It's been a few weeks now since Beyoncé dropped "Formation," and I still have it blaring on repeat. There's no doubt about how powerful this song is, and its impact continues to reverberate throughout the world.
In many ways, "Formation" is not a song that was written for me as a white woman. It is a call to arms for black women, and it will never belong to me the way it will to women of color. It's fueled by Beyonce's pride of her black identity, her Southern heritage, and her experience as a woman who forged her way to world domination. This is a song about the strength of black women and a call to rise up.
Yet, "Formation" is also a song for everyone, no matter how they identify. (After all, Queen B knows she's got the whole world listening.) "Formation" is a fierce message that the institutionalized hatred and racial violence cannot be tolerated. That we need to stop turning away from the ugly parts of our culture and fight back. Beyoncé is angry, and so should we all be.
From the music video's Hurricane Katrina imagery to the hoodie-clad kid dancing a firing squad into submission. "Formation" braids countless moments together, pulling from a thousand different strings of thought. These books dive deeper into those subjects, and once you read them, you'll better understand how (and why) we need to get in formation.
1. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde has been icon and an inspiration to millions. In this collection of essays, Lorde empowers anyone who has been labeled an outsider, arguing against sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class discrimination. Not only is her writing amazing, but Lorde's philosophy that social difference is a vehicle for action and change will light a fire under you.
2. Slab by Selah Saterstrom
This effervescent novel zeroes in on a woman, Tiger, as she lays on a concrete slab during Hurricane Katrina, waiting to be rescued. As Tiger recounts her life as an impoverished stripper and her fight to rise up, she paints an intense picture of the the forces working against her as a woman without privilege in the South. Saterstrom plays with language and form in intriguing ways, and this book will certainly take you for a one-of-a-kind ride.
3. Paradise by Toni Morrison
This list would certainly not be complete without literature queen Toni Morrison. This book is steeped in the inter- and intra-racial battles of black women, set against mass violence in Oklahoma. Layered with flashbacks, history, and Morrison's characteristic lyricism, Paradise is a must-read. The famous first two sentences alone will rattle you: "They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time."
4. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
There's no limit to how many times I can recommend this book, and it's the absolutely perfect companion to "Formation." A collection of essays from the brilliant Roxane Gay, this book dives into smart, relatable explorations of feminism, gender, race, pop culture, and more. This empowering read will easily become one of your favorite books.
5. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
This new book from activist and scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor gives an in-depth history and analysis of the movement for racial justice, and how the recent fight against police violence is propelling the cause. Repeatedly hailed as a must-read for anyone who wants to participate in the movement, this book will give you great perspective about the #BlackLivesMatter movement and beyond.
6. Year Zero: A Year of Reporting from Post-Katrina New Orleans by NOLAFugees.com
New Orleans is obviously an important part of "Formation," and anyone looking to better understand what happened there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina needs to pick up this book immediately. NOLAFugees.com was created when Jarrett Lofstead and Joe Longo saw a gap in the post-Katrina coverage. From reportage to satire, this collection features the site's best works, all painting an intensely real picture of the devastation in New Orleans.
7. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
This quintessential read exposes the daily racial aggression in our "post-race" society, from slips of the tongue to intentional offensives. Utilizing essays, images, and poetry, Rankine mediates on how these aggressions accumulate to bear on a person's ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. A finalist for the National Book Award, Citizen is unlike anything else you've ever read.
8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This book is such a hard-hitting masterpiece that not only did it win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award, but Oprah herself starred in the film version. An epistolary novel set in 1930s rural Georgia, The Color Purple follows a cast of black women and the sexism, racism, and internalized oppression that rule their lives. This is an intense read that will rip your heart out again and again.
Images: Beyoncé/YouTube; Giphy.com