At a recent screening of Greenleaf in New York City, a new show slated to appear on OWN TV this summer, Oprah stated “The way you break down barriers in a society that doesn’t see you as human is show your humanity.” That quote was the first thought that came to mind after watching the debut of Beyonce’s latest visual album, Lemonade.
I should qualify that: The first coherent though that came to mind, because for a good 10 minutes after the experience —Lemonade isn’t just a visual album, it’s an experience — I couldn’t find the thoughts, let alone the words to express what I felt. I was overcome with emotion, emotion I didn’t expect to feel watching something the world had been talking about for a good 18 hours before I decided to see “what they talking ’bout?”
Yes, I’m in the small minority (maybe 1% of human beings) who is not in the Beyhive and so I didn’t rearrange my Saturday night to watch Beyonce’s HBO special; after watching it in the middle of the day Sunday afternoon I wish I had. I wasn’t prepared for the inundation of sorrow and pride I simultaneously felt during those 58 minutes, and though I’d been given a heads up about the subject matter, thanks to an array of memes poking fun at Jay Z, the chatter on social media doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what Lemonade truly is.
It only took the visual of Beyoncé walking down the street singing “they don’t love you like I love you” for tears to well up in my eyes. The only explanation I’ve conjured up for that is that my head was in Beyoncé mindset — the album not to person. I was expecting the woman who’d bragged about sitting her ass on her man and showing him how she felt to pick up where she left off, drunk in love so to speak, but here was a woman screaming about wicked ways to treat a girl who loves you.
I wept. I wept for myself; for my mother, for my aunts, for my best friend, for all the women who’ve worked overtime to please the men in their lives, only to experience the “wicked” betrayal of infidelity. The women who’ve sized themselves up against the other woman and proclaimed “ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks” as a result of “men who are also wolves.”
But the tears didn’t stop there, because the pain of reliving past romantic hurt didn’t compare to the way hearing Malcolm X say “the most disrespected woman in America is the black woman, the most unprotected woman in America is the black woman, the most neglected woman in America is the black woman” stung. This was bigger than a man, this was men. Hell, I even had to ask myself when Beyoncé questioned, “are you a slave to the back of his head,” whether I was thinking about my husband or my father, as she also posited.
But the beauty of this album and its accompanying visuals is that it’s not a man-bashing project, it’s a piece of art that celebrates the resilience of black women, the fullness of the experience of ones for whom “the audience applauds but we can’t hear them.” In a way, Beyoncé has created a new face for the double-edged trope of the strong black woman. The woman who is simultaneously not just the tangential mule of the world, but of the men in our very own lives: the ones we call father and lover. The ones who figuratively kill us with their transgressions and whom we still love through the pain that leads them to hurt us like they do. The ones who make lemonade out of lemons, not because they don’t feel and hurt, but because they seek healing and know they their worth — and that of the men around them.
Those are the women I wept for during those 58 minutes when I saw myself in Beyoncé for the first time ever. When I felt for once that Serena Williams and I had something in common. When I was filled with an overwhelming sense of pride realizing Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg, Winnie Harlow, and Quvenzhané Wallis and I are in this together. When I felt “Hope” that the millions of men and women around the world who were watching this right along with me and who weren’t double minorities were finally seeing Black women; seeing me.
In slightly less than an hour, Beyoncé deconstructed the myth of the black superwoman while showing everything that does make us super human: a subset of society simultaneously defined and undefined by the way in which we bear the brunt of the pain and usher in the redemption of it. Beyoncé brought visibility to the invisible. She made a path for others to say “I see your daughters and I see their daughters” with the subtle rawness of Lemonade and all I can say is thank you because it’s true, “a winner don’t quit on themselves.” And for once, I think the world might finally see that black women, in all of their ups and downs, are those winners.