By proximity, I know more black men than I do any other ethnicities. It follows that I have heard, through conversation, or read, via my social feeds, more reactions to Beyonce’s newly released visual album ‘Lemonade’ from black men around me, than those from other ethnicities. Many of these reactions have been dismissive and some have shown concern for Jay Z’s ego bruise – assuming the theme of infidelity is based off his and Beyonce’s marriage. How dare she publicly call out his cheating and assert her power? Again, we have all assumed she speaks from personal experience, and not from walking in other women’s shoes, including her mother’s because hey, the drama is juicier that way.
I never thought a day would come when I would write a lengthy artcile on Beyonce, let alone in appreciation of her work. Those who know me know I have been an avid critic of Beyonce over the years. She never quite fit my ideas of decency and modesty in how she chose to celebrate her body, and when she released ‘formation’ I considered her a fraud using the black struggle for gain. According to me, she had been silent for too long and that she was just now talking about the black experience did not sit well with me. Notice the number of ‘me’ in this paragraph?
My ideas of self-expression and celebration of women’s bodies were shaped by my own upbringing and environment, just like hers were shaped by her upbringing and environment, yet I considered mine to be right and hers wrong. My talk of the black struggle spring from my own understanding of the world and because she was not vocal about things my way, I assumed they were not of concern to her and that she was only a profit-making machine.
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Ironically, more so hypocritically, it took ‘Lemonade’ – a work of art that embodies my own conviction, for me to understand that everyone has their own way and time of/for doing things. My narcissism had me knocking down Beyonce’s journey and growth instead of acknowledging it as just that: HER JOURNEY. Had Beyonce spoken of the black struggle at an earlier point in her career, would it have had the viral impact it does today? Would it have had the influence to create conversation on such a global scale like it does now? I think not. Maybe this was all part of the plan. Maybe she knew what role she wanted to play and knew she could only do so with the influence she has now and not before. After all, who am I to say otherwise?
A lot has been said about ‘Lemonade’. A lot of what has been said reduces ‘Lemonade’ to an album about infidelity. For women, it has validated their experiences in relationships and empowered them. For most men, at least as far as I have seen, it has been a disrespectful work of art to her husband. Others have said it is ‘self-absorbed’ because Beyonce says she’s “no average b***h” – apparently knowing your self-worth and not allowing others to walk over you is egotistical.
As I mentioned earlier, I know more black men than those of other ethnicities. Over the past few days I have heard and read all kind of things about the theme of infidelity that is part of the album. The way Beyonce executes this has made a number of black men uncomfortable. Their main concern being that a woman should never publicly humiliate her man like Beyonce supposedly did through some of the songs.
The theme of infidelity, among others, captured the pain and the predicaments faced by women who are cheated on, particularly black women. From the long nights waiting up for a man who is getting his groove on in another woman’s bed, the insecurities they face questioning whether their skin color or hair texture is ‘good enough’, or the difficult decisions they face when deciding when enough is enough. Yet all this, has been diminished and the narrative hijacked from one about women’s struggle to one about men’s humiliation.
I believe the reason ‘Lemonade’ is sitting uncomfortably with many men, is because Beyonce talks about something men are used to women dealing with in silence. They are used to women being broken and knocked down by infidelity rather than rising above it and asserting their own power, which Beyonce does brilliantly with ‘Lemonade’. Men are used to the world humiliating women who cheat – with the most recent case scenario being the public crusification of Khelani that led up to a suicide attempt, while men who are unfaithful are just but product of nature. Our society has normalized the famous myth that women have self control and should therefore be judged when they do not exercise it, unlike men who should be understood as sexual beings incapable of the same self control, celebrated for who they are ‘hitting’, regardless of who they cheat on.
It is the fact that a woman has broken that cycle, not just from a timid and fragile angle that only shows her scars, but also from an assertive angle that asks “who the f**k do you think I am” declaring her power, that is uncomfortable.
‘Lemonade’ sits uncomfortably with men because it shatters through the patriarchy that expects women to be “softer, prettier, less volatile, less awake”, in the words of Warsan Shire, the amazing Somali-British poet behind some of the spoken word on the album.
For this reason, ‘Lemonade’ has been reduced to being just about infidelity and men, instead of the masterpiece it is, addressing the struggles of black women, almost in totality, including, but not limited, to the damage done to them when the men in their lives are unfaithful. Clouding ‘Lemonade’ with a veil about men ignores the not-so subtle themes of identity, skin color, sexuality, hair politics, racism and healing.
‘Lemonade’ is in my opinion, the most comprehensive poetic-musical-visual anthology ever done for black womanhood.
Misogyny however, is so deeply ingrained in our society that it is preventing black men from seeing that Lemonade includes their struggles too, from their mothers’ and daughters’ standpoint because it is also about when the men in their lives are taken away by a system that views them as a threat. I suppose that is what happens where you serve hot lemonade in a bath tub to a world used to having it served icy cold in cute glasses.