The general viewing public may be hung up on the lyrics about Negro noses and Red Lobster, but Beyoncé’s ‘Formation,’ a surprising pre-Super Bowl drop that is visually and musically an ode to American blackness, holds within its overt message a subtle call for black empowerment — messages that are intrinsic to HBCU culture and relevance.
How do HBCUs promote themselves as assets for solving some of the nation’s widest gaps for economic, political, and social disparities of black citizens? Beyoncé gives global, pop cultural gravitas to some of these issues in the video — the image of her on top of a NOLA police car in post-Katrina flood waters delivers a surface-level commentary on police surveillance, government neglect of impoverished black communities, and the ability for Blackness to, even if barely, stay above it all.
This is an opportunity to catch ‘Yoncé’s alley-oop to slam down the point of the demand for equality, and the community-based efforts to hasten the movement towards this cause. Beyoncé shows us that any time, including the eve and evening of the Super Bowl, is a good time to focus on justice.
Grant-making, legislative lobbying and corporate friend-raising efforts at HBCUs around programs of strength in criminal justice, public health and environmental justice programming. Schools like Southern, Dillard, Xavier, Texas Southern, Wiley, Howard, UDC, and NCCU all fit into a narrative surrounding these three critical issues.
Dozens of cities and regions throughout the mid-atlantic and southeastern United States would not have black art galleries, were it not for the existence of HBCUs. So every HBCU with a museum or art gallery should be rushing to get their Southern-themed collections together, so that they can promote to students, local high schools and the community some of the fashion and artistic influences seen in the ‘Formation’ video.
Black art, and the appreciation of the same, is more than an afternoon field trip for high school students or an elective for an HBCU student seeking to become a graphic artist or an art educator. It is the gateway between past and present, and the language of expression within the American context of oppression. If Beyoncé is telling you that old fashioned cotillion dresses are hot, then dammit, take advantage of it. Morgan State, Fisk, Spelman — thank Queen Bey for the free commercial.
And then there are the ‘Formation’ lyrics that should become class discussions throughout this week in HBCU classroom nationwide.
“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.”
— Discussions — Complexion, Black Identity, White Assimilation
“Earned all this money but they never take the country out me.”
— Discussions — Assimilation, Black Political Engagement, Capitalism, Cultural Appropriation
“When he f*ck me good I take his *ss to Red Lobster, cause I slay.”
— Discussions — Gender Roles, Black Feminism, Sexuality and Social Politics, Branding and Marketing, Consumerism
Beyoncé gave us a lot to work with over the last 24 hours via sound, image and innuendo. Now its up to HBCUs to slay that sh*t.