Friday, the day before the track and video dropped I had the pleasure of meeting a colleague, a black woman who is a post-doctoral researcher in a nearby department on my campus. As we chatted, we discovered we both work in ecology. We faux-laughed about the sheer number of times we’ve had to remain patient with colleagues who have said inappropriate things about us—and often to us—about how "lucky we are to be" double boxes to check off. But perhaps more importantly, we networked – hard. What started as a light, happy-to-meet-someone-like-me conversation ended with us sharing resources with each other and brainstorming some authentic professional collaboration possibilities. I departed from our meeting energized and lifted. I was floating, once again, from Black Girl Magic and I relished it.
Then I saw everyone talking about the song and video.
Then I finally saw it for myself.
O M Gee! I couldn’t stop high-fiving the air. I was flipping out. Geeked! This song – the lyrics and the imagery in the video resonated so strongly with me and so many other women, especially other black women and women of color in my life.
Truly, Formation by Beyoncé is the hype track of Black Women everywhere, but Academia is such a special place that I feel it has an especially stark meaning to those of us roaming the hallowed halls of higher education. Let me break it down for you. Lyrics in italics.
Y'all haters corny with that illuminati mess
1. Often when black women in academia speak out against the intersectional injustices we endure, unsupportive colleagues and wobbly allies are quick to tell us we are whining or making things up. Gaslighting is the oldest deflection tactic in the book.
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
2. If we dare show any spunk or “sassiness” or what I like to call simply personality then we have to navigate a minefield of mumbles & microaggressions all because some folks who can’t handle ALL of the FABULOUSNESS we serve!
I'm so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin')
I'm so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces
My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
3. Many Black Women in academia are first generation college graduates, meaning we come from working class communities. Many of us come from southern families. We shouldn’t be compelled or expected to forget or abandon our communities and families and retire our cultural norms as demonstration of the “progress” we have made professionally. This upbringing has gifted us with amazing perspectives to do our work and present it in ways that are innovative and relatable.
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama
4. Social justice-centered education combined with staggering intellectual capacity gives birth to Crunk-ass womanist academics. Respectability politics is dead.
I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros
5. Natural hair is professional. It’s awesome, too. And, no you may not touch.
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
6. We like who we are – ALL of who we are. We want to do our scholarship in places that respect us and allows us to be our WHOLE INTEGRATED SELVES.
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me.
7. Our degrees and accolades don’t mean we have been “elevated”. We will code-switch as needed.
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag
8. Academia, from college to grad school to post doctoral level and faculty matriculation is hard. It’s hard for everyone, but dealing with intersectional oppressive BS is an extra load. Please don’t trifle with us. *CAPS CAPS CAPS*
Oh yeah baby, oh yeah I, ohhhhh, oh yes I like that
I did not come to play with you hoes, haha
I came to slay, bitch
I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch
Oh yes, you besta believe it
9. We didn’t go through undergraduate studies plus graduate studies – a masters AND PhD for many of us - to simply sit quietly in our offices, do what everyone else is already doing and be the 2-for-1 boxes to check off for some small vision administrator. Black Women are not your diversity prop.
We came to do our scholarship. Our way, via our lens and our perspectives.
See Civic Engagement, Service-Learning and Faculty Engagement: A Profile of Black Women Faculty by Wheatle& BrckaLorenz (2015) for more details on this.
I see it, I want it
I stunt, yeah, yellow bone it
I dream it, I work hard
I grind 'til I own it
I twirl on them haters
10. Indeed, Academia is a grind. Carving space and making a place for ourselves is very hard work. Often Black Women have a take no prisoners attitude. We’re not anti-social, we’re just working hard. Real HARD.
Read more at Troubling Success by Edwards et al 2012.
El Camino with the seat low
Sippin' Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off
I go hard, I go hard
Get what's mine, take what's mine
11. We aren’t angry, we’re focused.
We assert ourselves because we have to. Academia has demonstrated time and time and time and time again that administrations aren’t willing to defend their Black female faculty when the attacks roll in.
I'm a star, I'm a star
Cause I slay, slay
I slay, hey, I slay, okay
12. Sometimes you gotta remind these h**s who you are and what you came to do.
I slay, okay, all day, okay
I slay, okay, I slay okay
We gon' slay, slay
13. Affirmation among Black Women is revolutionary. We celebrate ourselves and each other. For example, I ride hard these ladies right here.
Gon' slay, okay
We slay, okay
I slay, okay
I slay, okay
Okay, okay, I slay, okay
Okay, okay, okay, okay
Okay, okay, ladies, now let's get in formation, cause I slay
Okay ladies, now let's get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination, cause I slay
Slay trick, or you get eliminated
Okay ladies, now let's get in formation, I slay
Okay ladies, now let's get in formation
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper
14. Yes, it is. Black females represented only ~3 percent of all full-time faculty in postsecondary education in the United States. So I’m exceedingly happy and proud when I see my sister doing big things like this and this.
Seeing the video and hearing the song – I lost it. I. LOVE. EVERY.THING. ABOUT. THIS. VIDEO!!!
Bey came hard. The lyrics were so raw. Her words were absolutely unapologetic about being who she was which included being Black and Country. One who isn’t afraid of working hard for hers or getting in someone’s face – and that face was the face of historical privilege. Being from the south, you (I mean as a black women specifically) become completely indoctrinated in protecting white people’s feelings and egos. You learn, quite unconsciously, and later reinforced how to play yourself small and inconsequential in order to make white people and the establishment comfortable.
Beyoncé said EFF all of that and she raised her middle fingers to make it all crystal clear. And Bey pulled it off by code-switching the imagery across the entire video - in some scenes co-opting Southern Belle esthetics, and in other scenes being gritty and Blackity-Black, and in other scenes completely melding the esthetics altogether.
I found myself jumping and screaming in appreciation of her articulating all.of.the.things I have long felt most of my life and in the spaces we call the Ivory Tower specifically. Much like the quietly stifling atmosphere of the Confederate South, Academia (and science specifically) & its system of currency, rewards, and passive-aggressive secret networks of promotions and opportunity has felt like a place where I am expected to "keep my place." To be seen and not heard. Stay in the background -- waay back -- and out of the spotlight. For years, I have been given guff by other academics for my brazenness, haughtiness, loudness – in short my Black, Country, Womanness. And I’m like
For black women in spaces that routinely reject us – implicitly and explicitly…
For scholars who live at the intersection of oppression and low expectations who must interact with peers who demand we prove our smarts daily…
For the young women in graduate school wondering if this is what they really wanted when they began that PhD…
This is our song. Let that broken banjo chord strum in your head and heart and burst into EVERY professional space like