Beyoncé Steps Into the Black Feminist Cypher and Promptly Drops the Mic
Much like the iTunes top 10 (and Tidal top 20), I ain’t seen nor heard nothing but Lemonade and Prince all week. Because by now you know that Bey dropped one of the best videos/albums ever. *in my Kanye interrupting Taylor Swift voice*
A bit of context in case you happen to actually live under a rock or have the misfortune of being Piers Morgan. On April 23rd, Beyoncé Knowles Carter dropped an album so Black, so woman, so southern and so badass— all at the same damn time—inextricably so, that one week later we are still uncovering layers. Since that fateful night, I’ve been immersed in the language of Bey’s latest offering. Basically, I speak fluid Lemonade. Of the Lavender dialect. Because I’m still in my feelings about Prince. And because I really love lavender lemonade. Lemonade is the most iconic album dropped in the Black feminist cypher since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I said it. Who gon’ check me boo?
What was Lemonade about? If you answered, “Jay Z cheating on Beyoncé,” dismiss yourself now. Use your church finger. No need to be basic and rude. It ain’t that kind of intersectionality party. I digress. So why are women around the world basking in fellowship, mouthing the lyrics to “Sorry” on the Metro, waxing poetic track for track, spouting lyrics in random conversations, dropping think pieces snatching edges and taking names later, and pasting bee and lemon emojis all over social media? All of that, and more, is happening because Lemonade touched on a multitude of shared Black girl experiences. Lemonade was about:
Cycles (Daddies- Absent and Present)
Black Women’s Love Relationships
Rebuilding and Rebirthing
To start, I’ll address the criticism I’ve heard the most. “Bey ain’t saying nothing new.” But when has that ever been a requirement to produce Black feminist thought? Those news outlets? That “canon” on your bibliography? Mostly white men all saying the same thing. But we cite them like nobody’s business, because the more of them that say the same thing, the more valid folks consider that thing. Black feminist thought does not subscribe to such notions of validation. Black feminist thought operates within a collective and builds upon our shared experiences. Much of what I say has been said before. I draw from women like Patricia Hill Collins, Kimberle Crenshaw, Melissa Harris Perry, my momma/aunties, my homegirls and Keisha from the block. I often speak of sexual assault/abuse, domestic violence racism and sexism– none of that is new. What is unique is the voice, the telling of how I experience/process/navigate my experiences. It is mine. It is necessary. The repetition of shared experiences reinforces that we are not crazy, that we have not imagined the slights, that we did not invite the violence. Lemonade is not relevant because it is new. Quite the contrary. It is relevant because it joins the voices that have long existed within the collective, because it adds a new voice and a new way of telling our stories. Highlighting that not even money or meeting society’s bar for beauty is enough to immunize Black women from the birthright of burden.
Another point of critique was that talking about relationships wasn’t revolutionary (feel free to use your church fingers). This seemed to merely be a problem with the messenger. Renowned Black feminist scholars and authors have examined Black women and love relationships to the accolades of many. Almost immediately after watching Lemonade the first time, I ran to chapter 7 of Patricia Hill Collins’ foundational text, Black Feminist Thought. The chapter, titled “Black Women’s Love Relationships,” examines just that, an integral component of the lives of Black women and draws from the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston— all Black women who have examined the topic in their art. Art almost universally considered revolutionary by virtue of daring to explore such in relation to Black women. You get where I’m going here? Black women been talking about love in a space where we are often denied the ability to do so freely and with reciprocity. Which brings us back to the nothing new and all that not new stuff still being revolutionary. Because Sethe and Celie. Getcha weight up.
Cycles (Daddies- Absent and Present)
I was all prepared to examine love in relation to romantic partners, even willing to stretch my comfort zone to examine love in relation to the public and politics. I’m not altogether sure I was ready for Bey to get me in my feelings about my daddy and how his actions (in his absence), impacted my romantic relationships. Through multiple tracks, we see how Beyonce’s relationship mirrored that of her parents in that Jay stepped outside of the marriage like Matthew did. How many of us are dating our mother’s men? How many of us are dating our absent fathers? Chasing what we’ve always known or never known?
Of note: Beyoncé straight killed off her daddy in “Daddy Lessons.” I don’t know if that was because it was a country song and country songs like killing off folks or if it was just the ultimate shade. Either way.
Pray. All too often, Black women are told to pray without any practical advice for a given situation. Job ain’t right? Pray. Kids acting up? Pray. Man cheating? Pray. Another theme we get from Lemonade is the practical application of scripture. Matthew 7:7 to be exact (the irony is not lost on me). What do we do when we been praying and still don’t have answers? Matthew 7:7 reads, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Bey asked (are you cheating on me?). And then she sought (Pray You Catch Me) and then she knocked (enter Hot Sauce). Now I’m probably in all kinds of trouble with the aunties cause that’s borderline blasphemous but I stand behind the idea. Black women do a whole lot of praying. I do a whole lot of praying. That prayer doesn’t preclude action. Prayer doesn’t mean ignoring your intuition when you know something ain’t right. And prayer doesn’t prohibit advocating on your own behalf to rectify harm and removing yourself from harm. I’m not saying go get yourself a bat but…
When things are off-kilter in relationships, jobs, academic and familial settings, it’s easy to question what’s wrong with you. Maybe I’m not pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, (formally) educated enough. The list goes on. One thing was clear in Lemonade. Bey wasn’t taking any ownership for the harm Jay caused by cheating. “I know I kept it sexy and I know I kept it fun. There’s something that I’m missing, maybe my head for one.” His decision to step outside of the marriage had nothing to do with a deficit on her part. And many times, the same applies to the family members who won’t stop badgering you about when you’re getting married, getting skinnier, getting thicker, having a baby, getting your tubes tied. Or the boss who needs you to tone down the performance of your Blackness. “Your hair looks so professional when you wear it straight.” The problem ain’t you. And we have to stop taking ownership because other people, and institutions, opt to not treat us with respect.
Time and time again, Bey reminded us how badass she is and in doing so reminded us just how badass we are. With our brown skin, thick thighs, southern accents, native dialects and many talents.
Baby. *In a New Orleans drawl* When I tell you that “Sorry” is my self care track for 2016. Played it so much my iTunes acted a fool and wouldn’t play the track no more. I tried to call Apple, iTunes and Steve Jobs from the other world. It was that serious. But then iTunes got some get right. I digress. You should be used to it by now. Anyway, “Sorry” is also my new mirror dance song. For five reasons. First, because the beat makes me purse my lips, drape my loose braids slowly over my shoulder and look back at it. Second, because I can’t hear the song without acting it out. Third, because “I ain’t thinking about you” is the lyrical translation for put your own mask on first. When two or more parties are harmed in a given situation, Black women are usually trying to make sure that everyone else is ok— even the person responsible for the harm, often to our own detriment. I know I said five reasons but I ain’t got to tell you all my business. Point is, I’ve learned a lot about the necessity of self care and make no apologies for seeing to my needs first. I ain’t sorry.
Lemonade is about sisterhood. Bonding through shared experiences. We saw a myriad of Black women celebrity cameos. And we can all readily identify how they’ve been harmed by intersectional oppression. We know what’s been said about Serena’s body type, Winnie Harlow’s skin, Zendaya’s hair. Even little Quvenzhané publicly experienced it when she was only 9 years-old. We know the pain caused to the mothers of Mike, Trayvon and Eric. And we gather with ourselves, our sisters and friends who know many of those pains firsthand— and often simultaneously. We rejoiced in their onscreen gathering. We cried. We smiled. We threw some middle fingers up. We tweeted and texted. We related. We were excited to see our stories. We were empowered by our sister sharing her story. When she starts the track “Freedom,” she stands bare before her sisters offering only her most precious gift of voice. “Lord forgive me I’ve been running, running blind in truth.” I daresay she ain’t running blind no more. Seems she found the freedom Sethe and Celie found. The freedom that allows her to love herself, and by extension her sisters, fully.
Rebuilding and Rebirthing
I noticed that most of the girls and women in the film were younger than Beyonce. Noticed the absence of photos of girls and women such as Rekia Boyd and Sandra Bland. Also absent were Kelly, Michelle and Solange. Prominently featured is the work of Warsan Shire. I believe all of that was an intentional focus on the future, on the young girls and women entering the cypher with their own shared experiences. The girls who will come of age in this, the year of the Black girl. “I see your daughters. And their daughters.”
Lemonade is revolutionary. Partly in that its recognition does not require that Beyoncé “say something new.” In the Black feminist cypher, we recognize our sisters simply because they have spoken. And because they choose not, or cannot, speak. And because they want their sisters to speak for them. And when they need their sisters to stand silently with them. Because (y)our experiences are part of the collective and none of this (Black feminist thought) is possible without you. So say it. Write it. Teach it. Sing it. Dance it. Tell it in your language, to be heard by all of your sisters who speak your mother tongue. Even if the language is Lemonade. Of the Lavender dialect.
“If we are going to heal, let it be glorious.”