In 2015, author Tamara Winfrey Harris published The Sisters Are Alright: Changing The Broken Narrative of Black Women in America. Inspired by the conversation surrounding the dismal marriage rates for Black women, Harris set out to change the conventional wisdom about the ‘broken’ Black woman in American society. “We have facets like diamonds,” said Harris in her book. “The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling.”
Here’s the thing about Beyonce’s “Formation”: her latest song and video essentially brings the title of Harris’ book to life. It is ours. It is wholly and undeniable a tribute to Blackness—particularly Black girl power. Beyoncé is no stranger to feminism. There was her 2011 girl-power anthem “Run The World (Girls).” A speech on feminism from writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie runs through her song, “Flawless.” Beyoncé actually performed in front of the word feminist during her On The Run tour with husband Jay-Z. However, Beyonce’s whole approach to feminism (and Blackness) has always been neutral and restrained. That ended yesterday when her newest song and video dropped.
In just the first 30 seconds, she shouts out her husband’s wide nostrils, dances alongside chocolate brown girls with kinky hair and shows off Blue Ivy, the Black girl magic she gave birth to, rocking her own flawless Afro.
Beyoncé literally shed her entire 20-year-in-the-making persona in one 4:53 second ode to Black-girl-ness. And she did it without apology. Sure, the song veered into TMI territory when she threw up her middle fingers and explained what needs to happen for her to take her man to Red Lobster. But even this stretch into profanity and sexual liberation is a refreshing approach to Black womanhood. She literally throws out an eff-you to anyone who wants to criticize her sex-positive approach.
Then there’s this couplet:
Sometimes I go off/I go off
I go hard/I go hard
Get what’s mine/take what’s mine
I’m a star/I’m a star
Black women particularly know the challenges that come with being intentional about power—how we get it, how we keep it, understanding that we deserve it. We’ve often been depicted as loud, shrill, neck-swiveling caricatures of womanhood. Beyoncé takes every single negative label that’s been slapped onto Black women and proudly claims them all. She’s loud, shrill and neck swiveling throughout “Formation.” And dares you to criticize.
Everything we’ve been taught to steer clear of as Black women is on display and Beyoncé urges us to shed all our hang-ups and be true to who we are: Rock your fake hair or wear it natural. Have sex on your terms with who you want and when you want. Get your paper. Don’t be afraid of being powerful. Be humble and gracious—but never miss an opportunity to thump your chest and praise yourself for your accomplishments. Understand that you won’t always be understood—and that’s okay. Understand that there will be people who don’t want to see you win—and that’s okay too.
There are other layers to “Formation” that will be unpacked in the days to come: her approach to racism, the Black Lives Matter movement, the government’s approach to societal and economical issues like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
But for now, we’re soaking up the #Blackgirlmagic she’s feeding us. It tastes so very good.
Aliya S. King, an ESSENCE.com contributor, is the author of two novels and three nonfiction books, including the New York Times best-seller Keep the Faith, written with recording artist Faith Evans. She lives in New Jersey. Find her on Twitter and at aliyasking.com.