Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ is the love letter to black women we’ve been thirsting for
Last night, Beyonce may have given me the best birthday present of my life, and I totally didn’t see it coming.
To be honest, I am not a card carrying member of the Beyhive. Mainly because Beyonce and I are about the same age.
We could have gone to high school together. I remember her awkward phase before she mastered that now infamous poker face. I recall when people would dismiss her by saying, “She cool, but she’s no Aaliyah.” Pre-Hov, pre-vegan, back when her thighs still touched and she was considered the unofficial poster child for Popeye’s chicken.
To me Bey has always been a peer of sorts; like that old friend you root for from a distance even though you haven’t spoken in ages. When she does well I clap, and when she doesn’t — I raise a brow and keep it moving. I am neither her biggest fan nor her harshest critic.
So it is without an ounce of bias that I say: Lemonade is the love letter black women have been silently waiting for. It is raw and honest; an incredibly nuanced celebration of everything about US – specifically.
Now, I know this woman is polarizing and that there are people who literally wake up every morning just to deify or crucify her. So I am sure there will be many self-impressed think pieces about how she is either our salvation or an over-hyped Jezebel. Bey-stanning and Bey-bashing have now become a sporting event online with everyone clamoring to be heard. It is what it is.
But in my not so humble opinion — any black woman who can’t put her side-eye aside long enough to admit Lemonade is the most pro-black woman thing to happen in ages — is lying to themselves and potentially one of those “haters” the kids keep talking about. (Yeah I said it. You big mad or little mad?)
The genius of Bey’s latest offering is that it is both laser sharp and blurry at the same time; oscillating between being crudely literal and poetically esoteric – aided by the breathtaking poetry of Warsan Shire.
Once, I was in a filmmaker’s workshop where a famous director told the audience, “Make your stories as granular and as specific as possible. The beauty of art is that the more personal your masterpiece is – the more universal it becomes.”
Now I finally understand what he meant.
While the first few vignettes of the album had the most curious amongst us tweeting, “Oh my God! What did Jay Z do to this lady? I see why Solange beat his ass” – after about 20 minutes it actually stopped being about them. It stopped serving as a rare voyeuristic glimpse into their marriage and beautifully transformed into a mirror – turned back at us.
Our intuition, our denial, our moments of self doubt and bouts of pettiness. Our pleas, our compromises, our hopes wrapped up in our fears. Yes, any woman could see a sliver of themselves in that general narrative. But Beyoncé is apparently no longer satisfied with just churning out glossy mainstream girl anthems. This time (much to the chagrin of white feminists who don’t understand intersectionality) she vaingloriously wrapped herself in a cloak of blackness – and the most blackety black cloak at that.
My favorite thing about this project is its unflinching lack of damns, it’s calculated moments of candor that have us feeling like we’ve broken into someone’s diary.
In one scene, Beyoncé literally grabs a baseball bat and swings it in society’s face without a shred of apology. There is a beauty in that sentiment that I will be unpacking well after I send this piece to my editor.
Being a black woman means you are sentenced to a lifetime of apologies. Quiet, deeply ingrained ones that you eventually stop noticing.
I’m sorry I’m so dark.
I’m sorry I’m so light.
I’m sorry I’m so strong.
I’m sorry I’m so ugly.
I’m sorry I’m so angry.
I’m sorry I’m so loud.
I’m sorry my hair curls at the nape of my neck.
I’m sorry, so sorry for being both black and woman at the same time.
Even the most powerful ‘alpha females’ amongst us have internalized a scrapbook of these micro-aggressions. Being careful not to come off too passionate (angry) during confrontations with peers, running to make our man a plate at family functions so he doesn’t choose a more subservient non-black woman archetype, biting our tongues so as not to scare off our white female friends with the weight of our frustrations.
Pain has always been thrust onto black womanhood like some sort of currency. We’re supposed to be good at accepting it; stoic, poised and steeped in our inferiority. If we cry out too loud we are dismissed as ratchet (a word that I am beginning to think is code for “unworthy blackness”), and if we muffle our voices just enough we are applauded for being classy – but still never as classy as literally any other kind of woman.
This week, we lost one of the greatest musical icons of our time. I am almost embarrassed to admit how many tears I’ve shed over Prince since Thursday. Yet in the midst of that grief, one brave soul on Facebook admitted that while she always loved him – it hurt her that she never saw him loving a visibly black woman. And while we were all quick to point out to her how much Prince has done for the black community over the years, secretly I knew exactly what she meant.
Someone wiser than me (Oprah perhaps?), once said she believes we all walk through the world asking the same three questions – “Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?” And for the longest time, black women as a collective have found themselves subconsciously waiting for an affirming answer.
As if heeding our call, this weekend, Beyoncé braided her hair into some cornrows (not boxer braids), slipped on her grandma’s vintage lace dress, looked every one of us square in the eyes and said, “Sister, I hear you. Sister, I see you. And YES you matter. WE matter.”
The tears that slid down my face as the credits began to roll were accompanied with a sigh of relief, because somewhere deep down, I needed to hear that. Explicitly. We all did.
With Lemonade serving as her Trojan horse, rich, successful, light skin, blond haired, “Black Bill Gates in the making” Beyoncé — the woman all those blogs keep telling us to look at with suspicion and anti-capitalist skepticism — just declared from the depths of her diaphragm, that even the blackest, angriest, distraught “baby mama” in your town matters.
She is effectively putting the world on notice that it is “cool” to love us back. That we aren’t just side-kicks, hoodrats, and high school sweethearts you eventually have to leave for “Becky with the good hair” once your credit score goes up.
She just told us in front of every. damn. body that we have nothing to apologize for. If that isn’t pro black or feminist enough for y’all, I sincerely give up!
But please be clear that as I pack my bags and get ready to fly out to New Orleans, I can’t help smiling to myself in wonderment. There is an extra pep in my step that wasn’t there yesterday. I feel uncorked, untethered and free of a weight I didn’t even realize I carried.
Love letters (especially the sincere ones) always have that effect on me.