When’s the first time you had lemonade? Not the artificial kind-but fresh squeezed, down home, hand-crafted, made with love lemonade? Wasn’t it refreshing? Wasn’t it like nothing you’ve ever tasted before? Didn’t you wonder how that person had managed to add just the right amount of sugar, the perfect amount of lemon juice? Didn’t it make you happy? And isn’t it strange how something so sweet and invigorating could be the product of something so pungent and bitter? Isn’t it crazy how things come together so beautifully when we let them?
Grandma’s lemonade, like Beyonce’s latest work of art, possesses a unique beauty and emotional power that quenches our thirst. And not “thirst” in the traditional sense. I mean it fills a void that we didn’t even know we had-or maybe we did. But whether we knew it or not, all we could seem to muster when we finally took that first gulp, was a long, cathartic Aaaahhhhhh.
“I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” -Hattie White (Jay Z’s Grandmother)
Where did we find the strength? How did we find it? I often wondered. From making meals from table scraps and birthing children we’d never see again, to becoming the backbone of the Civil Rights movement and the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs, Black women and girls have unique, and truly fascinating experiences. How did we do it? You know, make something bitter taste so sweet?
“You spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing, where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kitchen. Broke the curse, with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter, who then passed them down to her daughter.”-Beyonce’s Lemonade
Bey opens her visual album with one of my favorite songs, “Pray You Catch Me.” She’s alone. In a black hoodie. She’s paying homage to one of our angels-Trayvon Martin. She’s contemplating. She’s yearning to be seen. She repeats-
“I pray to catch you whispering, I pray you catch me listening…”
Later on in the album, she demands to know, “Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.”
She steps to the edge of a building, tears in her eyes. She jumps, still hoping he might catch her, that SOMEBODY, anybody might catch her. No one does. She plunges into a massive body of water. She was OK. She didn’t need anyone to break her fall. Not right now. She had to experience those emotions all on her own.
She emerges as a representation of the Yoruba goddess Oshun, the goddess of love, prosperity, fertility, and beauty.She is the goddess of sweet and fresh waters.
She is kind, and brings good cheer. Though difficult to anger, she does have a malevolent temper. And that’s OK.
“I tried to change, closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake. Fasted for 60 days, wore white, abstained from mirrors, abstained from sex. Slowly did not speak another word. I whipped my own back, and asked for dominion at your feet.” -Beyonce’s Lemonade
You see, it’s OK to be upset when someone’s done you wrong. As Black women, it often feels like we’re limited in the kinds of emotions we can express without being stuck with a pejorative label, or being viewed as a threat. No, I don’t recommend smashing your boyfriend’s car window in (and frankly I don’t think Beyonce does either), but it is certainly OK to FEEL things. We’re entitled to that. You don’t have to make yourself small in order to be loved.
Malcolm X’s speech played in the background, as we saw image after image of ordinary Black women on the streets of New Orleans staring at us through the lens. We were looking at our most precious natural resource. The providers, the care givers, the real mother(s) nature. Black women and girls, who were our protectors?
“When you hurt me, you hurt yourself. When you play me, you play yourself. Don’t play yourself. When you lie to me, you lie to yourself. When you love me, you love yourself. This is your final warning, you know I give you LIFE.” -Beyonce’s Lemonade
We sometimes felt abandoned by our men. Bey telling her lover he had better go find “Becky with the good hair,” hit home for a lot of Black women. The feeling of never being good enough, what a cumbersome burden to bear. We were so strong, yet so vulnerable. So bitter, yet so sweet.
My daddy used to tell me that little girls were made up of sugar, and spice and everything nice. I have to admit, I never stopped believing that. There’s no denying what an integral part my dad played and continues to play in my life. That’s also true for Beyonce and her father. Their relationship damaged by infidelity, divorce, and a few other things I’m sure we’ll never know about, Beyonce still craves that relationship with her father. It’s clear in her song “Daddy Lessons.”
While we know that little girls need their fathers, little Black girls are often robbed of that opportunity. Whether it be at the hands of police brutality, gang violence, divorce, separation, or the criminal “justice” system and systemic racism, the fact remains that Black girls are disproportionately affected. Blacks constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people incarcerated in America. Black girls are missing out. Perhaps we’re all just trying to fill that void.
“You remind me of my father, a magician, able to exist in two places at once.” -Beyonce’s Lemonade
Beyonce has always come off as a people pleaser-until now. Like the rest of us, she’s been on a journey. Playing it safe for most of her career, she has finally found her voice. Trading in the sequin covered leotards for all black, big hats, natural hairstyles and barely there makeup, Beyonce has re-emerged as herself-a Black girl from Texas. Someone we all know.
So how DO Black girls sweeten lemonade?
It’s simple. Each other.
One of my favorite parts of the visual album was Bey’s “Apathy” stage. She broke the movie down in parts, which I interpreted as the stages of grief, mourning or loss. Here’s what the “Apathy” stage looks like.
That’s right. Here, you can find Serena Jameka Williams, and Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter not giving a f*ck. You see, this is what makes this visual album so profound. Beyonce is making a special effort to showcase our (Black women and girls) humanity. Sure, Serena is the #1 female athlete in the world, but she also likes to drop it low with her girls in her free time, and who’s gonna check her boo?!
Sisterhood. The glue that holds us together. The thing that makes everything OK. The ability to call up your friends when you’re having a shitty day, and say, “Hey girl. Wanna go out?” She’s gonna say “yes” because she hears that thing in your voice, because she knows, because she’s been there-she’s your sister.
And everyone is invited. All of your sisters. Because they’ve been there too. They all know what rejection feels like. The pain. It’s there. We don’t even have to speak. But sometimes we do.
And when we speak, we tell each other our secrets, and we laugh and we cry, and we heal.
And we protect each other. We balance each other. We trust each other, not to hurt us, to never forsake us.
“Her heaven will be a love without betrayal.”-Beyonce’s Lemonade
And we find Heaven in each other. We find God in ourselves. We are what we’ve been looking for.
Beyonce invited Serena Williams, Winnie Harlow, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Leah Chase to the party. She invited Amandla Stenberg, Sybrina Fulton, and Lesley McSpadden to the party. She asked Glenn Carr, Blue Ivy, Zendaya, and Chloe and Halle Bailey to come along too. All faced with their own unique burdens, and subjected to their own unique criticisms, as Black women and girls, they understood that their journey was the same. So they gathered together to fellowship. Beyonce empowering them and herself simultaneously. The world could SEE them now.
“Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.”
Today, Blue Ivy’s hair wasn’t too nappy, Zendaya wasn’t “too white” or “too Black,” Winnie Harlow’s skin was beautiful, Quvenzhane made a perfect “Annie,” and Sybrina Fulton’s son Trayvon actually WAS an angel. They were home. They could be themselves. There was no shame. This was the power of sisterhood. They cleansed each others’ hearts, and minds and came out on the other side renewed.
And this is why Beyonce’s Lemonade is such an incredible body of work. The imagery, the lyrics, the clothing, all symbolic, all meant to express what it means to be a Black woman or girl, on a journey, simply living. To know that the power lies within, that love does conquer all, but most importantly love of self, and love of thy sister. To stand tall in the face of adversity, together, as one. All of the necessary ingredients in hand. So strong, yet so vulnerable. So bitter, yet so sweet. And that’s how Black girls sweeten our lemonade. (I Ain’t) sorry. There ain’t no recipe for that.