Is Beyonce’s “Formation” About Colorism and Rejection of Blackness?

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In the weeks since Beyonce released her “Formation” video, several different controversial issues have come to light. Writers and politicians alike have dissected every verse of the song and accused her of everything from calling for an attack on the police, to profiting from the suffering of the Hurricane Katrina victims. Police unions have called for a boycott of her upcoming tour. Meanwhile at Red Lobster, they’ve reported a 33% boost in sales since Beyonce made reference to rewarding her man for giving her the big “O” by taking him to Red Lobster.

Out of the laundry list of issues sparked by the video, the oldest issue relates to colorism within the Black community. Specifically, the issue of the ever pervasive “light skinned” vs “dark skinned” debate.

I read an interesting article that discussed Beyonce’s verse in “Formation” about her “Creole” and “Negro” heritage. The New Orleans native author, Dr. Yaba Blay, talked about her experience being a dark skinned woman who was once intentionally excluded from a Creole wedding, because of her skin color. For Dr. Blay, Beyonce’s distinction between her “Negro” father and “Creole” mother is tantamount to a rejection of Blackness. A rejection that stems from the historically color struck city, with light skinned Creoles getting preferential treatment.

Which begs the question: How is acknowledging your true ancestry a rejection of Blackness?

Dr. Blay closes her article with a very self aware statement about how this issue isn’t about Beyonce, but about her own personal experience with colorism in New Orleans. It sounds like a very painful topic for her and I respect her transparency. Fact is that being told she wasn’t invited to her friend’s wedding because she’s too dark is deplorable. That was certainly a rejection. But how is Beyonce acknowledging the truth of her mixed ancestry a rejection of Blackness (especially when she mentions her father’s “Negro” Alabama roots)?

To be fair, I’m not from New Orleans. I was born and raised in Jamaica, but I’ve lived in America for over 20 years. Growing up in Jamaica, we had a stark division based on class, where the wealthy got better education, and better treatment because they could afford it. I grew up with that type of privilege with access to private school, helpers, and vacations to South America. My skin color was never an issue for me in Jamaica.

The first time I ever paid attention to my skin color was when we moved to Miami. That was the first time someone questioned whether my sister and I shared the same parents because her skin color is much lighter than mine and she has dark blonde hair. My response was simply that she looks like our dad (who is very light like my sister), and I look like our mom (who is brown like me).

As I got older, the desire to identify with my Jamaican background and trace my heritage grew stronger. My sister and I decided to do a DNA genealogy test. I already knew that I had Irish, Scottish, and Black ancestors, so when the test reported 66% African descent, 32% European descent, and 2% Asian descent, it was more confirmation than a surprise (well the 2% Asian was a surprise, but I digress). Yet the confirmation gave me a greater sense of self.

So you can imagine my surprise when a “friend” accused me of claiming to be “mixed Jamaican” because I didn’t want to be called “African American” or “Black.” This person viewed me identifying my birthplace as my attempt to reject any association with African Americans.

Seriously?

How can I claim a nationality that isn’t my own? I wasn’t even born here. And yes, I am Black. But that’s only part of my ancestry. Why shouldn’t I be free to acknowledge all of who I am? To deny that my great grandfathers were white would be a rejection. I would never deny them just like how I would never deny their Black wives, who were my great grandmothers. Frankly, my family tree is not unique. If any Black person living in the Western hemisphere were to shake their family tree hard enough, someone non-Black would fall out.

I didn’t take offense to Beyonce identifying her “Creole” and “Negro” heritage. That’s the reality of her ancestral background. Acknowledging all of who she is, both the Creole and Negro, should not be taken as a rejection of Blackness. After all, she’s telling her truth. Now if she were lying about her mother being Creole, or if she neglected to mention her father’s Negro background, then I could see the argument for rejection.

I had a real and honest conversation with my best friend, who is African American, about this controversy. We both know people who are very color struck and who further perpetuate the colorism thinking and debate about light skinned Black people getting better benefits. (As an aside, the so-called “benefits” raises another question: who is giving these benefits? But that’s a different topic). It’s sad that most of these adults then teach the same divisive thinking to their children.

We agreed on the theory that perhaps people get upset because they can’t “claim” any non-Black ancestry and thus can’t reap the benefits they think that “mixed” people have access to. It’s just a theory. But I’m curious to see if anyone is willing to look that deeply within themselves to consider it.

MsKibibi

Attorney, Author, and Blogger extraordinaire! MsKibibi is the Founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of KibibiHair.com.

  • Kemkem

    I find it incredible that people pay attention to the words of a song so deeply. The world is falling apart at such an alarming rate, and this song they look for hidden meaning. Meanwhile mission accomplished, sales of CD through the roof. I love it! I think one should claim whatever they are just like you say.

    • I agree with you. It’s all a distraction for the real issues. This hit the news and suddenly no one was talking about the Flint water crisis anymore.

  • Anything Beyonce puts out gets controversy of some kind. I recall the world being shocked some years ago when she used profanity in her first song. Ppl need to find something else to do with their time. That being said, I think Beyonce knows exactly what she’s doing and it works.

    I think we should be free to claim whatever we truly are. I dislike when ppl claim things they aren’t. Why be fake? Ya know.

    • Whoa I can’t even imagine someone claiming something they’re not. That’s an option? Haha actually, I take that back. I know one girl who tells people she’s from the island when I know she’s American but I think she does that to throw off nosy people. My memory isn’t good enough to lie.

      Bey definitely knows what she’s doing but I think people take it too far.

  • This is so interesting. I’m a huge Beyonce fan and I loved the video, so I guess I’ve kind of steered away from all of the articles about the controversy. This all makes sense, but I think people dig to deep into what Bey says and does. Why can’t we just accept her as a fantastic musician and performer and let that be that?

    All the Best,
    Allison | http://www.LiveLifeWellBlog.com

    • Because the illuminati is real (heavy sarcasm). Folks will believe anything. I just read an article today where people genuinely believes that Jennifer Hudson had her mother and other family members murdered as a blood sacrifice in payment for her success. Smh

  • I’m probably one of few who didn’t watch the video. I’ve heard the song once. I don’t really have much to say on it. As far as identifying with what you want to, I do believe that’s your choice; however, other people will have their opinions. As you mentioned in your post, they already do. Any Black person in the Americas or Carib can have their genealogy traced back to Africa. Most people can argue that any drop of European, Irish or whatever heritage is due to the raping of ancestors during slavery. If people choose to identify with their European heritage vs African, that’s their choice. I don’t think it’s a matter of rejecting ones ancestry, but a matter of acknowledging why that small percentage is a part of your ancestry… acknowledging all of the truths including the dirty ones.

    • Black people in America and the Caribbean aren’t the only ones with African ancestry. Central and South America and Southern European countries also. As for raping of African slaves, there are historically documented accounts of interracial relationships that were consensual (albeit illegal).

  • This video has gotten so much attention lately. I haven’t seen it either, not heard the song. but I do think there’s nothing wrong with being proud of who you are, whatever that may be.

    • The video is visually stunning. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a video that excited me.

  • I’ve watched her video once, but I didn’t think too much about the lyrics. After all the controversy over the song, I did go back and re listen to the song.

    • The first time I saw the video, I was very excited bc to me it was her unapologetically taking pride in her heritage and culture. It’s amazing how different people process the same video.

  • I watched the video, maybe twice and it is very interesting, especially when you “really” watch the video and listen to the lyrics of the song. The controversy going on over the song, is so reflective of all the things going on in the world today and just another excuse for folks to express their racist views.

  • Jonna

    This is such an interesting topic. Sometimes people put me in the light-skinned box, and other times I’m not ‘really’ light skinned. It’s always amazing how people put their feelings onto someone else’s intensions.

  • Valerie Robinson

    I thought it was great that beyonce shouted out her heritage. I enjoyed the video and the message as well.

  • I’ve never had color issues but I’ve witness the debate a time or two. I guess I fall in the middle and nobody is noticing me.

  • I thought Beyonce was showing her pride in her heritage. Sometimes, People make controversy out of nothing to be relevant.

  • Kasi Perkins

    Yes, I agree, I don’t think she was trying to reject blackness with that lyric. I cringed a little when I first heard it though, because I was like, “Now white people are gonna be singing those lyrics, lol! Great reading about your perspective on it!

  • foodfashionandflow

    I think the lyrics make some people uncomfortable, but unfortunately their are some that get offended over anything. I thought it was refreshing to hear her sing about Jackson 5 nostrils and boldly embrace our heritae.