Like almost every black woman I know, I was a Girlfriends fanatic. One of my favorite moments of the entire eight seasons of the series happened on an episode where Maya went to New York City to meet with the publisher of her book, “Oh, Hell Yes!” In a meeting, Maya was sitting with one of the editors discussing the changes they wanted to make to the book before publication. Sensing the publishers were covertly trying to “take the Black out”of her book, Maya brilliantly declares “If white women, Asian women, Latina women wanna read it, fine! But I wrote it for the sistas.”
That moment stayed with me because it was a quintessential display of Black sisterhood: a Black woman testifying that her art, which tells her own story, was produced because she knew that other Black women would identify with and appreciate it. Lemonade makes just that kind of affirmation. Beyonce’s stunning visual album, is a monologue made for Black women who love being Black women. Her audience is clear. Her messages coded for our ears and hearts. Lemonade echoes Maya’s statement because Beyonce did this for the sistas.
And though black women heard her loud and clear, those outside the circle did not. Critiques and reviews from everybody but black women abound. Black and white men, and white women, groomed to believe that Black women deserve nothing exclusive to us and that their musings hold value to us, have all penned incomplete, incoherent and/or incorrect think pieces bursting with misogynoir and confirming that Beyonce’s dog whistle was not blown for them.
Noting that “many fans failed to realize is that ‘Becky’ is not just a nickname,” E! Online posted “guide to all of the slang in Beyoncé’s newest record, so you won’t make the same mistakes.” The guide defines such foreign terms as “yellow bone” and “bopper” for those fans who need a little help picking up and what the Beyonce put down. What’s next, a seminar? Cliffs Notes? A tutoring program?
We’ve seen this attempt at decoding Black culture for the masses — and by “the masses” I mean white people — before, like a couple of months ago when a white girl interpreted the patois in Rihanna’s “Work” and white people who had considered Rih-Rih’s words gibberish loved it. The fact that white people feel compelled to try to make Black art poured from Black bodies accessible to non-Black people speaks clearly to the unshakable spirt of colonization that teaches them that they have no duty to respect esoteric cultural expressions. My grandmother always said, “Everything ain’t for everybody.” Chances are that if you need a guide to the terminology, Lemonade was not made for you.
Equally as frustrating as E!’s laughable translation of Beyonce’s slang was the bizarre stretch made by an article in The Guardian comparing Lemonade to Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Living History. “It was Lemonade without Serena Williams, Zendaya, explosions, dozens of costume changes, and highly woke intersectional feminism. In truth, it was a book by a rich, old white lady, but close enough.” Nah.
The sets, cameos, costumes and wokeness are what make Lemonade epic. Clinton’s account of her marital problems wasn’t written with Black women in mind. It wasn’t produced to give Black women and girls a soundtrack to work through our growing pains. It wasn’t crafted to pay homage to the power of sisterhood. It wasn’t published to celebrate the beauty of our culture. It’s not “close enough.” And the fact that this Black is so casually dismissive of the elements which make Lemonade a how-to for Black women navigating our way through the nearly inevitable woes of love found, tested, lost and reclaimed echoes the typical misogynoir exhibited by Black men who certify themselves as experts on the unique journey of Black womanhood.
Still, though, none of the misguided attempts at validating or invalidating Lemonade were as egregious as Piers Morgan’s op-ed for The UK Daily Mail. In it, a white man, pens a piece full of unsolicited opinions about why Beyonce’s recent public embrace and celebration of her Blackness turned him off. He first notes, “There’s a clip of Malcolm X, the radical and controversial black separatist who opposed Dr Martin Luther King’s creed of non-violence, saying: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the black woman,’” before going on to explain that Sybrina Fulton and Leslie McSpadden were exploited Piers tells us, used solely boost sales of Lemonade. Morgan then discusses an interview he conducted with Beyonce five years ago in which she responded to his question about experiencing racism growing up by saying, “A bit, but I feel like with my career I’ve now broken barriers. I don’t think people think about my race. I think they look at me as an entertainer and a musician and I’m very happy about that because that’s how I look at people. It’s not about color and race, and I’m happy that’s changing,” only to end his piece with, “But I have to be honest, I preferred the old Beyoncé. The less inflammatory, agitating one. The one who didn’t use grieving mothers to shift records and further fill her already massively enriched purse. The one who didn’t play the race card so deliberately and to my mind, unnecessarily. The one who wanted to be judged on her stupendous talent not her skin color, and wanted us all to do the same.”
I, like Morgan, have preferences too. I prefer that white men, who stand at the ultimate intersection of privilege, who are considered superior to Black women from the moment they take their first breath, who continue to perpetuate and administer the system of privilege of which they are the greatest beneficiaries, do not arrogantly offer unsolicited opinions on a Black woman’s presentations of her own interpersonal struggles with love and life. It’s not surprising – AT ALL – that a white man would be offended by Beyonce’s use of a sound bite of Malcolm X — a Black man who represented the absolute opposite of the docile, peace-loving negro content to decimate the psyche, image and spirit of the Black woman to improve his own place in the white supremacist system that a white man such as Piers appreciates – declaring that there is a culture of disregarding, degrading and damaging Black women. The irony is definitive, however.
More disgusting, though, is the assumption not only that Beyonce is an opportunist conveniently interested – obsessed even – with the oppression of Black people. I make no claims of knowing Beyonce’s journey other than our shared kinship of Black womanhood, but I’d bet that she, much like many Black women, was indoctrinated into the idea that if we work hard enough and stay in the fight, we can progress our way into equality. Right around 30, many of us start to realize that we cannot wait for equality when our blood is staining sidewalks. We see our own children when a Black child is the victim of systemic, state-sanctioned violence. When one of us falls, we all die a little. Beyonce didn’t just feature the mothers of Oscar Grant, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin. She is Leslie McSpadden and Wanda Johnson and Gwen Carr and Sybrina Fulton. One of our stories is all of our stories. It’s a black thing, Piers, you wouldn’t understand.
The world was wholly unprepared for Black women to say, “This is ours. We don’t want to share.” It’s something we never do. We give of ourselves relentlessly, putting everyone before us, our own happiness always an afterthought. We fight our entire lives to gain the wisdom that comprises our #blackgirlmagic, and the world feeds from it like it did our lactating breasts. We are perpetual givers and this time, we got brand new. We refused to let everybody else have any of what was selected, perfected and presented to us for our consumption, evaluation and comprehension.
Recipes usually include caution to flavor “to taste” when calling for sugar and spice. That’s what Beyonce did with her Lemonade. She sweetened it just perfectly for the taste buds of Black women who know her story intimately. She made it just right for little Black girls like Quvenzhane who’ll one day blossom into beautiful Black women who need a blueprint for tackling heartache. And we sipped. We sat on the porch with her sipping from our glasses of Lemonade poured from that bottomless pitcher. We savored that cocktail of equal parts water pumped from our wells, lemons plucked from our trees and sugar harvested from our cane, and delighted in watching those uninvited sneak a sip and gag because it just didn’t taste right.