It was a given that not everyone was going to have the same positive reaction to Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” as we did. The singer has become quite the polarizing figure in the Black community (and beyond) and those outside the Beyhive haven’t forgotten her history of pushing anthems related to circumstances she knows nothing about — like when she wrote a song for all the “Single Ladies” after Jay Z liked it and put a ring on it.
It’s because of that past that many sipped their “Lemonade” without sugar and much more than a grain of salt, questioning whether the body of work was yet another example of the queen exploiting other women’s pain — infidelity, domestic violence, insecurity, police brutality — for her own material gain. It’s a criticism and inquiry that’s understandable. But what isn’t so easily understood is the call for artists like her to use their platform to elevate the concerns of the Black community, the specific plight of the Black woman, and then diss her when she does so, dismissing her answering of that call as a mere ploy to snatch the coins of the naive and downtrodden.
If we’re addressing Beyoncé’s latest album in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, the singer is actually late AF. Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012. Beyoncé and Jay Z rallied with Trayvon’s mother Sybrina Fulton in 2013. “Lemonade” debuted in 2016. I’m no mathematician, but on first glance four years doesn’t look like good timing to capitalize on someone else’s strife. Mike Brown was killed in 2014; the pain may have been fresh on his mother’s face in the visual for “Lemonade” but many of us have moved on from his death and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson in the last year and a half. Is it possible that instead of allegedly propping up these women for her own satisfaction, Beyonce was putting them in our face as an example that our work is not done; as a reminder that we can’t afford to forget?
I won’t pretend to know Beyoncé’s thought process while conceptualizing “Lemonade” — I’m still trying to process the project myself. But is there room for giving the artist the benefit of the doubt? Space to consider that, like many of us, Beyonce is somewhat late to the party but now fully awake and aware of the issues that are affecting our community and is no longer comfortable sitting on the sidelines as a spectator?
Be honest with yourself, how many rallies did you attend in 2012, 2013, 2014, or 2015? How long did it take you to realize the deaths of black men and women across the country at the hands of police officers and others weren’t isolated incidents? How many brothers and sisters had to lose their lives before you were motivated to action rather than observation? Just because Beyoncé has a bigger influence that most of us doesn’t mean her responsibility to address our issues is necessarily that much bigger than our own. Responsibility is relative. Maybe Beyoncé could’ve down more sooner, but couldn’t we all? The point is she’s doing it now, and whether or not her motivation is as altruistic as the most dedicated of fans would like to believe, she has us talking. She has them talking as well. Even if her work doesn’t spark a revolution or lead to a conviction for the killer of another black life, Beyonce’s project has, yet again, exposed just how real our fight is.
Piers Morgan attempted to use Beyonce’s words from 2008 against her in an op ed in which he quoted her response to a question about experiencing racism growing up and she answered,”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.” Her words may sound silly, but they were and are still very accurate. There’s a reason SNL did a skit on white people’s reaction to “Formation.” It truly was the day they realized Beyoncé was black — not “white people black,” you know the kind they tolerate, but a negro with Jackson 5 nostrils and baby hair not wisps. And that’s why people like the likes of Piers write things like this, “The new Beyoncé wants to be seen as a black woman political activist first and foremost, entertainer and musician second. I still think she’s a wonderful singer and performer, and some of the music on Lemonade is fantastic. 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.”
Let’s be real, Piers isn’t concerned with the mothers of slain black boys, he prefers the old Beyoncé because old Beyonce’s blackness wasn’t as in your face as it is today and now that makes white people uncomfortable. It’s her ability to do that with a one-hour special that makes it hard to not appreciate what she did with “Lemonade” and respect the fact that in the six years since she thought she was breaking down barriers as the top black female entertainer, she realized she’s still just an n-word in many’s eyes and can no longer stand on a pedestal as a chain-breaker while so many people who look like her continue to be bound by chains.
I can’t judge another woman’s journey. I’m just happy Beyonce finally arrived at the place she’s in right now and that she’s used her ability to cause all this conversation. If that makes her “that b-tch” than so be it, I’m just glad she’s finally got the world talking about something tangible that matters and before I judge her actions I need to assess by own.