.
In her book Hair Matters; Beauty, Power and Black Women's Consciousness, Ingrid Banks explains once slaves reached the New World their “curly and kinky hair immediately became a badge of inferiority.” It is here during slavery that this rigid structure of hierarchy based on one’s hair is established identifying African hair with it’s tight coils as inferior and European hair, with its straightness and longness as superior. To remove the curls and present Blue Ivy’s hair in a way that is more acceptable to those conditioned into equating tightly coiled, African hair with “bad hair”, Bell Hooks’ book Talking Back; Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black lets us know that Beyonce would in effect be allowing them to exercise control over Blue’s hair and thoughts as the slave masters would have been able to in the past.
It is not Beyonce’s duty or responsibility to dismantle a system of oppression half a millennia in the making but with her video she has used her privilege to let those who both consciously and unconsciously subscribe to the good hair/bad hair school of thought that black hair is beautiful, acceptable and it is here to stay. She sings about it and bombards us with image after image of black women of all shades and complexions with their hair in its natural state. It is powerful and it is revolutionary, not because she is the first black woman to talk about it. With Beyonce’s privilege she could have easily ignored the issue surrounding Blue’s hair but she chose to address it and celebrate it.
Black women artists have been singing, writing, researching and protesting about our hair for decades. However, we have lacked the access and reach Beyonce has so there is an element of preaching to the choir. White audiences enjoy Beyonce because she allows them to experience blackness without having to face the elements of blackness that they have been insidiously taught to fear but with the video for Formation Beyonce done a surprise, bitch. She’s black, her daughter’s black, her husband’s black and she likes her negro with Jackson 5 nostrils. White audiences will no longer be able to enjoy Beyonce and ignore her blackness, this is her form of activism; rejecting the conformity handed down to her.
I am fully inspired. I needed this video. Now I’m fired up.