It took me awhile to sort through all my thoughts and feelings after watching Beyonce's #Lemonade which aired last Saturday on HBO.
I have participated in a few conversations on social media following the debut and the majority were consumed with whether Beyonce was admitting that her husband, Jay-Z was guilty of infidelity. They have been dogged by rumors, practically since they were married. One could assume that Beyonce was purging their marital strife, but there is also a curiosity if she is using the well-known marital issues between her parents to create her narrative.
Either way, while infidelity was a theme, it wasn't the only one that made an impact on me.
The poetry of Warsan Shire is used throughout the short film and relates to the feelings that go along with getting through infidelity, forgiveness and redemption which are some of the themes Beyonce explores in Lemonade.
"You remind me of my father, a magician. Able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding...
What happens to a daughter when her father cheats on her mother?
Or, when he is emotionally absent because of the drama that comes along with being involved with women outside of the family?
What does a child recognize in her mother as she is being betrayed or feeling disconnected from her husband that the daughter internalizes as a message of who she will be in relationships?
How does she trust her boyfriend or husband after seeing her beloved father betray her mother? She loves her father but he has proven to be untrustworthy. How does she not see her future husband as capable of creating that same type of pain? How does she avoid the same fate?
My interpretation of Lemonade is it explores some of these questions and how you face it in your future relationships. Your father is your first male love in your life and the archetype of what you believe male love to look like in the future, if you are fortunate. For some, they will be the example of what you shouldn't look for, but probably end up dating anyway. And for others, there is no example to build your vision from because there was never a father there.
I had a father who was physically absent for much of my life following my parent's divorce. I was blessed with a stepfather, but he didn't fill the emotional hole. He was a good father, but just didn't offer the close father-daughter connection I longed for and felt like I was building with my father prior to his exit from my life.
As a child, I internalized the guilt and made myself the reason he couldn't find time to spend with me. As I grew older, I found myself in love with men who were emotionally distant while physically present. I thought presence was all I needed because it was the one thing I could never get from my father. But, slowly I realized that wasn't enough for me. I needed intimacy. And, intimacy was something I didn't even know how to get from a man because I didn't know how to be vulnerable with one without expecting him to disappoint me. Subconsciously, I made him the bad guy because he couldn't open up, but I had chosen him because my trust was limited.
It's not even just your father that affects how you love, but what if generations of men in your family have been emotionally absent or unfaithful. Both my father's father and my Mother's father were absent from their lives. It may be ingrained in your psyche without your awareness that this is how relationships work with adults. Your mother and grandmother may unwittingly prepare you for a life of emotional solitude and being quiet about your feelings for fear of scaring away love and support.
Black women have a complicated history with being able to express their dissatisfaction. There was a time, like during slavery or Jim Crow, where voicing your anger or expressing anything other than agreement could get you killed. During Civil Rights, women were more vocal, but still held back in terms of being in disagreement about their own treatment. Over time, black women have become less accepting of bad treatment, but are still labeled "angry black women" when they disagree. And, in relationships, we also don't feel free to demand respect because even then we are told we have an "attitude" which is meant to force us to be amiable.
"I tried to change. Closed my mouth more. Tried to be softer, prettier, less awake. Plugged my menses with pages from the Holy Book but still coiled inside me was the need to know: Are you cheating on me?"
In the video for "Hold Up" which deals with infidelity, Beyonce twirls around in yellow dress reminiscent of Orisha Goddess Oshun who is the goddess of love, sensuality and beauty and lives in a River. At the beginning of the scene, a rush of water flows behind Beyonce as she opens a door. Then, she can be seen walking down a sidewalk and eventually using a bat to damage car windows. She is twirling and smiling while asking, ""What's worse, looking jealous or crazy?"
As someone who has experienced the betrayal of infidelity, I can relate to the feelings she describes. Love is madness. But, being made to feel jealous is insanity. When you are already struggling with trust, it is simply being broken. Unfortunately, it is not as if someone is cheating on you, you ask them and they confess. You can spend months feeling like something is wrong. It is a slow burn.
First, they become distant. Then, they become inconsistent. They start lying to you in small ways that you can't completely pinpoint but you know they are different. And, you keep asking if something is wrong, but you are told there is nothing wrong. The more you question, the more they try to make you seem like you are the problem. It gets flipped on to you that you are trying to create a problem that doesn't exist. And, slowly they convince you that you are crazy and insecure despite it is you picking up on their behavior. In an effort to protect what they are doing, they will sacrifice your sanity. You do descend into a black hole. And, you do start to wonder is it worse being accused of being jealous or to go completely crazy. So, you go crazy and start checking call-lists, cellphone records, figuring out passcodes and checking email until you find the proof that you're not making everything up.
And, it is like smashing windows and breaking glass with a baseball bat because it shatters everything you believe about yourself, him and your relationship. It rips down the foundation of your very shaky beliefs. Suddenly, you don't know who you are. And, when you find what you were looking for, you don't know who he is. You also don't know who the third person is in your relationship. Your whole world is nothing like you thought it was. Every conversation, everything you shared seems like an illusion. You have been sleeping with a stranger capable of lying to your face every day with every smile, kiss, touch and who can look in your eyes with coldness in their heart where you thought you lived.
"Show me your scars and I won't walk away...every promise don't work out that way."
And, slowly you have to find a way to heal. After the anger leaves, all you have is the sadness and the pain of betrayal. You wrap yourself in it like a blanket and bury your head in every truth you tried to hold on to. Your tears are every betrayal washing over those truths until they dissolve and you are soaking in your own delusions that kept you in a relationship that didn't protect or nurture you. You want to blame someone else because that feels like the easiest solution, but the self-realization that restores your strength is that you participated. You seduced the pain and danced with it even though you claimed not to want it, because it felt familiar.
The only way to heal is not just to forgive him. You have to forgive yourself for not knowing what you were choosing. You have to forgive the past for bringing you to this moment. You have to forgive those who never taught you trust, how to love or how to have a healthy relationship. You have to stop being angry, fearful, shutdown and every other brick you used to wall yourself off from the love you need. As hard as you were trying to grasp and hold onto love, your distrust was pushing it away because it's too hard to believe it will stay without coercion.
Forgiveness leads to redemption
"Grandmother, the alchemist. 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 the instructions down to your own daughter. Then she passed it down to her daughter."
It would be so easy if a black woman's only source of assassination was just not being romantically loved in return, but our tears rain from many different clouds.
The words of Malcolm X echo:
"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."
Black women pick ourselves up every single day and still make sure everyone has what they need. We feed and worry about our children. We work so they will have a future. We endure abuse. We face the same fears that come with having our skin. We see our features and style celebrated on the bodies of others. Our sexuality is stolen and then we are beaten down with judgment if we attempt to claim it as our own. Words like whore and hoe are written across our bodies in paint and we are labeled damaged. If we succeed in business, we fail in love. We are always too something. We fight the same battles, but we fight them alone. And, we cry in silence because no one believes our tears. We have a generational history of not being heard.
And, Beyonce showed the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown holding their son's pictures because black women have had to bury their children. Our children, our brothers, our husbands and our friends are being lost to violence and illness at preventable ages. And, black women cry a river of tears for them, bury them and have to move on with their lives because other people depend on them. It is accepted and understood as a possibility, but it doesn't ever become normal. Each time is still shocking, traumatic and crippling.
There is a clip where Jay-Z's Grandmother says a speech at her 90th birthday that she was given lemons, but she made lemonade. And, these are lemons in our lives that black women use to make lemonade.
And, maybe that is what every person or woman does. We take what we are given and we try to turn it into something that we can look back and enjoy, not just endure. Black women have and always have had so much pain to endure without a balance of appreciation. But, we still celebrate ourselves, stand by our men, love them with all of our hearts and try to protect our children. And, it's our humanity that we hope will eventually be recognized and seen. This is what I think Beyonce accomplished with Lemonade.
"I think of lovers as trees ... growing to and from one another. Searching for the same light. Why can't you see me? Why can't you see me? Why can't you see me?"