By Chantal Johnson
To be represented positively in this media-driven society is crucial for self-acceptance. Unfortunately, it’s all the more rare to find that representation for people of color, and women specifically. And if it exists, it’s hardly accurate or relatable. Luckily, I’ve found representation on platforms both big and small that aid me on this journey. Women in comedy like Akilah Hughes and Franchesca Ramsey remind me I can be smart and make people laugh at the same time. Essays by bell hooks and Roxane Gay have helped shape me as a thinker, while writers like Ashley Ford and Jazmine Hughes show me that I am allowed to tell my truth—that I deserve to. Music like that of Janelle Monae, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and most importantly for me: Beyoncé, move me in ways I didn’t think were possible.
Beyoncé and her growth as an artist throughout the past few years have directly correlated with important events in my own life. As her unprecedented self-titled surprise album dropped in December of 2013, I was taking one of my last finals as an undergrad student and had started my first round of therapy that semester. When I attended my first show of hers in 2014, her combined concert tour with husband Jay Z, I was a lost college grad trying to find her place in the world. And just this past weekend, the drop of “Formation" and the historical music video that came along with it, she meets me on this journey of womanhood and being comfortable with the skin I’m in.
The harsh truth that I wrestle with when it comes to my identity is that I have not always been proud to be Black. For most of my existence, I’ve tried to diminish my Blackness. I’ve always been afraid of what it meant to be Black, partly because that knowledge comes from a world that rewrote the narrative. The majority of my life has been spent in an academic setting, where one month is dedicated to learning my history and for the rest of them I am nonexistent. Fortunately, outside of school, I have learned from television, film, books and music—my classrooms of life. Though not always abundant, through these mediums I have come into my own—slowly leaving those feelings of shame and doubt behind.
“I wanted people to feel proud, to have love for themselves,” Beyoncé said coming off a Super Bowl performance that mirrored that exact pride of her latest hit. Of my 23 years of living, in this moment, I feel most celebrated and acknowledged. Bey has definitely succeeded with her mission.
Listening to “Formation” for the first time will forever stand as a significant moment for me. In almost 5 minutes, Beyoncé sinks a New Orleans cop car, shows her carefree daughter running around in all her innocence, performs an immaculate dance routine, celebrates her Southern roots, and dons a new anthem for Black women and the LGBTQ community.
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.”
“I slay, you slay.”
“I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.”
The lyrics still ignite me. A pride so blatant that it’s overwhelming. It’s fun, informative, and a piece of art that makes you think. In my video review, it is clear the impact it has made on me. However, days later and the Beyoncé effect is global.
Having been a subject to whitewashing in her career before, Beyoncé is clear on this track: she’s proud of herself and she wants you to be too. Blackness is so often scrutinized and criminalized that its moments of celebration are rare. Finding my acceptance has been exhausting. To be conscious and aware has been a long road of realizing I exist in a space that doesn’t always want me here. But as I watch the video over again and keep the song playing repeatedly, I am reminded of my worth. I feel refreshed and motivated to keep learning. To keep finding inspiration. To keep using my voice.
While mainstream—so much that possibly everyone knows her name—Beyoncé is still a Black woman. I hesitantly compare our journeys because her celebrity is out of this world, but she is still a person. A person who expresses their life through art; an expression that changes as the person does. So it’s apparent with “Formation,” we are witnessing Beyoncé’s change. And I wait with a nervous but excited energy to see what comes next.