When I first heard about Beyoncé’s Lemonade, social media was abuzz
with gossip. All I saw were posts speculating if Jay Z cheated, or whether this
was all a ruse to get more people using Tidal, a music streaming site founded
by Beyoncé and Jay Z. I knew then I was in no rush to see Lemonade.
Beyoncé is a brand, I thought; it’s her job to keep us curious and engaged in
her content. The public knows nothing about Beyoncé’s life besides what she
wants us to know and even then, the public can only guess. What was going to be different about this album? All of a sudden she was going to share herself with all of us, revelations about her marriage, of all things? HA! Not a chance!
I’ll pass on that publicity stunt. When a good friend of mine invited me to a Lemonade listening party to watch and discuss the film among other women, I must admit thatI finally conceded to seeing what the hype was really about.
After experiencing Lemonade (and it is an experience) as a film and
an album, I saw less of a confession of fidelity to the public and more a
testimony to the complexity of a woman’s world; the acceptance of that world in all its seasons and forms. Yes, we had some confirmation that Jay Z and Beyoncé had marital problems, but in Lemonade we witness a woman’s perspective, exclusively. The three male features on the album, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, and James Blake, are nowhere to be seen in the film. Jay Z is also missing in action until the end and even then, does not utter a word. Lemonade is not about a man cheating; it is about a woman being, which is apparently much less exciting to the general public.
Beyoncé takes us through 11 states of emotion during Lemonade: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. I not only witnessed her expressions of those emotions, but my own as well. These emotions existed in me and they were just as powerful, dynamic, and colorful as she was in portraying them. From the shameless glee of denial to the absence of my own father’s sound advice, I saw Beyoncé provide a mirror to my own womanhood, as complex and messy as it can be. She told me it was okay, okay to be complex, to fall, to cry, to love… as long as I got back up. It was comforting to see her break
windows, swim in her own madness, become the tormented mistress herself, and heal her wounds in mother nature’s bath. My womanhood became a mosaic of experiences stuck in my throat, mixing with the tears on my face. She was not speaking to her own isolated existence but to all of us woman who exist on multiple realms of being at any given time. In Lemonade, Beyoncé shares a narrative of mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers
It was clear to all of us watching the film that day, among pie and lemonade, that this project was for us. The dancers were women, the poet featured in the film was a woman, the community of women gathered for the song “Freedom” were all women–Lemonade embodied the epitome of womanhood, down to the very end when we witness womanhood as a community effort. We were transported to a different time, a community of women living in wooden cabins surrounded by willow trees, as if in the deep South. A time when women ate together, laughed together, planted together, and unapologetically stood by each other’s side. The tears started up again as I knew so many women, myself included, who were striving for that sisterhood–-that utopia of women showing up for women, just because it was our pleasure to do so.
It says a lot about a society when a woman opens her mouth to speak her
truth—and all too many see is a man on her tongue. How did we miss the
positive symbolism of sisterhood and womanhood only to ask whether or not Jay Z is cheating? Jay Z remains voiceless in Lemonade for a reason. Do not be
confused: Beyoncé’s womanhood is the only muse here. Images of trees, the
ocean, the moon, fire, dirt, and sunlight were the only transitions Beyoncé
needed between songs to make it to the final track, “All Night.”
Just like she did not need a man to verify her process, I did not need a
confirmation of Jay Z’s marital commitment to be moved by her healing. All I
needed were other women who sat with me, crying, laughing, and snacking on
guacamole together, as we witnessed some facets of our own womanhood via the big screen. Lemonade is the space for a woman to be; and through
that vessel we too gain access to freedom.
Beyoncé speaks for all of us women who sometimes get tired, get sexy, get
defiant, get angry, get insecure, get heartbroken, get confused, but most of
all, must heal in order to keep moving forward. Lemonade is a
declaration that all of our emotions deserve space in a woman’s being, just as
Beyoncé gave herself an hour to explore visually and through an album without interruption of the male perspective. We as human beings and as women are allowed to be complex in our own way, but society has failed to recognize that. We are either bosses or we are worthless. We are either sexualized deviants or pure angels. We are men’s puppets or their nuisances. But we are so much more than that, and we have the right to declare and celebrate it.
This is Beyoncé’s Purple Rain. She cannot take the transparency, honesty, and inspiration back from our eyes. I am irrevocably inspired and can’t wait to see what comes out of me, when I too try to hold my womanhood in my own hands. What will she say? What drink will she personify? How many colors
can my womanhood paint me in one day? How many windows will she break? I think all of us should rise up to the challenge, and dive deep into our own womanhoodto see what we find, no matter how undefinably beautiful and complex it is. Because freedom is sweeter than Lemonade
The cassette danced around my mother’s Camry
To the percussion of a road that we weren’t on
Rattling like a world unhinged,
bursting from his plastic barriers
Begging to be rewound, studied,
captured in the black hands of a black girl in the backseat.
What a world to be in, I thought!
If purple raindrops of royalty could never stop,
the lightning must fly like lavender pedals.
He stayed by my side the rest of the trip
Until my mother asked for him, reaching back
the lyrics catapulting from her heart
Listen to this part,
she would say.
He kills it!
Contorting her fingers all over the steering wheel like guitar strings
Her voice and his riffs would wrap around the open road
and choke that empty space–
the miles between us and home
cracking the chains off my mother’s memory
Stretching her face to the place that many artists go once they
truly find themselves
I never forgot this praise dance for the downpour
This pull towards freedom
that my mom and him translated for me so early
in my artistic journey
That response to the calling
To find one’s self is not just for the sake of being comfortable in this world
But for the purpose to unravel into something more
Creative and Administrative Assistant to
Kevin Powell and BK Nation
I remember when I first saw the Facebook campaign supporting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. The Internet buzzed with a cry for women to be represented and to replace the face of patriarchy and racism. A Black woman at that! Talk about win-win. Let’s do it!
Upon further reflection: Do we really want to take up space on American currency? The same currency that many people of color don’t get to hold when they live below the poverty line? The same currency that recent college grads like me fight for to pay off our student loans? The same currency that causes bullets to fly in the streets when drug dealers conduct business? The same currency that didn’t help clear the water in Flint, Michigan? The same currency that went missing during the fundraising after Tamir Rice’s murder? Do we want to see the face of one of the most revolutionary activists and humanitarians on that dirty paper? No, thank you.
Spare me the symbolism America. This announcement came around the same time that police officer Peter Liang received community service and probation after killing an unarmed Black man in Brooklyn, New York. After hashtag after hashtag of memories and murders justified by a system meant to protect us. What about the symbolism of the current election in which pundits tell Hillary Clinton to smile more while responding to Donald Trump’s comments on his own penis?
Putting Harriet Tubman’s face on this America’s currency does not make me feel warm and fuzzy. It does not make me feel like America has heard me, my mothers, or my ancestors. It makes me feel cheap. Representation on money would mean a lot more if women received the same pay as men.
Department of Treasury: Please take those $20 bills to the community leaders who risk their lives and sanity every day to keep their communities thriving while confronting forces that work twice as hard to tear those same communities apart. Take those $20 bills and invest in quality education for ALL children that includes the Arts. Take those $20 bills and fund solutions to intractable problems like stopping the deconstruction of marginalized communities, mass incarceration, and sexual assault. Spend those $20 bills to honor people of color and the historical trauma that still plagues us.
Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill will provide a constant reminder of how much more work needs to be done. She will remind me that I cannot be distracted by peace offerings or symbols of an attempt to give women of color the credit for all that we did and that we put up with. She will remind me that I must continue to move our nation and our world toward freedom … by any means necessary.
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...