I learned about being a black woman from my mother. The secrets of black womanhood were written into the shape of her brown eyes, buried in the kink and softness of her curls, coursed through the playfulness of her hips and the strength of her stride. My mother purposefully shared with me the joys of being a black girl- dancing to Stevie singing about sunshine on vinyl, braided hair that could survive the summer, books that reflected my face back to me. She taught me to love the laughing sound. Music. Poems. History. Literature. She wanted me to know it all; she wanted me to know myself.
But it wasnt long before she had to tell me that most of the world could not see the beauty of blackness. Our beauty is a secret not shared with the world. She asked me to gently turn over my name. Austin. And I realized on the other side a long line of white men, some other bodies too, but mostly white men. She wanted to keep the secret of my identity safe. Wanted others to know my list of accomplishments, activities, anything I chose to write on a page, before the secret was revealed. Constantly walking the line between being honest with me and her urge to protect me, she tried to give me a fighting chance in a racist, sexist world.
She knew about lemons. She tried to protect me from their sour taste for as long as she could.
"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" should be much too cliche for a woman like Beyonce. It has been said too often, too flippantly. But in the hands of Beyonce's artistry, it renews its depth. Beyonce doesnt shy away from life's sour taste as a black woman. She takes us on a journey. Intuition, denial and anger become apathy and emptiness. Accountability and reformation fill the space. Forgiveness breaks into resurrection, hope and redemption. We are left with a Beyonce we're just getting to know in Formation. We witness the journey on the edge of our seats most explicitly through her relationship with Jay.
Much will be written about infidelity and who is she and what possessed Rachel Roy to even suggest she is the one with the good hair, and me thinks some of you owe Rachel Ray an apology. But truth be told, Im not all that interested in those details. I am far more captivated that Beyonce reflected back to me the emotional journey of a black woman being hurt by a black man. I know that pain. Heartbreak is all around us. Heartbreak exists beyond the boundaries of black relationships for sure. My point here isnt to make heartbreak exclusive, its to make exclusive the unique pain of trying to find and hold onto love in the midst of a society that doesnt love you. A society that doesnt see you. A society that worships Becky, that holds her with care, that believes in her innocence. that has convinced itself her appropriation of blackness is wholly creative and original. A society that thinks Becky is better than you.
Its really hard to put back together a broken heart in a world that derives pleasure from black women being treated inhumanely. Though Beyonce gives us a window into what that means for her and Jay, she does not stop there. She gives us the faces of black women who have been publicly and viciously dehumanized. She visualizes their humanity. Twerking and still. Looking fierce and soft, playful and serious. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Playing in each others hair. Beyonce plays with subtly and boldness as she sometimes whispers and sometimes screams, "I see you. I am you."
She makes it clear that she is not God. She literally, spells that out for us, as she places the depth of her humanity on display and dares us to attempt to turn away.
As she moves from her raw emotions into the search for accountability, I am struck by the ways she centers the black woman's relationship with her mother, her father, her grandparents and her home. She acknowledges the heartbreak and complication of seeing your mothers heartbreak, mistreatment, and pain. She explores the intricacy of recognizing how your father had "his arms around your mothers neck" while also desiring his daughters kisses. She returns to the woods, gardens, water. She returns to the words and wisdom of our grandmothers. "Life served me lemons. But I made lemonade."
Beyonce brings home for us in that moment, that the lemons a black woman swallows are altogether different, and have always been. The bitter fruit. The strange fruit. We have had to bear. The "lemons" in the life of a 90 year old black woman are not just a couple bad days. I dont know her story, but the truth is I could probably guess. White supremacy is awfully predictable and consistent. Her sweet voice smiles and says she made lemonade; my eyes fill with tears. Is there anything sweeter than a black woman who has survived it all?
My thoughts, my interpretation of Lemonade is ongoing. I have much to process as I drink in specific songs like Sorry and Freedom. I have only just begun to think about the Church and its relationship to blackness. I cannot get the mothers of the slain out of my head. Im still thinking about art and vulnerability. About middle fingers and honesty. About the power of anger and the meaning of forgiveness. I can still hear Malcolm's voice in my head. Im still thinking about the healing power of sisterhood. I think there will be more processing, more writing from me. But for now, I just want to say to my sisters, to my mothers, to my grandmothers- I love you. I love abiding with you.
And I love being a black woman who is served lemons but has been given an intergenerational recipe for making lemonade.
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