Beyoncé don’t give no fucks about your Saturday afternoon. Which is to say–as Big Freedia’s voice says in Beyoncé’s new song, “Formation“–“[She] did not come to play with you hoes. [She] came to slay, bitch.”
And slay she did in her usual fashion, but with the volume on the South ratcheted up to the lower frequencies. While “No Angel” gave us a Texas Bama vision of Houston, the visuals for “Formation” offer up New Orleans as convergence place for a blackness that slays through dreams, work, ownership, legacy, and the audacity of bodies that dare move and live in the face of death. As an actual and imagined site of black southern ecstasy, tragedy, remembrance, and revolutionary possibility, NOLA is the pendulum on which Beyoncé rides a southern genealogy that traverses the Deep South from Alabama to Louisiana to Texas, back and through, with stops in between.
Layered in and through the landscape of a black New Orleans still rigorous and delightful, past and present, the black southern signifiers and simulacra are unrelenting here. Bodies are quiet, awaiting animation, and then they pulsate, loudly: in parking lots, in drained swimming pools, in streets, atop horses, in front of a police line, in a church, in a second line, in a parlor, in mirrors. Beyoncé places her own reckless, country blackness–one of afros, cornrows, and negro noses, brown liquor and brown girls, hot sauce, and of brown boys and cheddar bay biscuits–in conversation with and as descended from a broader southern blackness that is frequently obscured and unseen in national discourses, save for as (dying, lynched, grotesque, excessive) spectacle. Through this reckless country blackness, she becomes every black southern woman possible for her to reasonably inhabit, moving through time, class, and space. At her limits, the voices and presence of genderqueer folks enter to take over. They, in fact, ask of us the toughest questions. “What happened at the New Wil’ins?” queries Messy Mya from the grave, which Beyoncé encourages us to hear as a question about the comedian’s unsolved murder as well as a question about the city and black folks and the South: “What happened after New Orleans?” They also give us the most audacious commands to slay regardless, even if we are taken. We are thus propelled into the life and death, future-present-past the video conjures.
The articulation of southern blackness here invites us to theorize black resistance practices. There is the expressive resistance that stands and fights and brandishes guns and stages coups. There is the quiet resistance, the meditative kind that Kevin Quashie talks about. For Ralph Ellison’s protagonist in Invisible Man, it is hibernation, the act of a particular kind of invisibility, that is a “covert preparation for a more overt action.”
Formation, is a different kind of resistance practice, one rooted in the epistemology of (and sometimes only visible/detectable to) folks on the margins of blackness. The political scientist Cathy Cohen talks about activism at these margins, the kind of deviance-as-resistance built and cultivated at the margins of respectable blackness. Formation, then, is a metaphor, a black feminist, black queer, and black queer feminist theory of community organizing and resistance. It is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins–woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disabled, undocumented, immigrant–before an overt action. For the black southern majorettes, across gender formulations, formation is the alignment, the stillness, the readying, the quiet, before the twerk, the turn-up, the (social) movement. To be successful, there must be coordination, the kind that choreographers and movement leaders do, the kind that black women organizers do in neighborhoods and organizations. To slay the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, we must start, Beyoncé argues, with the proper formation. The proper formation is, she contends, made possible by the participation and leadership of a blackness on the margins. The celebration of the margins–black bodies in motion, women’s voices centered, black queer voices centered–is what ultimately vanquishes the state, represented by a NOPD car. Beyoncé as the conjured every-southern-black-woman, slays atop the car and uses the weight of her body to finish it off, sacrificing herself in the process. Like so, so, so many black folks in the margins in the movement for (all) black (lives matter for) liberation. This formation is brought to you by conjure.
“Formation” is an homage to and recognition of the werk of the “punks, bulldaggers, and welfare queens” in these southern streets and parking lots, in these second lines, in these chocolate cities and neighborhoods, in front of these bands and drumlines. Movements for black liberation are led by black folks at the margins who know we must all get free to sink that car. Folks who know that we must be coordinated, and we must slay. And because I recognize black southern country fence-jumping feminism as a birthright and imperative, I have no tolerance for the uncoordinated–those who cannot dance and move for black queer liberation, black trans liberation, black women’s liberation, at all intersections.
Southern blackness is back, as Messy Mya said, by popular demand. But if you magic, you know we was always here, slaying, which is what we came to do. Ready? Okay.
*heads to Red Lobster*