“Your mother is a woman, and women like her cannot be contained.” Let’s get straight to the point. Beyonce’s Lemonade is not about Jay Z. It is not about her father or the demise of her parents’ marriage. It is about the plight of the Black woman and all of the roles, symbols and labels that come along with being a woman of color in a country dominated by her white male counterpart. It is about a black mother, a woman too often left to raise her sons alone, which in many cases results in him being treated as a man child by a society who deems his very existence a threat, thus killing him. Lemonade is about the black wife who feels a sense of inadequacy and incompleteness while trying to raise up her husband, honor him as a king only to feel less than, because culture has labeled her the least of these. Sorry Beyhive, but you can put down your bats, lower your voices and direct your anger towards a more worthy cause, because this story is about black female empowerment, not an unfaithful husband. Here are 4 messages I got from Beyonce’s Lemonade.
The black woman is the most undervalued person in America. “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.” This is a quote by Malcolm X that is played during the song, “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” From the surface it appears that Beyoncé is screaming at her husband, Jay Z, who continues to be unfaithful, unaware of the power of her wrath. As the song plays, you see that one man’s supposed infidelities represent the wrongdoings of a society.
Lemonade shows a subculture represented by unglamorous images of black women of a lower socioeconomic group. It’s as though America is saying, “If I can see you as less than, I can treat you as less than.” These women don’t fit the mold of importance, beauty or regality, therefore they are forgotten. America is oblivious to the power of the black woman, relegating her to a prop, lacking complexity and purpose beyond someone else’s benefit. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is a self-empowerment anthem. Beyoncé asks, “Who the…do you think I is?”
The disrespect and devaluation of black women spans through generations. “The past and the future merge to meet us here. What a…curse.” This devaluation extends beyond the black woman to her children. In the beginning of the short film, Beyoncé is walking through a field with a black hoody. This hoody symbolizes the memory of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American male who was fatally shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Perhaps the most compelling segments of the video are mothers, sisters and daughters holding images of their loved ones who were killed by police officers and pedestrians. The women are fighting back tears, disgusted by injustice.
“I tried to change. Close my mouth more. Be softer. Prettier.” Taken from Warsan Shire’s “For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love.” Beyoncé recites them at the beginning of the “denial” section of Lemonade as she dives into a body of water. Loud. Aggressive. Ugly. Angry. These are all words that have been used to describe the black woman in America. Throughout the short film, there are images of speechless and expressionless black women. Their stares are blank, yet speak volumes. This represents years of being forced to remain quiet in spite of abuse and degradation.
Black women will play an active and vital role in combating racial prejudice. In the visual for “Hold Up,” adorned in a fancy yellow dress and heels, Beyoncé walks through the streets using a bat to destroy cars, fire hydrants and stores while bystanders are either entertained or appalled. Satisfied with anger, using revenge as her motivator, Beyoncé smiles during her destructive journey. She is a one woman riot. She is unapologetic in her quest for justice.
Later in the film, as she sings to an audience of women in “Freedom” featuring Kendrick Lamar, she pronounces with conviction, “I can break chains all by myself.” The black woman’s role in the movement is defined by her strength, resourcefulness and resilience. This is illustrated through “6 Inches” which tells the story of a woman who works two jobs to stay ahead. With pride and honor, she positions herself as a valuable member of society through wealth accumulation.
There is hope. “So how are we supposed to lead our children to the future? Love.” A woman who professes her love for Jesus tells us that “L-O-V-E” is the only way. As Beyoncé demands freedom in the “hope” segment of Lemonade, we see a transition from emotionless stares to subtle smiles of hope. There is hope for our relationships that is birthed through our daughters. Images of young girls smiling and laughing indicate a brighter day is coming if our power is realized. “I’m a keep running, ’cause winners don’t quit on themselves.” Beyoncé sings this as young girls stand together like an army ready for the battle ahead. Freedom is offered as a solution. The quest for its ownership sparks action.
Although the songs are clothed in pain, anger and bitterness for a man who has taken a woman’s love for granted, once the garments are removed, you see a woman realizing her power to change the world. The anecdote is in your hands. Take what you have been given, create something amazing and then pass it along. This is Lemonade. Sister, pass me a glass.
This story was originally written for Walker’s Legacy.