Last weekend, Beyonce released her highly anticipated album Lemonade. In just a few short days, the twelve-song short film (which I’m sure was strategically released to make her eligible for the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars) has generated countless think pieces, memes, reactions and debates. Most of these debates—which I won’t give the dignity of naming here—are based in oppressive structures that work to continue the silencing of black women’s experiences of pain and overdue celebration of our complex intersecting identities (black, women, queer, Muslim, etc.). However, there is one legitimate piece of critique I have read—that Lemonade renders fat black women invisible—that prompts me to unpack the privilege and responsibility of representation.
"The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman."
Lemonade is bursting with political messaging and has clearly been interpreted in a number of ways by many. But as a black, African, cisgendered, thin, able-bodied woman, the most potent message I saw in Lemonade was the pressing need for black female solidarity. Black women (bearing the weight of sexism, racism, and other oppressive structures) make endless sacrifices for their families and communities daily, yet are undeservingly degraded, violated and humiliated. Oftentimes, this is done in comparison to women of other races in order to make us feel inferior for our uniquely black characteristics (our “bad” hair, dark skin, big lips…you get the idea). Lemonade was about more than just Beyonce’s marital strife. It was that realization that every black woman will come to at some point in her life: that nobody is protecting us and it’s time we took care of ourselves, together. I felt that Beyonce was able to convey this very strongly and beautifully while incorporating many other creatives of the African diaspora.
But did Beyonce represent every black woman? No, not at all. I think that is nearly an impossible task and to hold anyone to that standard is impractical. I agree that it would have been incredibly powerful to include all those that were left out, especially since Lemonade is being described as a universal black female anthem. But it’s not universal and it shouldn’t have to be. It is only one of many diverse stories black women have to share.
What we need to question is who has the privilege to share their stories and is it their responsibility to speak for those more marginalized?
I won't pretend to have the answers to that question. Privilege is a complicated thing and those that are afforded the privilege to speak out need to do so with as much consciousness and humility as possible. But, personally, I would refrain from expecting any other person to speak for me. Nobody can tell your story but you. And in the spirit of Lemonade, it’s up to each and every one of us to create a space where all our stories are heard, welcomed and valued.