Warning: (as you’ll see in the video) if you’re a white Beyoncé fan, this is rated NC-17. If you’re a black Beyoncé fan, this is rated G:
“Maybe the song isn’t for us? But usually everything is!”
Sending up the music industry, race relations and, mostly, privileged white folk, SNL brings the big news:
“The Day Beyoncé Turned Black” – SNL
From the author of this here lil’ blog: for those who don’t find this funny, this is comedy making fun of pop culture and America and…mostly, white Americans and their/our love of appropriation as long as it’s safe. We appreciate Beyoncé’s new Formation and its messages.
I am white (well, half Jewish) and have worked all my life for progressive causes and equality. That said, I don’t mind being made fun of, or laughing at myself, or rather laughing at or making fun of safe cultural appropriation by mainstream America.
Humor is powerful in shining a light. It’s not our enemy–prejudice is.
We continue to get criticism for sharing this—again, this sketch is making fun of appropriation, I think. It’s also comedy, and comedy goes where polite culture fears to go. We are all one–but within that, we are diverse and can celebrate that, and as Beyonce did here, be true to our roots, and call out brutality and subtle racism.
More commentary, via Reddit:
“Beyonce had been perceived by white culture as “safe” black music for most of her career–aka not gangsta or political or actually (God forbid) referencing her race or the culture she grew up in. Most of her music has been pretty generic pop as far as its content so it appealed to pay much everyone. In fact, there were a few scandals earlier in her career that she was intentionally toning down her blackness to better fit a white market (accent, hair, clothes, etc).
But now, Beyonce has reached a point in her career where anything she does will be immediate news and she doesn’t have to cater to a specific set of expectations for people to pay attention. She’s more comfortable sharing her political views through music. We saw a little of this in the last album, which many viewed as very feminist. There was a little backlash to this, but it was more along the lines of “How dare this grown woman sing about her sex life when my daughter likes her music?” or “Holy shit, she just danced with her husband on stage and it was sort of erotic! Children listen to her music!”
In this past two years, race has become a front and center issue for mainstream American politics. From police brutality to media representation, we’ve been seeing a lot of talk, anger, and confusion over what race actually means in everyday life. The issues we’re dealing with aren’t new, but a lot of white people have had to think about race outside Black History Month for the first time since the 1960s. A lot of white reactions haven’t exactly been progressive in this area. Lots of complaints about people stirring the pot and lots of pseudo-intellectual claims that if we just didn’t talk about it, this wouldn’t be a problem (and no, not all white people, but a significantly loud population).
That’s the background for Beyonce’s “Formation.” She drops the video with zero fanfare and it takes a lot of people by surprise. If you’d been paying attention, Beyonce and Jay-Z have actually been quite involved in the #BlackLivesMatter protests, but it has nowhere near the publicity that “Formation” did. “Formation” is black and proud.
The lyrics praise black standards of beauty and embrace black culture. The video shows police lined up in riot gear and surrendering to a little black boy dancing in a hoodie–a shout out to recent protests about the deaths of unarmed black men and women at the hands of police. Beyonce sinks a New Orleans Police Department car while images of the floods after Katrina flash by–a reference to the man-made part of this disaster (bad levy management, poor response times, tone deaf politicians, police murdering black civilians, and racially loaded media coverage). Women wear their hair naturally. A wall has “Stop shooting us!” painted on it. Beyonce recreates images of the Creole Women of Color in New Orleans showing black women in power at a time we only think of them as slaves. It’s a very politically charged video–not only is she celebrating black culture, she’s blatantly referencing modern day racism. On top of that, she performed at the Superbowl with dancers wearing outfits that were very similar to the Black Panthers – a controversial organization that, no matter what your opinion of their overall record, was founded as a group that could monitor and bear witness to police brutality in the 1960s.
The reaction, as you can imagine, has been enormous. There are protests against the NFL for allowing Beyonce’s dancers to look like “terrorists” and equating the Black Panthers to the KKK. There have been complaints from white Louisianans saying that Beyonce had unnecessarily turned Katrina into a racial event. There has been a lot of general, and mostly benign, surprise from white fans that simply didn’t expect Beyonce to stray from her low-controversy, very mainstream (read:as much in common with white culture as possible) image.
People who didn’t ever think about Beyonce’s race before were a little surprised to find out that she does think and sing about race.”