Beyonce’s Bayou: In Formation with Serena Williams, Orishas & Black Feminism
Part I: Initial Thoughts
Thank you, Queen Bey. On April 23rd, Beyonce released her visual album “Lemonade” on HBO and sent social media into a frenzy. Think pieces and critiques were everywhere and a large majority of them made no sense at all. I made sure to take time, write notes and form coherent thoughts before I shared ANYTHING. Lemonade was such a heavy creation that rushed think pieces and articles couldn’t possible be valuable. Finally, I was able to figure out what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Here it is:
It goes without being said that I was not prepared for Lemonade at all. I joined about 15 other people in a lecture hall on my campus to watch what I thought was another Beyonce music video what instructions on what to do since we’d been in Formation for over a month. Girl… I was wrong. From the introduction, when Beyonce began humming on Pray You Catch Me, until the end when Formation rolled after the credits, my edges were in a constant state of distress. As the short film progressed, I still wasn’t sure what was happening!
After the viewing ended and I began to process what I’d just witnessed, I came to one conclusion: Lemonade, simply put, was for Black women by a Black woman.
We were in the front. We were joyful. We are communal…
We were hurting.
The Antebellum Blackness represented as a fruitful and content existence seemed oxymoronic when considering the state of Black women during this time period. Slave women are the most silenced and traumatic representations of southern Black women. It is a massive undertaking to sift through the forced silence regarding the physical, social and spiritual violence of slave women to locate the quiet of Black women’s endurance. In Lemonade, the trauma of slavery itself does not push the images of Black women in undeniably southern spaces forward. Instead, the antebellum south serves as a guiding point for Beyoncé to recognize the historical and cultural horrors of Black womanhood in the south, while reclaiming the survival techniques passed down over time.
All I can really say is that after watching Lemonade, something within me changed. I felt renewed. There was a new sense of motivation and I felt powerful. There were things to get done, and while I didn’t immediately know what they were, I left the viewing charged up and ready to take action. I don’t know if was the poetry, culture, emotional vulnerability, and cinematography that hadn’t yet finished marinating in my mind, even in my bones, but I knew something was changed.
Being a black girl is a unique experience that cannot be understood, translated, or replicated by any means. Outsiders can watch it, but they will never be able to grasp the fluidity of the intersectional experiences Black women have. It does not necessarily mean that we do not share experiences with other groups and other people, but that the experiences that we share are always influenced by who we are and many of our experiences are uniquely ours. For that reason, we are forever burdened with a feeling of otherness and a struggle to understand ourselves in a world that provides us with their own biased, racist understandings.
A couple months ago, I was watching the Netflix documentary, “What Happened Miss Simone?” I remember feeling anguish while watching Nina Simone and the progression of her internal conflicts, her desire to be free and her calling to help instill black pride in her people. I remember being haunted by thoughts of how her radicalness contributed to the downfall of her success. I felt sentiments after watching Lemonade. Beyonce’s admiration and unapologetic acknowledgement of her Blackness may come at a cost.
“Take one pint of water
Add half pound of sugar
The juice of eight lemons
The zest of half lemon
Pour the water from one jug
Then into the other
Strain through a clean napkin
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 it down
To her daughter
Black women spend lifetimes bending under the weight of corpulent lemons sown from the bitter realities of dispossession and disregard. The hatred of us is planted into the very soil and still, we make lemonade. We must. Because we’re needed. Because we have no choice. Because we’ve already been given the recipe. Because we are the recipe.
Our grandmothers—alchemists and magicians, Black farmers spinning gold from brittle straw—leave us something far more valuable than stolen inheritances: they leave us the key to our survival. Resilience. Strength. Magic.
Black Women & The Monolithic Black Experience
The discussion of who this short film was for has dominated the internet. Is it for Black women who practice Hoodoo? Is it for Black girls who listen to country music and rock? In short, it’s for ALL of us. There’s no monolith for the Black experience. If you don’t live in a certain place, you aren’t separated from Black culture. You are Black culture, inside and out. Whatever you do is Black culture. The reason? You’re Black as hell and it’s so damn beautiful. Black is so much more than being an afro-futurist or being “afrocentric”. Black culture is centered around an unprecedented amount of Black experiences. No one can tell you what it means to “Be Black”. You don’t have to be a mini Malcolm X or Rosa Parks to “Be Black”and Beyonce reminded many people of this by exploring a multitude of genres and scenarios throughout this album. You ain’t the only nigga out here that likes Migos and Anime. Don’t feel like you’tr alone. Baby, we are black.
This film was meant to empower Black women. It is FOR ALL Black women. It is ABOUT black women. It is reveled in BLACKNESS and WOMANNESS. Beyonce openly and fearlessly talked about topics that “polite” women aren’t supposed to talk about (her miscarriage, her menses, female sexuality, toxic masculinity etc). Beyonce talked about how shitty it is that women get blamed for their significant others’ infidelity and consequently, tend to blame themselves. Beyonce talked about how the bond between a mother and child is the greatest bond a woman can make in her life. Beyonce talked about how you can absolutely love someone and still steadfastly refuse to put up with their shit if they choose do wrong by you.
Lemonade reminded me that being black, and being a Black young woman, is nothing simple. It is a poetic existence, a happening ordained by a divine being. It showed me that everything I am, everything my grandmother was and mother is, is not only legitimate, but deliberate. Black women do not experience the things we experience because we are cursed, but because we are supposed to. Everything that we are is an advantage to us. Everything that we are is an accessory to our ability to move mountains and break barriers.
This was a quick debriefing to begin putting everything out into the open. I want to make sure that I discuss and understand Lemonade to best of my ability. To do so, I’m going to separate the posts into 3 parts. The next two parts will be more comprehensive and detailed. There is so much unpacking to do when breaking down what Lemonade was really about. In Part II, we’ll discuss cultural references such as the Mardi Gras Indians, Country Music, and Orishas along with the the importance of critiques and representation.