UT faculty, students use Beyonce video to explore race, feminism

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Graduate student Caitlin O’Neill is the head teaching assistant of the “Beyonce Feminism, Rihanna Womanism.”

Photo Credit: Fabiana Peña Feeney | Daily Texan Staff

When Beyoncé released her new song “Formation” with an accompanying video and performed it at the Super Bowl last week, she danced her way straight into classrooms, too.

University students and professors used the performance and video to explore blackness and feminism in a “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism” course this semester. A UT associate professor and a graduate student wrote an article about the video for Time magazine Feb. 8.

“I think part of what complicates ‘Formation’ is it really truly is a critique of what it means to be black in this country in 2016,” said head teaching assistant Caitlin O’Neill, who teaches the Beyoncé course and worked with African and African diaspora studies associate professor Natasha Tinsley on the article.

O’Neill said “Formation” doesn’t try to fit a general, widely relatable narrative.

“There is something about the particular kind of blackness in the video that is illegible to people who aren’t black or people of color who have had similar experiences,” O’Neill said.

The video has prompted uneasy reactions from some viewers, O’Neill said.

“The kinds of blackness she is exhibiting in this video is the kind that people aren’t as comfortable with,” O’Neill said.

The Time article began to form over text messages between her and Tinsley when “Formation” was released, O’Neill said.

“Originally, the piece arose out of a text [conversation] after the video dropped, and we worked off of our initial reactions and some of the things we were thinking about,” O’Neill said.

Maranda Burkhalter, Black Student Alliance freshman action team chair, said the video has had a positive influence on young black people.

“It has really inspired a whole generation of black girls and boys,” Burkhalter, a government sophomore, said. “The video was a perfect way for her to speak out in the best way she could. Now people can really look at how Beyoncé can speak up about it, and they can, too.”

Burkhalter said the issues addressed in “Formation” are a harsh reality and a true depiction of what is really going on in black politics today, especially after incidents where young black people have been shot by police.

“When you start getting political, especially in music, people start getting uncomfortable,” Burkhalter said. “But the scene where a little boy is dancing and there is a line of police that at one point surrenders to this little boy sends a message of hope to a younger generation.”