“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman; the most unprotected person in America is the black woman; the most neglected person in America is the black woman” the soundbite used from Malcolm X in Beyonce’s latest visual album is much more than a soundbite. It is the essence of Beyonce’s album, Lemonade.
On Saturday, April 23rd the world sat in awe and watched Beyonce’s latest visual masterpiece that premiered exclusively with HBO. Words like “genius,” “beautiful,” “prophetic,” and “exquisite” permeated the internet. All of those terms are true, Lemonade is genius, beautiful, prophetic and exquisite but not simply because it’s a job well done. Lemonade is a black woman’s legacy. It is the visual soundtrack to our struggle, our pain, our pleasure, and our celebration of life. For the first time in a long time, something in pop culture was created for and by a black woman and shown to the masses!
Each track that makes up the album is only a scratch at the surface of what it means to be a black woman in America. “Pray You Catch Me,” is the intro and quite literally, the dive into into Lemoade. A song about a black woman in love who prays that her lover will catch her listening in on his infidelity. The song is about an internal battle with a frightening truth that most women of any race do not want to face head-on. So she prays she’s caught and her lover will be forced to admit his wrong-doings.
It is one thing to be a lover scorned by adultery, it is an entirely different thing to be a black woman scorned by anything. Historically, black women have been stereotyped as “angry,” “sassy” or “loud,” and when faced with adversity, are expected to be docile, forgiving and turn the other cheek as her anger and pain get the best of her. God forbid she acts out in a way that the majority of (white) people would consider normal. If a hockey team loses their championship game, if groups of white people came together in anger to riot and destroy property as a sign of their disappointment; this behavior is seen as acceptable and normal. If a black woman experiences an external wrong doing like infidelity or perhaps the wrongful death of a child or family member, she is expected to be all forgiving and move on without so much as peep.
Beyonce tells black women with the tracks “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” that yes, you can be mad, you can feel crazy, you can feel jealous, you can be angry, and you are entitled to feel these emotions in a society that tells you otherwise. The best part about this, is that she doesn’t just tell us it’s ok, she shows us this with stunning imagery and symbolism. In the “Hold Up” sequence of her film, she invokes the African goddess of love and water, Oshun, while dressed in a glorious yellow gown surrounded by water.
With the track “Forward,” we’re introduced to redemption and freedom from our inner oppressors and then given strength and encouragement to face our outer oppressors with the song “Freedom.” The sentiment behind these tracks is sealed with the images of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, Mike Brown’s mother and Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother. If those images weren’t powerful enough, throughout the entire short film ,black poetess Warsaw Shire’s words weaved in and out of each sequence, leaving us suspended wistfully in mid-air while we are shown gorgeous shots of black women like Serena Williams, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Quvenzhané Wallis, and many more standing in solidarity, embracing their beauty, their strength, their passion, their heritage, their blackness. Frame by frame, Lemonade gave all women glorious #BlackGirlMagic.
To say that Lemonade was simply the work of a woman scorned turning her pain into profit would only be a modicum of true. Lemonade is the ultimate act of expression through art. It is the expression of love, pain, betrayal, passion, strength, power, forgiveness, femininity and above all, black culture and heritage that all black women can empathize with and relate to.