I remember the night Beyoncé decided to bless us with “Formation.” I was on exchange in England, chatting with a friend on Skype, when I had to stop what I was doing and take it all in. The song was fire, but this was Beyoncé; I expected nothing less.
What I found really powerful were the visuals that accompanied the song, proudly putting our history on display. Black women were showcasing their natural hair. New Orleans-based southern black culture was being celebrated. A young black boy in a ‘hood was dancing in front of cops in full riot gear.
Combining the above with lyrics focusing on celebrating Beyoncé’s southern roots, I understood that “Formation” was meant to speak to black people, and specifically, black women — reminding us that we slay. That’s why seeing such a call of solidarity be distorted and mocked for somebody else’s agenda is so irritating.
Recently, Amy Schumer released a mimicry of Beyoncé’s video, titled “Get in Formation.” Schumer lip-syncs along to the song, featuring cameos from actors like Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack, and Wanda Sykes. The closest we get to acknowledging the original visuals’ significance is Sykes’ cornrows — but this is the equivalent of “But I have a black friend . . .” and I’m not here for it.
Schumer is a white woman. “Formation” isn’t meant for her, nor is it meant to be used by her. By completely changing the imagery and focusing almost solely on her own experiences, she misses the fact that this song speaks of blackness and black femininity in a way that she, as a white woman, cannot understand.
Think of it this way: Queen Bey throws an incredible party for black women to celebrate us. I and all my black girlfriends show up with our ‘fros, twists, and braids on point. Our makeup is on fleek, and we are feelin’ good! Suddenly, Schumer bursts in, tries to draw all the attention to herself, and gets mad when we explain, “You can come hang out with us, but don’t make it about you.”
Regardless, this could’ve been easily resolved if Schumer heard the criticism and apologized. However, she responded by saying, “I had Beyoncé and Jay Z’s approval. They released it on Tidal exclusively for the first 24 hours.”
Um, nope. That’s not how this works. We haven’t seen an official endorsement from the Knowles-Carter family, probably because Beyoncé is busy dominating the world, so that’s not a valid defence.
Meanwhile, a tribute may be well-intentioned, but it doesn’t change the fact that Schumer‘s trying to turn a piece that’s so blatantly for black women into a tribute to all women. She could’ve used a song that’s not so directly connected to black culture.
She talked about empowering all women, failing to acknowledge that black women experience life differently than white women. It’s white feminism at its peak, and I’m not here for it.
This doesn’t mean that non-black people can’t listen to “Formation.” Shoot, I play it as loud as I can for my friends, reminding them that their best revenge is their paper. What it does mean is that this song is a celebratory space meant for me, a black woman, and it needs to be treated as such.
Black women face prejudice on a regular basis. My sisters are murdered and their names aren’t even spoken. When a powerful figure within popular culture — who is also a black woman — creates a piece of art specifically for me and my girls, that is sacred and special.
Until she gets that, Ms. Schumer will not be going to Red Lobster.