Eight black Canadian women dissect Beyonce's Lemonade

This week, Amanda Parris opens up her column for a dialogue with several black female artists and writers to express their thoughts on Lemonade.

Reactions ranging from memories of Black Lives Matter's protest to 'all the feels'

A scene from Lemonade, the 'visual album' accompanying Beyonce's latest music. (Beyonce.com)

When the short film that accompanies Beyonce's visual album Lemonadepremiered on HBO Saturday night, I was not watching. Although I am a self-described Beyonce fan, I was too deep in my mourning for Prince and wasn't ready to engage work by any other artist. But my decision to watch Purple Rain rather than Lemonade did not stop the text messages from friends, WhatsApp calls from family and my Twitter timeline from being flooded with reactions.

"It doesn't matter whether you are  Beyonce  or Rihanna , none of us are exempt from a racialized sexism that breaks bones and hearts.- Kim Katrin Milan, public speaker and writer

When I finally experienced Lemonade (it feels inaccurate to say 'watched' because it was indeed an experience) despite all of the hype, it was still shockingly emotional, deeply intimate and incredibly transformative. I immediately understood why so many black women in my life — beyond the usual Beyhive members — had responded so strongly.

As I witnessed the numerous reviews, articles and panels emerge in the days following, I grew increasingly disturbed by the lack of black women included in a conversation that to me is undoubtedly and ostensibly about black women. In Canadian media, beyond the brilliant insights of Sajae Elder for Noisey and Dr. NailaKeleta Mae for both The Fader and CBC's q, little space has been made for black women in Canada to express their perspectives and responses. So this week, I have decided to open my column up for a dialogue with several black female artists and writers based in Canada to express their thoughts on Lemonade.


Did you like it? Are you a fan of Lemonade?

"I don't think what I experienced and continue to experience with Lemonade is about like or dislike.  I know that I've been allowed to witness something very powerful that continues to resonate with me as a black-bodied woman. I would say more accurately that I have immense respect for this political/artistic work. I would also say that it gave me 'all the feels,' and those 'feels' weren't always comfortable to engage with. I was moved, profoundly moved." — Afrakaren, spoken word artist and critical thinker

"I love Lemonade…. She has elevated the album into a visual artform with an authorship that black women in all industries are consistently denied. I'm also listening to, and open to, the critiques shared by other black women including femmes like Ashleigh Shackelford who have noted the absence of women of size and the ways that they remain absent from beautiful depictions like these. Enjoying the work should not prohibit us [from] remaining open and responsive to dialogue with our sisters about their representation in the art that we uphold and celebrate." — Kim Katrin Milan, public speaker and writer

A lot of this visual album is specific to a very particular African American, southern U.S. context. However there were also numerous connections to the African diaspora beyond the borders of the U.S. How did Lemonade and its use of diaspora connect to your own Canadian experience as an artist/lover of art?

"This idea of speaking to the space I hold as a diasporic-afrikan woman whose Trinidadian parents immigrated to and chose Canada as the birthplace of their first offspring is not even a consideration at this moment. I feel, as much as I understood the very African American context of what I was engaging with, that my Canadian-ness disappeared. I think that's the impact: all the ways in which the lines of diasporic black womanhood intersected and blurred together and created this black female nation of personhood that I could feel myself a citizen of. It felt like I opened a letter addressed to me directly, asking that I be part of and bear witness to something exclusively meant for 'us.' It was more than a feeling of being reflected; it was an invitation to spirit. I felt part of a literal coven of #blackgirlmagic." — Afrakaren

"I actually believe that Beyonce touched upon themes that are central to the black woman's experience at a universal level: invisibility, heartbreak, gendered racism, being voiceless, etc. One primary aspect of this album that I thought was most interesting was Beyonce's brief usage of food to sum up the black woman's experience. After her performance of "Freedom" — which I actually think is the most important song on the album — Beyonce discusses [Jay-Z's] grandmother. She shows [Hattie's] 90th birthday, in which she eludes to a life of hardship before declaring, 'Life gave me lemons, and I made lemonade.' Beyonce discusses the magic her mother made in the kitchen; recipes of healing made by the magic of her fingertips in the only space safe for her grandmother, which she passed down through generations." — Huda Hassan, journalist and researcher

The cover of Beyonce's new visual album, Lemonade. (Beyonce.com/HBO)

"I find her work to embrace both black diaspora as well as transnational blackness. Her use of the Orishas (including Oshun) and ancestors (Egungun) speaks to this black diaspora/transnational blackness. Beyonce speaks of initiation when she states 'Fasting for 60 days, wearing white, abstaining from mirrors and sex.' This is definitely about Orisha initiation in the diaspora (in Nigeria, with the Yoruba, it's 93 days in white or, like me, a lifetime of white clothes). I am a Jamaican born Canadian — black queer femme — Ifa priest (Female Babalawo). My academic research and my spiritual practice embodies black diaspora and transnational blackness." — OmiSoore H. Dryden, PhD, assistant professor, Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Thorneloe University
 


What does Lemonade say to you about the way black female artists explore their own pain and healing as opposed to when it is explored by artists that are not black and female?

"Lemonade just proves once again that black women are the only ones who have any business talking about black women. Lemonade was a piece of art that shared the experience of black womanhood, and challenged the viewer to pay attention. It demanded for the screams of black woman to be heard, it called for black women to be seen, it was black women belonging to themselves. Our ability to be fearlessly vulnerable in our exploration of ourselves in the midst of relentless attacks is remarkable but also why Lemonade is so poignant — Vulnerability As A Weapon." — Alicia Bunyan-Sampson, writer and director

There were key moments in Lemonade that went straight to my heart, forcing me to lean back and exhale. Was it like that for you, too? What were those moments and what did they feel like?

"One of the times Beyonce really hit me with that gut punch was when she says, 'Her heaven will be a love without betrayal.' The first thing that came to my head was wow, is love so unattainable for black women that we can only picture truly being treated and loved the way we want to be in the afterlife? Is it so unattainable that we just settle for the best we can do while on this earth? Do we not deserve more…NOW? This leads into the song and visuals for 'I Ain't Sorry,' which is one of my favourite tracks because as a black woman I am forever apologizing for stuff. This track had me saying 'YES, B! I ain't sorry.'" — Paulina O'Kieffe, artist and educator



 

"Beyonce has publicly spoken about her miscarriage in the past, but the mention of the 'mother of my children, both living and dead' affirmed for me the way I still carry that, and the complex interplay of love and loss. I don't want to assume necessarily that this journey is all highly personal. I love that she is not an artist who interviews about her work. She wants it to be open to interpretation, she wants us to find ourselves there. She has left hidden messages specifically for black women in stories only we know, experiences only we share — 'In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and you lie to me.'

The interweaving of [poet Warsan Shire] and Bey's prose says so much of what we as black girls and women have always known, 'that we are terrifying, strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love.' That sexism is much deeper, it doesn't matter whether you are Beyonce or Rihanna, none of us are exempt from a racialized sexism that breaks bones and hearts. For me it felt less about the cheating, but more about the betrayal, and knowing that I share this connection forged across the diaspora, a call and response around a kind of sadness that we as black women bear." — Kim Katrin Milan

Did you see Lemonade as a meditation on black love? 

"Lemonade to me explores what it means to move through love while black. Lemonade addresses the weight and thickness of emotional trauma often felt and experienced by black women through legacies of racism, state-based violence and betrayal. Lemonade looks at the love of a black woman for her children, the redemption and reformative aspect loving can have in spite of the weight of black trauma. The juxtaposition of images of black girlhood and loving while carrying the trauma, Lemonade to me explores the painful journey of outgrowing black girlhood."  — Yasmine Mathurin, journalist and producer

"All I thought about while watching Lemonade was black love. But a black love that I never knew I needed to know and see.  The world consumes my sisters and I, in a myriad of ways and often, too often, black men participate in that consumption. That consumption, that exploitation of our love, our being is a special kind of betrayal. I don't speak about this; I don't think most black women speak about it, because of how precious black men are to us. We know how cruel the world is to black men, because it is that much crueler to us. But I suppose we have grown accustomed to pain? We put their lives above our own, and silently scream our pain somewhere else.

But despite this, I know I will always protect, support and love black men. And that is a complicated and draining relationship. Lemonade flipped that idea for black women, and it is so important. It dismantled the idea that we must be the vessels of pain for black men. It acknowledged black women. We were seen and arms were extended. It celebrated black women and our tribe of sisterhood — Lemonade is black love." — Alicia Bunyan-Sampson
What did the inclusions of Sybrina Fulton, Lesley McSpadden and Gwen Carr, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner respectively, invoke for you as a black woman living in Canada?

"As a black mother who just recently had to explain to my daughter at a protest who the people on a Black Lives Matter TO banner were and what happened to them, the inclusion of these women represented many things to me. On one hand it is a grim reminder to me as [a] mother that I have to be diligent in preparing my children for any number of obstacles they may have to overcome due to the anti-black nature of systems of oppression. It means I have to have the conversation about police brutality against black bodies with my four-year-old.

On the other hand, this scene also solidifies for me the strength that comes from being part of this community, particularly the sisterhood of black women. We don't let one another mourn alone, heal alone, go through it alone. We find ways to connect in times of joy and sadness and anger and healing. Whether these women are from the U.S. or Canada, a black mother is a black mother and all I think about is how easily that could be me holding up a picture of my son or daughter in the near future. So it hits me, anti-blackness knows no border, and those women's pain is my pain. Their healing is my healing, so as women we all need to work to uplift one another because in essence we are uplifting ourselves in the process." — Paulina O'Kieffe

"For me, I saw the friends and family of Wade Lawson, Jermaine Carby, Andrew Loku, and so many others. I saw BLMTOtentcity.  I saw how we have protested in the streets for decades. I was reminded about how much I love our communities and my continued commitment to do what I can to effect change — both on the streets and in the classroom. I was reminded by the love of black women, how deeply we love, the scars we carry, and our ability to keep moving forward." — OmiSoore H. Dryden

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