Lemonade season is among us, and it is time we dissect every detail- known or imagined- of Beyonce’s life, artistry, and politics. I won’t be doing that today– someone, somewhere, will do it far better. I just want to talk about the magnificence of Black sisterhood highlighted by Beyonce’s work. Watching Beyonce’s music and persona evolve, and how that evolution has impacted others, has been really remarkable. When my six year old niece saw formation and said: “I want to be on Beyonce’s team!!,” it occurred to me that Beyonce’s art is important in ways I never imagined.
I confess I’m not a member of the Behive, and have been critical of Bey in the past- particularly regarding class issues. That hasn’t changed… but I also take issue with Anna Julia Cooper’s class issues and will put respeck on her name nonetheless. So let me say publicly, in writing, for the world to witness– Beyonce– I put mad respeck on your name.
Because Lemonade is probably really personal. It’s probably interesting musically. My probably is not about doubt, it’s more so because I’m not a stan enough to know if this is about Jay, women everywhere, Tina, Sula or Miss Piggy to be honest. I’m not a music critic so off of a first listen (while captivated by visuals) there were songs I liked and songs that were cool and songs I wasn’t sure about and some I probably didn’t really hear– but I couldn’t begin to tell you shit about the xylophone on track 9. But there ain’t shit I know better than Black womanhood, and Lemonade, was an opus on Black Womanhood.
As much of Lemonade was a reflection of re-commitment to a romantic partnership fraught with challenges, it was also space to say definitely: I am not my sister’s keeper, I am my sister. It’s a re-commitment to the world. So as to say, in the same ways I am angry about Black men committing acts of sexual and relationship violence, or police brutality, or unfair wages, I am also committed to making this a world fit for my daughter– and how healing from that very real pain is an intrinsic part of the sorority of Black womanhood. This is also happening as Beyonce, like all of us, is figuring out who she is and how she understands the world. The 20 year old Jordyne hadn’t evolved enough in her womanhood to understand the ways in which Black trans women suffer mutually and uniquely. I couldn’t articulate that then because I was still reading Audre Lorde and trying to understanding womanism in the context of sexual orientation. But I got to do so in a dorm at Georgetown, not on the world’s stage. Luckily, Black feminism didn’t throw me away- it gave me more to chew on intellectually and challenged me lovingly. Do I think there is space for mothers of Aiyana Stanley Jones, or Renisha McBride to be present? Yes. Do I think there is space on the stoop for Black trans women? Absolutely. Still, Beyonce has grown so much and expressed clearly that she’s willing to put in the work (and keep doing so) to get this right. What a testament to the power of growth here. Where Beyonce (the album) said, I am feminist, Lemonade says, my feminism has to be intersectional, or I’ve shut myself out of my own understanding.
Centering Black women has been a political act since Sojourner Truth read suffragists for filth at the Women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. Here we are in 2016, the year of our Lord, the Black woman, and Beyonce has created art that is balm for the healing of what Beyonce and Malcolm X refer to as the “most disrespected person in America.” Watching Lemonade reminded me very much of reading Lorde’s Zami: A new spelling of my name. I felt like I was watching Beyonce grow into a profound understanding of her intrinsic Black womanhood in the context of her relationships with and to other women. From grandmothers, to mother, to her daughter, to the identity of Black women, to the Black women creators who appeared throughout, Beyonce has found herself in the juice of her lemons,. I heard the sighs of Black women around the world who collectively realized, shit. we are all in this together. Even BEYONCE. Lemonade is a new spelling of Beyonce’s name, where a woman who presumably has had it all figured out since we met her at 16, is figuring it out as we know her at 34.
While watching Lemonade, seeing Serena drop it like it’s hot, Amandla and Zendaya slay, hearing Warsan Shire, I thought a lot about Audre Lorde’s statement, “But the true feminist deals out of a lesbian consciousness whether or not she ever sleeps with women.” And I thought to myself, Beyonce really loves Black women and I think the more she loves Black women, the more she has learned to love herself. Beyonce is writing an intimate love letter to Black women, Beyonce is loving Black women, Beyonce is promoting and supporting Black women. Beyonce is performing out of a lesbian consciousness…. and honestly– as a collective, as a sisterhood, so are we.
I don’t know that there was ever a time in my life that I haven’t been more excited by, inspired by, growed by, loved by, cherished by, honored more, respected more, or cared more about Black women. I believe it is Black women who have carried the burden of creating a space safe enough for Beyonce to produce this art. I think Leslie McSpadden, Sabrina Fulton, and Gwen Carr suffered the kind of public grief that made space for this art. I think Serena Williams engaged in the kind of indisputable excellence that made space for this art. I think Amandla and Zendaya and Quevenzhane and Chloe and Halle make the kind of youthful exuberance that made space for this art. The hands of Leah Chase, made the creole cuisine that fed this art. Michaela DePrince (the ballerina) from Sierra Leone thrived and survived in a way that supported this art. Black women writers, activists, and public intellectuals interrupted the speeches, wrote the think pieces, snatched the flags, and disrupted the systems… that secured space for this art. I’m reminded of Toni Morrison’s Nobel speech where she says, “I trust you now. I trust you with the bird that is not in your hands because you have truly caught it. Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done – together.”
I think about Lemonade as work that Black women have done together for generations. And that work is thankless and quiet and slow and often without glory, because, who glorifies Black women? Who will protect women? Who will serve, celebrate, and center Black women? “Is it your husband? Or your father?” Or have we all realized together– it is us. We are our own saviors. Are we finished, are we done, or are we just getting started? Let’s do work.