February is Black History Month and, thanks to a number of developments in the Beyoncé world, pop culture has been flooded with new debates and discussions about race.

Some background if you’re not caught up: Beyoncé—aka the most Grammy-nominated female artist ever—put on a halftime performance at Super Bowl 50, which contained references to the Black Panther Party. The day before, she released a video called “Formation,” which contained references to Hurricane Katrina, the Black Lives Matter movement and southern black femininity. 

In an attempt to sort through all the media attention and to get a handle on the real value of “Formation," we reached out to professors within Africana studies programs and staff members who regularly work with minority students at area colleges. 

From those we heard back from, the overall reaction to Beyoncé’s video was positive.

People appreciated “the power and sense of self” that the pop star projects and the conversation she was starting. Some worried, though, about the outcome of the “uninformed criticism” that would likely come as a result. 

Michael “Doc” Woods, a longtime professor of music at Hamilton College, offered the most insightful response. Woods, it’s worth noting, is black himself, and he had not seen “Formation” until we sent it to him. Here are some of the things he had to say. 

On the song's beat 

“That, to me, is rocking.”

On the use of explicit language

“I don’t like to hear a woman of that beauty use that kind of language, but to tell you the truth, there isn’t some pleasant, cute way of saying [certain realities]. … Some people can’t control the anger and there are curse words. The reason those curse words are in there is [artists] are cursing the poison that’s in our society that won’t allow them to be a complete human being.”

On the shock factor

“Sometimes, in order to get people’s attention, you have to do the opposite of what’s expected.”

On the Black Lives Matter references

“That is nothing new. It’s just a new statement to an old problem. Black entertainers are trying to say, ‘Oh yes we do count. We have always counted.’ Here’s what people don’t understand: If you look at the way black America has traditionally been treated by white America, black Americans and their accomplishments have been ignored as much as possible, as if our lives don’t matter.”

On the anger and aggression Beyoncé is expressing

“For black people to be treated so badly and then for people to expect the art to not express anger, that’s an unrealistic expectation. … What she’s doing in that video is no different than Tupac Shakur writing ‘thug life’ across his stomach. He wanted to be a classical poet. Their hearts are filled with pain. It’s painful to have your life defined by sweeping generalizations.”

On the use of children in the video

“She shows three little black girls like she must have looked like 25 years ago, and she says, ‘I’m a star.’ What she’s trying to say with that is, ‘Don’t allow society to tell you who you are because you don’t fit a certain protocol.’”

On black popular music today

“There is a weird, macabre mixture of protest and anger and deep, deep distrust. If you listen to any black music, from 1900 until 2016, you will hear in it a cry. There’s a cry inside the music.”

On Beyoncé in general

“From my perspective when I see [the video], as a person of color, she’s one of my champions. I would love to play on a stage of that magnitude. I don’t think she’d be saying these things unless she thought it was necessary.”

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