Black Women… Beyonce’s Lemonade

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Getting Into Formation with EXTRA Black Beyonce

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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

 

What I’m Dancing To… Thanks Missy!

This blog was supposed to be a woman’s perspective on Hip Hop. I usually begin my, now, rare posts on Hip Hop with this sentence, to remind myself where ShesGottheMic began. It’s now morphed into many things since then– partly because of my boredom with the current state of Hip Hop, but mostly because my thoughts, which were once focused on the representations of women in Hip Hop, has shifted, and become more layered and complicated, to put it simply. But, there are still moments when a Hip Hop artist inspires me to geek out on the culture that defines much of my adolescence and college years, and I’m reminded why I wanted to start a blog that entirely focused on Hip Hop.

A couple of months ago, it was  Kendrick Lamar who inspired me to go back to my Hip Hop roots. This time, it’s Missy Elliot’s newest song, “WTF (Where They From)” featuring Pharrell Williams. While Kendrick’s, “Blacker the Berry” reminded me that one of Hip Hop’s most powerful tool is its ability to document the times and produce a message, Missy’s “WTF,” reminds us of Hip Hop’s roots– to make people dance and have fun.

Now that she’s back (we missed you Miiiisssyyyy!!!), she’s brought us a song that can’t be listened to sitting down (I’m listening to it right now as I type at a coffee shop, and my booty is definitely moving). And the video… Missy Magnificence! Aside from reminding us that she’s still got it on the dance floor (you make 44 look glorious), her Afrofuturism/ comic book-esque/ Roundtheway Gurl style remind us that her creative energy doesn’t stop at beat making, but is carried out into the details of her videos (I once read that the ideas of her music videos were replicas of dreams she had). And did you see the Missy and Pharrell marionettes?  Magic and creepiness at its finest.

Thank you Missy Misdemeanor for your  return!

Its been 7 years since you left us with one of your jams. I’m sure in that time, you’ve changed, I know that I’ve changed, but one thing remains the same. When I finish watching one of your videos, my only goal is to hit ‘da club.

Janelle Monae and Her Wondaland Crew March Against Police Brutality in San Francisco

Janelle Monae, and her Wondaland crew have been touring the U.S., marching against police brutality. I’ve been following their endeavors on Instagram, and at the very last minute decided to join them when they went to San Francisco. When I found out they were marching in San Francisco, I wondered why San Francisco, and not Oakland? But once I walked out of the 24th and Mission BART station, and stood amongst the mixed crowd in the gentrifying Mission, it made sense. The Mission needed to be reclaimed.

Activists and families of victims of police brutality shared their truths. Alex Nieto’s family had a big presence. Alex Nieto, is a man who was gunned down in the Bernal Heights neighborhood by San Francisco police in 2014. Someone called and reported that he had a tazor gun. He was about to report to his job as a Security Guard, and was gunned down by police. His family is seeking justice.

Alex Nieto's family speak their truth.
Alex Nieto’s family speak their truth.

Oscar Grant’s family was also present. Oscar Grant was gunned down in 2009 at Fruitvale BART station in East Oakland in the early morning of New Years day. Someone reported there was a fight on BART. BART police pulled Oscar Grant off of the train, and though video recordings showed that he didn’t resist arrest, he was shot and killed. The officer claims he meant to taze him.

Oscar Grant's family speak for justice.
Oscar Grant’s family speak for justice.

The afternoon focused on the families of victims who have lost their lives to police brutality. People shared their truths, along with activists, speaking and rapping about their experiences. There was also much needed focus on the many trans women’s lives that have been taken, but not spoken about enough.

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Later, Janelle Monae, Jidenna and the rest of the Wondaland Crew came on stage with the families of victims and sang a song, “Hell You Talmabout,” naming the many people who have died because of police brutality. They then led us on a march to the San Francisco Police Station where we continued to sing.

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Police were prepared for a riot, with their head gear on, but Janelle Monae and her crew led us in song, and played the trombone, New Orleans style. People sang and danced. Jidenna, a singer from the Wondaland crew, said they didn’t want this to be a gathering of mourning, but a gathering of celebrating that we will move forward. That we will fight and survive.

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Many people are fighting this fight, and overall, the Black Lives Matter response to police brutality has been led by women. It was powerful to see a woman celebrity not only use her celebrity, but lead other artists in using their talents to support the fight against police brutality.  It was very Nina Simone of her to organize a tour that specifically is in support of people of color’s lives, and I hope other celebrities follow.

(Below is a link to a performance of the song Janelle Monae sang with families as we marched. The recording below is from another performance in Philadelphia)

“Equal Rights for Women!” : Hey Patricia! Am I included in this?

This post is in conversation with, Why We Need to Talk About Diversity Differently by Bad Feminist author, Roxane Gay. Using the lack of Diversity in this year’s /every year’s Oscars as her entry point, Gay addresses why race, gender, sexuality, class, disability… any oppression should not be fought in isolation. She also responds to the political nature of multiple speeches during the awards, including one given by Particia Arquette after winning Best Actress for her work in Boyhood. Though I refused to watch The Oscars, for the same reasons why I didn’t last year, I was privy to the content of Arquette’s political speech almost immediately after it was shared. Everyone’s favorite, Meryl Streep, was most enthused, and social media was roaring with praise for Arquette’s speech– particularly when she said:

“It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. Equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Okaayyy, I thought. This is absolutely important. But, am I, as a woman of color, included? I know some of my friends, are thinking, Of course, you are!!!!!!!! But, no.really. Am I?

In my experience as a college feminist and a Master of Women and Gender Studies (yes, I went there), when some people discuss women’s rights, they’re not always discussing my rights as a woman of color. Race is one problem, while women’s rights is another. But this doesn’t work for me. When people look at me, when I experience, the world, I experience it as a Black woman — not one or the other. My blackness and my womanness, as well as my middle-classness and straightness, are always working together like one machine. Critical Race Theorists, Kimberle Crenshaw, calls this intersectionality. One’s multiple identities don’t get compartmentalized, but are always working for and against them simultaneously.  As Roxane Gay points out in her article:

“Women of color, for example, don’t go to work one day as women and the next day as people of color, leaving their gender at home in a cabinet. We carry all aspects of our identity with us at all times. When we talk about diversity and equality, we need to consider the whole of a person and how the whole of a person is affected by the inequalities of this world.”

When Arquette brought light to the important issues of wage equality and equal rights for women, was she doing this in solidarity with fellow Oscar winners, Common and John Legend, who’s speeches mentioned the many fights going on around the world, including the outrageous numbers of incarcerated Black men? Or, was she saying, “We’ve fought for your rights, but now it’s time for women?!”

After her acceptance speech, she did extrapolate on what she meant. She said, “The truth is even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. It’s time for all… the gay people and people of color that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now.

One can interpret this in many ways, I guess, but what I hear/read is that white women have supported the efforts of gay people (there are women who are gay, no?) and people of color (ain’t I a woman?), and, now, it’s time to turn our attention to women (but, for reals, am I included?).

Maybe wage equality hasn’t currently been at the forefront of the fight for communities of color, because people of color are currently fighting for life. And maybe the LGBTQ community (which includes P.O.C’s) hasn’t put wage equality at the forefront, because many are also fighting for… well, life. Now, don’t get me wrong, my bank account and my student loans are screaming at the top of their lungs for wage equality (as well as respectful wages for educators), just as I’m fighting for the many rights and privileges my community still doesn’t have. The multiple rights I’m fighting for, for communities of color (i.e. fair education, safety, job opportunities, visibility justice etc…) just can’t be isolated, because they’re always working together. I can’t fight for women’s rights on Monday, the rights for people of color on Tuesday, and the rights for the LGBTQ community on the weekends. And quite frankly, they’re all one fight. I hope Patricia Arquette and other allies who are supporting our struggles can get down with that. Because, we know that when archaic oppressions like wage equality is settled (I can’t believe this still hasn’t been dealt with- where’s Hilary?), white women will be the first to benefit from it. #RealTalk #NoShade #HistorysaysSo #RememberAffirmativeAction?

Happy Birthday Billie Holiday: A Poem for Lady Day

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Today, marks, what would have been, Billie Holiday’s 99th birthday. Most who know me, know that I consider Lady Day to be one of my main auntcestors. I imagine she’s looking out for me daily, applauding me when I make my fiercest decisions, and encouraging me to speak my mind when I doubt myself. Her voice was introduced to me as a child by an older neighbor, Miss Madeline. Miss Madeline also happened to look a lot like Billie Holiday in her youth, and enjoyed sharing tales of having an affair with Billie Holiday’s ex-husband.

While there are many other titillating stories connected to Lady Day, her sexuality, and her addiction to the white stuff, I’ve always been obsessed with Holiday’s voice and the work she did for Black people. I’ve felt so connected with Billie Holiday’s story that I spent a year and a half of grad school researching Holiday’s career in music and activism. My Master’s thesis was called, “Is This Mic On?: Reclaiming Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,” and my project worked to uncover the multiple ways that both Nina Simone and Billie Holiday paved the way for and supported the Civil Rights Movement. Both of these women risked their careers and lives for the movement, but are rarely honored as the activists they were. I plan to spend some more time on my blog to extrapolate on this statement, but for now, I would like to honor Billie Holiday’s birthday by sharing the poem that opens my thesis chapter on Lady Day, “Lady Sings More then the Blues; She Sings Revolution.”

“Willow Weep for Me”

She haunts me

Willow weep for me

She haunts us

Willow…

Her voice stops

When their pen begins

Describing

Transcribing

A tragedy of another buxom

Black Lady/girl singer

Whose voice gets silenced

By the ruckus of ‘others’ addiction

To trope-laden fairytales

Where White is right

And she is just a Lady of the Night

Having love affairs with abusive men

Covered in white powder poison–

Unable to save herself

Unable to save the voice They love(d) so much

Willow weep for me

Hear that?

Willow weep for me

Juslisen

Willow…

She speaks to me (to us)

Haunting modern-day ‘fans’ with a story left untold

Though always playing

Over the clicking of forks and credit card receipts

Screaming, through silence, to reclaim her voice

From those who muffled it

With their Blues Lady/girl storytale

Listen to my plea

She has something to say

Hear Me Willow

I’m listening, Ms. Lady Day

Lady Day once sang the Blues

Lady Day once lived Revolution

But memories of those days have been lost

Behind the shuffle of Diana Ross’

acting debut

Behind Holiday students’ and supposed friends’

desire for 15 minutes of fame

while playing pretend

of ‘truth’ seekers

‘truth’ tellers

Weep!

I’ve wept, Ms. Day

For Me

For you, Ms. Day

And through those tears

And through your plea

I’ve tried to scribble down these notes

You’ve left for me (for us)

Notes of skill, of resistance, of courage,

Of will, of persistence, of Mastery

A story called:

Lady Sings More than the Blues: She Sings Revolution.