Black Women… Beyonce’s Lemonade

lemonade.B

I just watched Lemonade, and before I can get into my first reactions to this musical film, I need to get one thing off my chest:

formation

Fuck Jay Z & fuck forgiveness.

Okay… now I can begin.

“Formation” marked a turn to Beyonce’s image and career. As she fearlessly proclaimed and reclaimed her Blackness, and stood up for the dignity of Black women and Black lives, she carved a new place for herself as an artist.

Two months later, she brings us Lemonade. A film. A musical. An album. An invitation into Beyonce’s most vulnerable self, and a love letter to Black women’s past, present and future, it’s both heartbreaking and beautiful. Visually, it’s breathtaking, lyrically it poetically justifies Beyonce as an artist who’s untouchable and constantly redefining herself. Lemonade transitions Beyonce from a sexy pop icon, to a deeply refined artist.

Before yesterday, we didn’t know what Lemonade was going to be. I don’t think any of us were prepared to have Jay Z’s infidelity confirmed and detailed in this visual album. Lemonade reveals the darker side to the Carter’s marriage. A marriage that has always been posed as sexy and powerful has been uncovered as deeply flawed, and, quite frankly, trope-ish . Even Beyonce, with all of her beauty and significance, hasn’t been able to escape the tradition of men stepping out on their wives over and over     again. Beyonce’s response to her pain is raw, complicated, and whether or not I approve of her “final warning,” it’s honest.

beyonce.lemonade

But is this solely an album about Beyonce and Jay Z’s less than perfect marriage? It’s easy to get lost in the devastating details Beyonce lays out for us. Comparing  J to her daddy, recalling the various women she’s seen in her hallways, along with the sleepless nights waiting for him to come home or return her phone calls, we feel sad for Beyonce. Not because her vulnerabilities have exposed her weaknesses, but because they reveal something we’ve never truly seen from her: human pain.

B.old.future.gif

In the song, “Anger,”  we hear Malcolm X summing up the reality of Black women:

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.

While these powerful words most certainly can be directed to Jay Z’s treatment of Beyonce, it doesn’t stop there. Later in the album/film, we also see the Black mothers who have been disrespected by our judicial system. In “Resurrection,” women hold photos of Black men who have died. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, Gwenn Carr, mother of Eric Garner, and Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, are shown holding photographs of their murdered sons.  Their presence in the film is significant, because it brings to light the Black women who have often been forgotten and silenced in the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement: the Black mothers.

In the forefront of infidelity, shameless behavior and the systemic mistreatment of Black women, we see the other women. Not the women J’s been creeping with, and not only the women who’ve been mistreated, but the women standing next to, behind, and before Beyonce. Black women– in all of our pretty shades of brown and beige– stand, sit, dance together.They hold hands with each other. They look out for each other. They hold each other. These women are from our past, these women are from our now, these women are our future. I find these women to be the lemonade made from the lemons of our realities.

holding.hands.gif

 

 

 

Favorite Quotes from Danticat’s Create Dangerously

 

First book of 2016 📖✊🏾… #CreateDangerously #edwidgedanticat #womenwriters #bookstagram #caribbeanwriters

A photo posted by ShesGotTheMic (@shesgotthemic) on

 

Edwidge Danticat’s collection of essays, Create Dangerously, was gifted to me a few years ago, but I wasn’t ready for  it yet. There’s always a time and place for certain books, and my time for Create Dangerously was the beginning of 2016. It’s been a month and a half since I read this powerful book, and I continue to go back to particular passages. Below are some of those passages that I found most striking.

On Why There are No Writers in Her Family

“Perhaps there are no writers in my family because they were not allowed to or could barely afford to attend a decrepit village school as children. Perhaps there are no artists in my family because they were silenced by the brutal directives of one dictatorship, or one natural disaster after another. Perhaps, just as Alice Walker writes of her own forebears in her essay ‘In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,’ my blood ancestors—unlike my literary ancestors—were so weather-beaten, terror-stricken, and maimed that they were stifled. As a result, those who somehow managed to create became, in my view, martyrs and saints” (14).

On Offending Others

In response to being accused of exploiting her culture for money, Danticat writes, “Anguished by my own sense of guilt, I often reply feebly that in writing what I do, I exploit no one more than myself. Besides, what is the alternative for me or anyone else who might not dare to offend? Self-censorship? Silence?” (33)

On Memory and Forgetting

“There are many ways that our mind protects us from present and past horrors. One way is by allowing us to forget. Forgetting is a constant fear in any writer’s life. For the immigrant writer, far from home, memory becomes an even deeper abyss. It is as if we had been forced to step under the notorious forgetting trees, the sabliyes, that our slave ancestors were told would remove their past from their heads and dull their desire to return home. We know we must pass under the tree, but we hold our breath and cross our fingers and toes and hope that the forgetting will not penetrate too deeply into our brains.

But what happens when we cannot tell our own stories, when our memories have temporarily abandoned us? What is left is longing for something we are not even sure we ever had but are certain we will never experience again” (65).

On the Duality of the Immigrant Experience

“One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you. The language you were born speaking and the one you will probably die speaking have no choice but to find a common place in your brain and regularly merge there. So too with catastrophes and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances” (112).

Quoting Jean Michel Basquiat on Cultural Memory

“‘I’ve never been to Africa. I’m an artist who has been influenced by his New York environment. But I have a cultural memory. I don’t need to look for it, it exists. It’s over there, in Africa. That doesn’t mean that I have to live there. Our cultural memory follows us everywhere, wherever you live.’” (132).

On Creating Dangerously

“I am even more certain that to create dangerously is also to create fearlessly, boldly embracing the public and private terrors that would silence us, then bravely moving forward even when it feels as though we are chasing or being chased by ghosts” (148).

 

Getting Into Formation with EXTRA Black Beyonce

formation

I’m not part of the Beyhive. I’ve followed Beyonce since the “No, No, No”era, but haven’t praised every move she’s made. During this 19 year distant relationship, I’ve freely critiqued artistic choices she’s made along the way, while dancing my ass off to many of her songs (I used to clear the dance floor for “Crazy In Love.”) There have been moments (i.e. when she culturally appropriated herself into Coldplay’s music video) when I’ve wished she’d use her talent and her fame differently. And when I say differently, I mostly mean that I wish she’d called us to get into Formation a long time ago. But, I won’t sulk about how long it took her to get here. In fact, I think her timing of being unapologetically EXTRA Black (hot sauce bag, swag) and EXTRA proud (you mix that Negro with that Creole makes a Texas bama) is appropriate. We needed this.

Whatever the reason is behind her shying away from race politics in the past, I’m glad she showed up. My students look up to her, and so do many people of all ages. And whether it’s right or not, celebrities have the platform when it comes to naming what matters. They are the ones archiving our voices and concerns. In this video, Beyonce puts her stamp on many important things that matter, but have been ignored or mocked:

  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Black Lives
  • Police Brutality
  • Baby hairs & Afros
  • Long braids, colored wigs, and many other creative Black hairstyles
  • Cornbread(s) & collars greens

And, now, at the club, tons of Black women who’ve been hiding behind their Negroness- because that’s what we’ve been taught to do- will be proudly be shouting, “I like my Negro nose/ with Jackson Five nostrils,” and that’s fly. #BlackPower

 

Ted Talk: The Consciousness Gap In Education

Yesterday, I wrote about my current experience addressing race and equity with teachers. Today, after watching this Ted Talk, I was reminded why I do this important work.

When you do work that is resisted by others, it’s easy to wonder what’s the point. I’m always grateful for those who have done this work longer than me, and who are around the corner affirming those of us following their trail.

“The Consciousness Gap in Education – An Equity Imperative: Dorinda Carter Andrews at TEDxLansingED”

On Going THERE with Teachers: Discussing Race & Equity in the Classroom

It’s been six months since transitioning from the classroom to administration, and its been a welcomed challenge. One of my responsibilities as the Director of School Culture is providing training for teachers on culturally relevant pedagogy. As a nation, we lack the ability to address race responsibly, and this is also terribly true in the field of education.

Brown and Black students make up 50% of students enrolled in public schools, while more than 80% of teachers are white (National Study for Education Statistics). The culture gap is intense, and while some people try to act like it doesn’t matter (kids are kids, right?), some folks are trying to respond to the varying cultures that coexist within the classroom, and the disconnections that take place because the cultural differences aren’t usually addressed. I’m one of the educators trying to address the culture gap, and I’m currently doing so with the teachers I work with. While I love this work, am dedicated to this work, and predict it will be a part of my work for a long time, it’s also difficult, and, takes a lot of work. Discussing race is provocative enough to elicit interest, but can also cause a lot of discomfort for people who aren’t willing to go THERE.

race.conversation

As a teacher, when I’d describe someone as white or Black for the first time, my students would perk up, and without a doubt, someone would say “oooooh that’s raaaacciiiiist.” Of course, I’d unpack that statement, and by the end of the year, we had a shared lexicon when addressing race, but I was always surprised that my nine and ten year olds had already learned to be uncomfortable when simply describing someone’s race.

I experience similar reactions when discussing race with adults. I think this is because of two reasons:

1. Most of us haven’t been supported with how to discuss race responsibly and        authentically (political correctness has altered our authentic voice).

2. Because of America’s history, discussing race requires that we go THERE, and going THERE is not always a welcomed destination.

Where is THERE, you ask? You know, THERE—that frightening place where we must confront, own, and shift our own biases. Whether you have a nuanced perspective on the politics of race, or have never thought about race, going THERE with a mixed group of people with different perspectives on and experiences with race is tough. Going THERE may result in people feeling uncomfortable at best, but defensive and angry at worst. I say uncomfortable at best, because even if discomfort isn’t an easy feeling to sit in, it is a learning feeling. When we’re most uncomfortable, we’re experiencing the potential to learn, and, hopefully, shift our practice.

Discomfort, however, must be followed with reflection. Otherwise we fall into simply feeling uncomfortable and defensive, and those feelings don’t shift perspectives. When I’m most uncomfortable, I try to question my discomfort and dig deeper- why am I feeling uncomfortable? Do I feel uneasy because I need to confront and/or change something within myself? Am I uncomfortable due to my own ignorance on something? It takes work to go THERE with yourself, but if we don’t, we rob ourselves from the potential to grow.

So…. I’ve been going THERE with teachers, and it has been a challenge that I’m trying to welcome with open arms. I was first met with eagerness. Immediately, teachers acknowledged the existing culture gap, and agreed that it needed to be discussed and dealt with. But, during our last meeting, things got real, which means things got uncomfortable. I think some people were frustrated, definitely defensive, and I felt bad. The training was planned in a way that caused deep self-reflection, and it didn’t feel great for some people. I felt uncomfortable for putting teachers in that position, but, in reflection, I know it needed to happen. I’ve been a part of this work before, I’ve led this work before, and it’s never been neat. It’s messy, emotional, and intense. But these are the necessary emotions that come with the work of going THERE.

‘Alright’: Anthem for 2015 & 2016

alright

Though many beautiful things happened in 2015 (most notably, career changes for both me and my husband), there are also some challenges that we’ve been forced to face. Personal obstacles, as well as the ongoing challenges of communities of color (my mind hurts trying to think of all of the names of Black people whose justice have been rejected), have caused me to reach deep into myself to seek faith and strength. I’ve been forced to find peace in what’s most important. I’ve been brought to my knees with humility. And when the tunnel looks dark and intimidating, I’ve been challenged to peel back the film of my own fear and seek a layer of strength I never knew existed.

As I enter 2016, I’m carried by the power of love, friendship, the words of my ancestors, faith and music that serve its purpose to empower.

Because, in the end, I know that everything is going to be “Alright.”