Amy Schumer’s racist spoof on Formation is peak white feminism, and she doesn’t care.
February 6, 2016 was a holiday. It wasn’t the “Federal government officially closed” kind of holiday and no fancy family meals were had, but it was a holiday nonetheless. That Saturday marked the day millions of Black people got in Formation when Beyonce released the song and video of her unambiguous ode to Blackness.
From anticipating that Beyonce would perform the song at half-time during the Super Bowl the next day to gushing over the visuals to dissecting the symbolism, I don’t know a single Black person who wasn’t talking about Formation over the weekend it was released. It was one of those events that is instantly added to the index of the Black experience. Beyonce sent Formation to Black people through certified mail, requiring our signatures for delivery, and we gratefully yet selfishly accepted the offering.
But even Beyonce’s explicit homage to her “negro nose with Jackson five nostrils” hasn’t sufficed as proof enough that the song is intended to be an indisputable cultural celebration for Black people. Despite visual commentary on the police brutality that plagues us and the meticulously strategic incorporation of emblems of Black resistance and resilience, op-eds and reviews from the keyboards of non-Black critics abounded under the guise of artistic examination. And while I certainly won’t argue that art crafted by a Black woman is automatically produced for the exclusive critique and consumption of Black people, Formation undoubtedly was. That concept — that certain phenomena exists for the exclusive use, pleasure and cultural significance of a specific group — seems an inconceivable concept for many white people, particularly when that exclusive group is Black people.
Demonstrating her Olympic level failure to understand, or more likely utter disregard for, the fact that Formation was produced with Black people, especially Black women, in mind, celebrated feminist Amy Schumer released a Formation parody of the video last week, recruiting Goldie Hawn to costar as they mouthed lyrics such as “…mix that negro with that creole” and attempted abysmally to mimic the choreography that had been executed effortlessly by a dozen Black women in the original video. Cameos from actress Raven Goodwin and comedienne Wanda Sykes seem tactical, as if the two Black women are vouching for Amy’s recreation. The video’s climax features dozens of women, mostly white and none Black, sitting around as Beyonce sings, “OK, now, ladies, let’s just get in formation.”
The backlash was swift, accusing Schumer of being at least racially insensitive and at most outright racist. In typical fashion, Schumer mocked the outrage, arrogantly doubling down in an Instagram post which she captioned, “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” a reference to the same line in Formation. She went on to clarify that she had cleared the rights to use the song from Tidal, a company partially owned by Beyonce and husband Jay-Z.
Schumer’s response to the accusations is unremarkable. Her career as a comedian and feminist has been mired with controversy over her “edgy” comments which amount to no more than racism cloaked in the veil of comedy. Each time, Schumer has either ignored or outright dismissed criticism. Mainstream white feminism afford her that luxury, though. Black and brown women have made conscious efforts to distance themselves from Schumer’s brand of feminism, which centers, coddles and celebrates white women, for decades for this very reason.
Even if Schumer is to be given the benefit of the doubt, that she is so naive to believe that a white woman recruiting dozens of other white women to star in a parody of a song created by a Black woman for Black women is racist, — and considering her history that is most certainly not a concession I’m willing to grant her — she was called to task for it by Black people. At the point when Black people began saying that the her parody made a mockery of a song that is virtually sacred to us, she knew. Instead of retreating, in quintessential fashion, she brushed off the legitimate feelings of Black people, using a quote from the very song hundreds of people had just told her should be off limits.
Formation is an extravaganza of Blackness. Every detail tells a part of our story. The lyrics are coded with Black speak to be deciphered, interpreted and sung along to by Black voices. The fashions combine the grittiest of hood trends with the eleganza of the Black bourgeoise. Beyonce’s braids pay homage to Blackness. The Black child dancing in front of police who surrender to him is an unmistakable symbol of empowerment.
With all of its stamps of Blackness, Formation is a love letter to Black people. It is validation for country Black girls who carry hot sauce in their purses. It is a stanzas for Black girls who love being Black girls. It is both a battle cry and a lullaby. It is Lift Every Voice and Sing for 80s babies tired of respectable resistance and oppressor-approved protest.
And still, to Schumer the song was not owed reverence. For her, such an iconic piece of art was owed no more than her grinding in a dirty dress in the jungle for laughs. For Schumer, Black power and pride are fair game in the quest for mentions and views. Then again, not considering how your antics will affect anyone other than able-bodied white women is exactly how to “get in formation” with white feminism.