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Strange Fruit: Love And Criticism For Beyoncé's 'Formation'

Laura Ellis

At first glance, Yaba Blay saw a lot to love about the song "Formation" and accompanying video. Then she got to the lyrics that say, "You mix that negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama."

Blay says talking about those two identities as separate groups reflects a longtime tendency of Creole people to see darker-skinned black people as less than.

"The history of New Orleans is a history of colorism," she explains. "It is a history of oppression based not just on skin color, but on gradation of skin color."

In her article for Colorlines, Blay points to the scene where Blue Ivy is dancing with two other, darker-complected girls. Blue Ivy wears what looks like a contemporary sundress, while the other girls are dressed in Victorian-looking outfits suitable for much older people.

The scene might not have stuck out to viewers who didn't grow up in New Orleans, but Blay says in that community, skin color is more nuanced. "While the rest of the country was rocking with the one-drop rule, in New Orleans, literally every single drop made you something else," she says.

Blay joins us this week, along with another New Orleans native, Shantrelle Lewis, who wrote an article for Slate about the ways in which Katrina imagery and New Orleans bounce music is exploited in the "Formation" song and video.

And to wrap up the show, we check in with Kevin Allred, who created the class Politicizing Beyoncé at Rutgers University. We asked Allred to help us unpack some of the backlash against the song and Super Bowl performance — especially from white second-wave feminists.

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.