Monday, 2 May 2016

Meditation, Anointing and Anger in Beyoncé's #Lemonade


There's very little that I can add to the conversation about Beyoncé's latest visual masterpiece, Lemonade. The pros, cons, dos and don'ts have already been talked to death, and all the best things have been said. But truthfully I'm more interested in how Lemonade makes me feel. I want to interrogate the reactions I had to what I consider to be one of the most profound pieces of work ever created by a black woman, both artistically and economically.

I watched Lemonade, end to end, on my own. I turned my phone off, silenced my notifications, and paid attention to the journey that Beyoncé had decided to take me on. I watched in awe as black women congregated and communed with each other as Beyoncé lay bear her own feelings and tapped into universal truths about existing both black and female. I cried as a Mardi Gras Indian blessed a dinner table full of empty chairs; places set for people who could never join the offering.

Much has been made of Becky with the good hair; an attempt by white women to find something recognizable to latch onto in a sea of womanhood both public and commercial, that for the first time, deliberately excludes them. But Becky is beside the point. Because the point is that Beyoncé sees us. Beyoncé sees and acknowledges black women and our struggles, and she centered her art around affirming our hurt, our pain, our suspicion and our betrayal. Beyoncé made an (another) album about being a black woman, and the pain and joy that it can entail.


Guiding us through the stages of grief, Beyoncé weaves a story of pain, heartbreak and most of all anger, that is all too familiar to black women. Routinely, we are labelled as crazy or unpredictable without acknowledgement of the abuse that warranted that reaction. We are betrayed and told his infidelity is our sin to bear, we're mocked for our attempts to become the women the world holds in high esteem. Lemonade explores the blatant lies and half-truths that black women are forced to swallow and the pathology we are cursed to bear. But most importantly it justifies the delicious destruction born of righteous and justified anger. It allows our anger, ever stymied, always dismissed, to bubble over, froth and foment, and acknowledges it as a valid reaction to repeated abuse. As Ijeoma Oluo writes in the Guardian:

This expectation of black women to suffer in silence is passed from generation to generation. Beyoncé explores this inheritance unflinchingly: "You remind me of my father - a magician, able to exist in two places at once/In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me."

And it is this inheritance that Beyoncé rejects throughout Lemonade. She refuses to suffer in silence, and instead delves deep into the hurt and betrayal that has rended her life and her love apart, and encourages us all to do the same. She rips our generational burden to shreds and sets herself and us, on a path to redemption through shared communion. The hurt she explores here is real and familiar; an old prophecy passed from mother to daughter and back again, repeated ad infinitum until it fulfills itself. It is a battle we prepare for from the moment we are old enough to distinguish our blackness.