The “Formation” of a Stereotype: Social Imagery and Awareness

       Oxford dictionary defines a “stereotype” as a widely-held and oversimplified idea of a type of person place or thing. In many diverse groups, stereotypes are often used to gain understanding about a subset of the larger world population. People all over the world have relied shamelessly on these views to understand culture.

We have opined the understanding that most African-Americans eat fried chicken. The more shocking stereotype is that since many gay men are loud obnoxious, cynical, and fashionable, that somehow gay men are more like “women” . It is very important to understand how stereotypes originate in order to realize why a stereotype can persist and saturate us enough to define an entire race of people who are different  in purpose and value.

       It is my view that many African-Americans of today,are still understanding that visibility does not guarantee understanding. People have the right to go on these  expansive missions to prove that they deserve acceptance, if the larger word has not granted it to them. However, that does not mean that people will view them as “being counted.”

Each time a stereotype such as: “All black men eat fried chicken.” is reinforced in some way, people who are unaware of this stereotype will suffer its wrath. When we look at the state of black entertainment today, we see a stage teaming with tired stereotypes. When we see Beyonce’ Knowles, many of us see a woman with the star power of Madonna, but we often judge her based what we believe she should be doing. We fail to consider who she is. Those finer details get lost in the shuffle. Logically, Beyoncé is a married woman who is also an entrepreneur. She married an entrepreneur.

Most appropriately, her music now reflects the view of a married, visible black entrepreneur. Is she supposed to be Microsoft to our “computer”?. No. She cannot be everything to everyone.Consider this: We’ve lost Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Lena Horne,  Luther Vandross and Gregory Hines. These were explicitly black successful entertainers.Granted, their lives were imperfect.

However, we honored their presence, passion, and image. These were entertainers who were celebrated. However, the reason the black community celebrated them so voraciously had more to do who they were on stage versus who they were intimately. When we critically examine the details of who Beyonce’ is, we can  understand why it is cognitively dissonant for some of us to appreciate “Formation”.

         She’s black, she’s successful, she’s smart, and she’s a Texan who migrated to Los Angeles who has a family.Segments of the black population  acclaimed “Formation” and Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and concluded that she is sending a bad message to some black audiences. Firstly, we must remember that art is subjective, and most expressions of art stir emotion.  To be sure, every artist has a core audience. Recently ,Beyoncé’s audience has lately been Beyoncé. She’s been settling into the peak of her solo success. That would more readily explain why I have not listened critically to a current Beyoncé track since the release of “4”.”4″ was released in 2011, that’s a sizable gap of time, musically.

As a result, it comes as no surprise that I am not keen on every new change that Beyoncé underwent in that span of time. When we look at her “Formation” in theory, it can be considered empowering, but that’s assuming you are viewing it from the vantage that the tropes acknowledged aren’t making you uncomfortable.

Tropes are repetitive images and dialogue employed in different forms of art to communicate an idea. Tropes often run the risk of diluting the purpose of a message.I was told by someone close to me that I had a bias against Beyonce’ because I do not like trap music.Well, I like Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s”. And I say this, knowing that Rich is talking about detailing a car, dealing drugs on a street, and getting some rims. I do not identify with it. I also say this knowing that the song is old! I have never bought rims or dealt drugs, but I like the song.

It has a great groove, and I like the idea that my “D’s” might be A’s and B’s on an exam, because when I finish my Bachelor’s degree I might want  a Cadillac. My Cadillac may just be a Honda Accord. I like T.I.’s “Why You Wanna” because it samples Crystal Waters’ Gyspy Woman, and it talks about a woman would rather be with a guy who is unfaithful, when another man—T.I.—-is obviously attracted. So why am I making a choice not to acclaim “Formation”. There are a few details to consider.

Some of the  imagery in the video insulted me. The flooded imagery of New Orleans, Louisiana upset me, primarily because although Hurricane Katrina was nearly eleven years ago, there are New Orleanians in other areas that have struggled to adapt to the new changes brought on by the displacement of that disaster. I don’t connect with the idea that I am supposed to like an afro in my hair or hot sauce in my food. Are all black gay men supposedly called to rejoice because “Big Freedia” , a nearly world-renowned,  New Orleans  entertainer appears alongside Beyonce’? Am Isupposed to laud his talent and then support him just because he happens to be a Louisiana-native? Big Freedia makes me laugh, but not because I think “she’s ” funny.

My big question is: Are reinforcing the stereotypes of our culture truly the answer at a time when we are still fighting for larger acceptance on the American television and movie screen. Is it fair for us as a black race to build audiences based on rehashed stereotypes,but then denigrate white men and women for going to the bank with our music.

Musicians like Beyonce can get more than twenty Grammys for their work, but New Orleans Native, Ledisi is down-played in the industry because she does not represent the black voice enough. My dismissal of Formation, does not have to do with denying that  Beyonce has talent. I am a fan of her and her accomplishments.

However, I shudder to think that my disconnect over “Formation” has to do with the idea that I am not black enough , or that I should settle for the ignorance of what is popular in hip-hop or R&B just so that I can earn street credibility over art that does not relate to me.

As a black person of mixed heritage,who is disabled and educated, I have a hard enough time educating others about the idea that I deserve to be smart and opinionated while living with Cerebral Palsy. The last thing I’d like represent is an idea that says that I need to support everything that one black person does just because they are black, popular, and accomplished.

At the end of the day,we are defined by our values and our character. Imagery does play a role in the”FORMATION” of that definition, and maybe that’s why some of us are pissed at the younger generation’s approval of imagery and artistry that is so provocative.

It’s hard and painful  to see Mrs. Carter making such a statement at this time, because there are so few black artists with her popularity doing so in such a way. Hopefully,”Formation” can allow the entire black community to address why in 2016, black imagery has not matched the true collage of black consciousness.

Regrettably, it is NOT totally the doing of White America, although White America still has a great amount of power to wield. Blacks  have largely done a lot to shape the image of the American black condition.

We are still using the same tropes to do it.  It may be time to look in the mirror and re-examine why we are still attracted to “STRUGGLE” after years of progress. The truth may be that role models of “success” are just as critical to our definition of what “SUCCESS” is.

I reject the distillation of image. We are still discovering what the black image is. The American white community have a wonderfully synergized image of who they are. It is my opinion that the black community is still working diligently to assembling the puzzle that is “image of blackness” .

This image is constantly in flux because our consciousness is constantly being reshaped by new social regression and progression.

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