Formation

Dear Sherina,

You know as well as I do that I’m not really a sports person. I did, however, tune into the Superbowl halftime show last week. I thought that Beyonce’s performance was pretty standard for what you can usually expect from her. It seems some people thought otherwise. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as being anti-law enforcement. While I did notice the definite black empowerment theme of her performance, I certainly didn’t find it to be anti-police.

I was intrigued by his comments and by the comments of others who thought Beyonce took things too far, so I decided to watch the music video for the song behind the controversy, ‘Formation’. As a Beyonce fan I may be a little biased, but I thought the video was phenomenal. At first glance, the viewer definitely takes note of the subtle themes being explored while she sings “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. After watching it several times, I had a page full of notes on what I took from the video. She managed to get several themes across; let me explore a few.

The video opens with her standing atop a New Orleans police cruiser sinking in a flood of water, while a voice says “what happened after New Orleans?” The video further explores treatment of African-Americans, black culture and police brutality. Beyonce’s own southern ancestry is explored through an African-American lens – something we don’t often see. Afros are celebrated as well; the vast majority of the women shown have one.

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At the end of the video we see a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of police officers. This could be interpreted as a reference to the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. If there were any doubts about one of the themes of the video, a shot of a graffitied wall which reads “STOP SHOOTING US” pretty much clears them up. The video ends with a shot of Beyonce drowning on top of the same New Orleans police cruiser shown at the beginning.

A lot of folks were upset that Beyonce chose the Superbowl, which is a “family show” to share her message. Many are upset that she even released the video at all. “Why does everything have to be so political?” They ask. I urge those people to keep this in mind; according to The Guardian, unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement as unarmed white people in the U.S.

No one is saying that all law enforcement officials are bad, because they aren’t. They are the ones who put their lives on the line to keep us safe and we are eternally grateful for it. However, the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality still needs to be addressed and an event that was watched by an average of 111.9 million people seems to be a good place to start.

There were many who felt uncomfortable after hearing this song and watching the video. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Change is never comfortable.

What were your thoughts after watching ‘Formation’?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

I am also not a sports person. In fact, a day after the Superbowl, one of my friends mentioned the Denver Broncos and I said that they weren’t in the superbowl at all (when they actually won it). I digress… I did not watch the Superbowl, nor the halftime performances. I did, however, hear quite a bit about the show – specifically, Beyonce’s performance.

Many people praised her performance, pulling out the crown emoji because she is #QueenBey; but many others, as you said, thought she took things too far. People who believed her performance was racist protested outside the NFL headquarters, and took to social media to share their disdain for Beyonce. Was their disdain justified? I, like you, don’t believe it was.

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I watched Beyonce’s performance on YouTube and read through the lyrics of Formation, and I couldn’t see what came across as “racist” or “anti-police”. The song is about a serious issue, and that many people choose to remain ignorant of that issue is frightening. There are, as you mention, a disproportionate number of black people killed by police officers. I don’t know how anyone could look at the statistics and evidence and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too often people equate fighting for black rights to being against white people. Some people try to change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that’s not the point of the hashtag. The point is that black people have been seriously oppressed throughout history and still face inequities today.

I completely agree with you: change is not comfortable. People are entitled to their opinions – and when the topic is Beyonce, there are lots. However, I believe it is important to look not at what is a comfortable, convenient opinion but what is actually a truthful reflection of the dire needs of a marginalized group in society.

I applaud Beyonce for using the platform of the Superbowl (and her signature dance moves) to speak out about police brutality and black culture. On behalf of Beyonce fans everywhere, let’s get in formation and take a stand.

Sherina

Fabletters On Canada’s Racism Problem

Dear Ceanray,

In our previous letters, and conversations outside of this blog we frequently discuss issues of inequality in terms of gender inequality and feminism. There is an inequality that we have not discussed in depth, yet one which is making international headlines: racism. Specifically, racism in Winnipeg, Canada. Have you read the article from Maclean’s concerning this?

The article states “The Manitoba capital is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It manifestly does not provide equal opportunity for Aboriginals. And it is quickly becoming known for the subhuman treatment of its First Nations citizens, who suffer daily indignities and appalling violence. Winnipeg is arguably becoming Canada’s most racist city.”

I am curious as to the benefit of the headline “Winnipeg is Canada’s Most Racist City.” The mayor of Winnipeg has vowed to take action, though one would think that he should be taking action on race issues regardless of whether they were national headlines or not.

The facts and statistics presented in that article are hard to argue with, as are the stories of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. One in three people in the prairies believe that “many racial stereotypes are accurate”? It is shocking and scary, but you have to wonder what that statistic would be worldwide.

It is indisputable that Winnipeg has a race problem, but what about the rest of the world? Focusing on the race problem in Winnipeg is good because it means action will be taken there; but when people living in other parts of the world read about Winnipeg being the most racist city, they might dispel the thought that their city may be very racist too.

Not being the most racist city doesn’t mean your city doesn’t have some sort of racial problems. Any case of racism, anywhere in the world, is more than what should be occurring. Seeing as you live in Winnipeg, what are your thoughts on this?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

The article recently published by Maclean’s magazine you previously mentioned has had Winnipeggers’ tongues wagging. The story of Tina Fontaine mentioned in the article is one that caught my eye long before it made its way into national headlines. She was fifteen when she died – the age I am now. Concerns that should have been dealt with long before her death were simply ignored, and the discovery of her body tossed in the Red River was an accident. She was Aboriginal.

The statistics on missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada are horrifying – according to the NWAC database only 53% of of murder cases involving aboriginal women and girls have led to charges of homicide. Aboriginal women are also three times as likely to be killed by a stranger as non-Aboriginal women are.

Racism is an issue that affects Canada far beyond Winnipeg’s borders. It would be foolish to ignore evidence that the way Winnipeg treats Aboriginal people who call this city home is appalling. The article was titled “Welcome to Winnipeg, where Canada’s racism problem is at its worst.”

While I agree that the racism problem in Winnipeg needs to be dealt with, I think those who read the article and subsequently thought to themselves “hey, my city might be a little racist – but at least we’re not that bad’ need a wake-up call. Racism is an issue that extends far beyond my city’s borders. The fact that racism continues to exist in Canada and the rest of the world in 2015 is something we should all be actively trying to fix.

Ceanray