So I’ve listened to Lemonade and now can offer a few thoughts.
First off, I’m not part of the Beyhive. I think Beyonce is talented; she has good business sense; she’s successful. I don’t hang on her every word. There are songs of hers that I enjoy. I liked “Formation.” I appreciated her unapologetic blackness. I liked that she has made it mainstream, but therein lies the rub. Capitalism makes products of us all and then sells them to us. I know she recently came out as a feminist although she said for some time she wasn’t. Feminism is one of my areas of research and the more I learn about it the less appealing it is to me as a life philosophy. My question after “Formation” was once we are there, then what do we do? What is the goal? Mobilization is usually for a cause. I believe Lemonade is one of Beyonce’s answers.
Beyonce’s feminism has always been problematic. I won’t rehash all the arguments here, but the main problem with Beyonce’s feminism is the seeming contradictory stance of being pro-woman and also a sex symbol. Can one stand for equal rights for women (although that phrase has its problems), for women to be valued as human beings and not for any service or good they provide society (like childbearing and rearing, nurturing and caring for others) and still twerk? Even if one can maintain some control over one’s image, does the fact that that image which is still produced for the male gaze and consumption undermine the control one has? It’s the female naked selfie debate: if a woman posts a naked selfie is she in control or is she still playing into the sexual consumption script (which is mostly male)?
Moreover, Beyonce is an entertainer so one cannot assign a certain value system to her. After all, we only see her when she wants to be seen. And the way she would like to be seen. We only know what she chooses to reveal. It’s all image. My personal issue with Bey’s feminism is the “you go girl” message. I agree with Joy James that “you go girl” feminism is very insidious. It’s all about how fabulous one is with no self-reflection. Do men do you wrong? Of course. So do women. If this is happening over and over again, did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, it’s you? Does black feminism depend on black women having a catalog of men that done them wrong? So my issues with feminism and Beyonce’s feminism are the logic that leaks like a sieve.
My initial reaction to Lemonade was one of shock. But this was only based on people’s reactions on social media. With every post on my newsfeed about Rachel Roy, I was thinking why is Beyonce outing her husband as a cheater? Just selling records I guess. All in a day’s work. Hey, it’s your marriage. And I brushed off Lemonade.
And here is where I sensed another site of conflict with Lemonade. Not only is it Beyonce’s feminism, but personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is like the furniture I always stub my toe on in my research. When you study and teach structural racism and discrimination, the question of personal responsibility is always in the back of my mind. Every time I say the word “privilege,” I swallow hard. If one has experienced structural racism (I mean racism that is built into the fabric of social institutions, not individual prejudices), then how much responsibility can one take for one’s life? For example, predatory lending prevents many blacks and Latinos from owning their own homes in addition to the fact that many black and Latino families don’t leave financial legacies for future generations so saving for a down payment for a home can take a lot longer. This is also the wage gap debate. Can one work hard and build wealth despite these setbacks? Is talking about structural racism giving “victims” of racism a free pass? Or should you just work harder?
I saw comments on social media that said Beyonce got what she asked for. Jay Z is no stranger to women and cheating rumors have circulated about them since they have been together. She married him so it should come as no surprise that he cheated, the thinking goes. These commenters equated Beyonce’s expressions of pain and loss as crying over spilled milk. Or making her bed and refusing to lie in it. If one doesn’t want to be cheated on (and who does?), then don’t marry someone who is known for cheating unless you see some genuine change of heart. Who knows whether Beyonce did. She can’t be responsible for his cheating, but she didn’t have to be with him.
Yet this dismissal doesn’t set well with me. Dismissing someone’s pain or hurt, even if it is the result of their own choices, seems cruel to me. Accepting responsibility doesn’t diminish the hurt. Dismissing Beyonce’s pain is yet another attempt to silence black women. Black women are allowed to weep in public, to grieve, but not to be enraged from fear of being labelled an “angry black woman.” Human beings emote. Everyone, regardless of race or class or gender or any other identity marker, should be able to do this without fear of retribution.
Also, Lemonade is about so much more than a no good man, or a man who acts like he’s no good. Folks will be folks, but Lemonade shows how black women process and heal from their pain. From the denial, to anger to sadness to acceptance to hope and back over again.
Perhaps folks didn’t like the public emoting. Ok, so you wanna call your husband out. Do you boo. But why make an album about it and sell it? Why make that public knowledge? The obvious reason is to make money. Controversy sells. My jadedness aside, there are also more altruistic reasons such as letting other women know they are not alone. Black feminism was started by black women who got together, shared their stories and encouraged one another.
Lemonade got me all up in my feelings. Feelings that get suppressed as we go about our daily lives. Feelings that aren’t logical, that are fascinating, unsettling, glorious, intimidating, rough, funny, depressing, immature, selfish, mysterious, rude, confusing, delightful. All the feelings that make us happy, sad, that inspire us, that make us tired, irritable, restless, proud, scared.
The cool points are out the window and I’m all twisted up in the game.