Freedom and Black womanhood in Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Image from Beyoncé's HBO special, Lemonade. 

Image from Beyoncé's HBO special, Lemonade

“somebody/ anybody sing a black girl's song bring her out to know herself”

-Ntozake Shange, from for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf

Today, I find myself in tears before my computer screen—because Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, is the stunning ode to Black womanhood that Shange called for and that I desperately needed.

Her latest body of work has challenged my peers and I to reexamine our Black girl-and-womanhood in the most glorious and painful ways. Issues I’ve tried to bury deep within myself have suddenly been washed ashore. In Lemonade, Beyoncé stands in the water with a line of powerful women—and together, we’re forced to confront the tides of ourselves we’ve kept at bay for years.

There is so much I’ve tried to forget.

I tried to forget the unspoken tensions between my mother and me growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. I was never my mother’s light creamy complexion. I didn’t have her model-like limbs. My kinky hair paled in comparison to her strands of silk. I tried to forget the pain this caused me growing up. But when Beyoncé speaks the powerful words of poet Warsan Shire, “You look nothing like your mother, you look everything like your mother,” a wound re-opened.

There with Shire’s poetry, as Beyoncé played in her daughter’s afro, I realized I never fully healed. I saw the face of every stranger who’s ever said, “Wow, is that your mother? She’s so beautiful! You two barely look alike.” See, here in the South the adoration of “Becky with the good hair” runs deep—but where does a brown girl lament when the archetype is your mother, or your sister or your close friend?

I tried to forget my ex-lover who with his indiscretions and insecurities almost killed me. I became someone I no longer recognized as I pelted raw eggs at his house during a summer thunderstorm. I remember sobbing in his arms like a child and yelling, “You did this to me!”

My father who loved me and despised him warned me of his foul ways, while not understanding that I would hold this beautiful, brown man’s face close to mine at night and whisper, “You remind me so much of daddy.” They both had the uncanny ability to lie to me and charm their way back into my good graces.

In "Daddy Lessons," as Beyoncé belts her father’s advice, “When trouble comes to town and men like me come around, oh my daddy said shoot” I could no longer escape my disappointment. We rarely talk about how Black fathers influence Black girls and women in their love lives. But Lemonade boldly pushes us to confront the hypocrisy of our father’s infidelities and/or absences in order to heal.

Nothing expresses this raw emotion more than the lyrics of Sorry, when she croons, “Big homie better grow up.” She is sending a message to all of us that Black women are for grownups and we refuse to be the mules of the world any longer.

I tried to forget my complicated relationship with the traditional Black church. How I rarely feel my connection as a Black woman centered in our sacred practices despite that fact that we dominate those sacred spaces.

Lemonade did not fail in vivid visuals that made me quickly remember the interconnectedness of Yoruba based faiths and that “old time religion” I’d hear my great grandmother sing so intently about. I felt a spiritual renewal as I watched those breathtaking Black women march one by one in their white attire into the river.

The message which is both ancient and relevant is that rebirth for the Black woman happens through deeply understanding our divine connection to our mothers, sisters, daughters and selves. Shire’s words ring strong as Beyoncé and the women she stands with are baptized: “If we're gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.” This is a reminder that Black women are nation-builders who can move any mountain, even the ones inside of ourselves, when we put our narratives at the center of our healing spaces.

Lemonade tells us not to forget. It tells us to remember and to share with one another. It puts the lives of Black women at its core and it documents our struggle to gain liberation from the ideals dominant white society places on us. Beyoncé tells us that her story is interchangeable with ours and that the fight to be our full selves is ongoing for every single one of us. Through history and still today, Black women’s families, politics, and esteem are under constant attack. Beyoncé knows this. And with Lemonade, she challenges us to go inward and critique what society has tried to make us believe.

She challenges that which we’ve been taught to forget.

Do we have to hide our politics around Black womanhood to be accepted?

Or can we be forthright about the way intersectionality shapes perceptions of our lives?

Do we have to reject the erotic to garner respect? Or can we openly admit our inner most desires?

Do we have to turn a blind eye to the lies of the men in our lives? Or can we challenge them to grow up?

Do we have to be strong, Black women? Or can we be vulnerable and demand our children stop being murdered in the street?

Somewhere there's a young, Black girl struggling with self-assurance who needs to know that our skin and hair in all varieties is beautiful, Black love will always be Black wealth and that Black girls and women never have to suffer in silence.

Beyoncé gave us a timely reminder that our emancipation doesn't have to fit others’ equation. That we can’t forget our power, no matter how much society tells us to. Instead, we should get in Formation—and use it.