Last week, I published a frustrated piece on Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend,” exhausted that I have to reiterate what South Asians and other people of color have been saying for generations — the co-option, then ridiculing, then romanticizing of our struggles and cultures by white people for entertainment isn’t cute anymore. And yet, here we are.
While the video’s framework was basically just white people getting off on Holi, it received mixed responses. Some celebrated the depiction of India in Western pop culture at all, and some were more frustrated that a video about India had very little to do with actual Indians. Beyoncé was also featured in the song, donning a dupatta on her head and mehndi on her hands. This was the same Beyoncé who, on Saturday, released an explicitly political and powerful music video for her new song, “Formation,” that, according to VSB, “is the Blackest Black thing these Black eyes have seen in a long-ass, Black-ass time.”
Beyoncé, to say the least, slayed in that video. She was political and funny, unapologetically herself, and managed to perfectly balance the impact of her roots on her politic with her newfound success. I watched and rewatched the video, looking up how much a Givenchy dress would cost, and if anyone on YouTube had published a “Formation” makeup tutorial yet. And while I can appreciate the song, I found myself hesitating to sing along. When Beyoncé says Jackson Five nostrils or Texas Bama, she’s telling us that to understand the song completely, you have to live it. As non-Black folks, we are so ready to pretend like we know what it’s like be in on the Black experience in America so that we can pretend we get hip hop. But the truth is, we don’t, because we don’t face that oppression. I realized that the song and video won’t mean to me what it would mean to a Black person in America, as both tell the story of their experiences that only another Black person can fully understand. And, as other people of color — as South Asians — we must, in turn, understand that “Formation” is not about us. Sure, we’ll dance to it at parties and hum the Red Lobster line every time we walk by one, but “Formation” is the experience of a Black woman from a Black community, for her community.
What, then, do we make of “Hymn for the Weekend”? The paradox of Coldplay’s problematic video with Beyoncé’s woke one only further drives the point that not all people of color experience the same issues in the United States. She is present in both videos, carrying two very different political messages. In the way that “Formation” talks about the Black experience in a clever, tongue-in-cheek manner, “Hymn for the Weekend” attempts to depict the Indian experience by completely detaching itself from Indians. But again — the experiences of race and culture are very different, so the conversation we have surrounding the politics of these videos should, also, be different.
So the nuances of PoC experience can’t be watered down in order to homogenously depict us as one, nor can we understand, fully, the issues other PoC folks have to go through. “Formation” is an epically important song, because it serves as a reminder that the people that we, as other people of color, need to be listening to right now are Black folks. They are confronted with violence everyday even when they just talk about their experiences, as seen when Beyonce’s dancers from the Superbowl halftime show held up a sign that said “Justice for Mario Woods,” causing people on the internet to assault them with racist, sexist slurs.
Beyoncé’s Backups Send Powerful MessageThis powerful #BlackLivesMatter moment with Beyoncé’s backup dancers happened off-screen at the Super Bowl halftime show.
Posted by AJ+ on Monday, February 8, 2016
Mario Woods was a Black man shot at least 20 times by a gang of police officers in December of last year. But while police and military authorities kill Black folks on the regular, people are still chirping “All Lives Matter” on Facebook posts.
South Asians aren’t being killed on the regular by police authority in America. No other community of color, besides Native Americans, is being killed and incarcerated at the rate Black folks in America are — and while we were easily angered about Beyoncé sporting a lehenga and mehndi and Coldplay frolicking around the slums of India, I don’t see the outrage in my community about the mass oppression of Black Americans. Not to say that cultural appropriation or partying to poverty is okay — “Hymn for the Weekend” is definitely an atrocity. But “Formation” reminds us that still, for some, racism is not a caricature of your culture, it is the slaughter of your siblings.