On Saturday Beyoncé dropped LEMONADE, her latest visual album. I am a member of the BeyHive and was front and center for the mysterious world premier event. I was expecting her to release her album, but I was not expecting the amazing body of work that she gave us. I think LEMONADE is the best project Beyoncé has ever produced visually. It tells the story of a woman who’s been cheated on by her husband, and depicts the different emotions in 11 chapters: Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption.
Between each song there are spoken word interludes written by a phenomenal writer, Warsan Shire, whom I’m sure will soon become a household name. Her words in concert with the visuals created something that was palpable and tangible for me. I don’t often feel much emotionally from Beyonce’s music, but this time I did. There is speculation about whether or not Jay-Z cheated on her, or if this was about her parents’ relationship, etc. Those things to me are secondary. The purpose of this art (as I see it) is to make a greater statement about the strength and resilience of the black woman as she relates to the black man in this country whether she’s being cheated on by her husband, disappointed by a cheating father, or having to mourn the loss of a son taken too soon.
The quote above from Malcolm X is inserted during the video for “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” In the chorus of this song Beyoncé repeats
The point Beyoncé wants to drive home is that the way we treat our women is ultimately a reflection of how we feel about ourselves as men. When we love our women, it’s an expression of self-love. When we mistreat our women, this is also an expression of self-hate. The black man and the black woman will forever be intertwined at a minimum by genetics.
What I appreciate most about this project, and what I have observed about black women, is despite the hardships, disappointments and double-standards and after the anger and the emptiness, overwhelmingly there is still hope of love and a desire for reconciliation. Often we laugh at the “dumb” girls who stay in relationships where they aren’t respected or continue to take back a lover that has cheated and categorize them as having low self-worth (some of which might be valid), but conversely there is value to continuing to open yourself up to love and having a desire to fulfill a oneness . The greatest lover of a black man is a black woman. However, the greatest lover of the black woman seems to be the black woman and not the black man.
In terms of pop culture Beyoncé is undeniably the queen. She’s reached a level of stardom greater than any other artist in this generation. For years she has been a trumpet for women to love themselves, hiring an all-female band, having all-female dancers, etc. Unbeknownst to “others” Beyoncé has always appreciated being a black woman. As she’s grown as a woman and as a mother it’s evident that her self-awareness has allowed her to be more vocal about the issues in society that are ailing us and putting her money where her mouth is. She has met with the families of victims of police brutality, donated money to housing projects, and now she’s dedicated this beautiful project about the black woman’s ability to turn lemons into lemonade. That is no small thing. She could’ve made a banal album with club bangers to turn up and twerk (which a lot of people wanted), but instead she produced an ode.
Similarly Beverly Bond founded Black Girls Rock which serves to enrich and affirm black girls in every stage of their lives. The award telecast each year honors black women celebrities, entrepreneurs, community organizers and students for their achievements despite being double minorities in this country. I am always overwhelmed by the positive messages and the sisterhood that gets put on display, and often my question is: Why don’t we have this for black men?
When I think about the means by which we affirm black men in this country, the highest level I can think of are athletes and entertainers. The team rosters for the NFL and NBA and NCAA are full of black men. We celebrate them for their skills on the court. Many of them do great community work and serve as fantastic role models in their communities, but those men aren’t highlighted. You will hear more about their failings than you will their successes. Where is the affirmation for black men from black men?
We have been fortunate to have President Barack Obama in office for seven years. He runs the country and has defied many negative stereotypes about black men. He has a beautiful brown skinned wife, two beautiful daughters, and he loves them publically. There are no marriage infidelity rumors. His daughters are respectful, and he is respectful of them. In 2014 he started My Brother’s Keeper which aims to create pathways to success for black men through mentorship. He has spoken about the unfair incarceration rates in the criminal justice system and called for change. Just his presence in general affirms to me that anything is possible, but he cannot be the only one. Most of us will never have the chance to meet President Obama. He cannot affirm us all.
There are five fraternities in the NPHC. All of us were founded on brotherhood and empowering our communities as black men. I would not dare try to diminish the work that all of these organizations do in their communities across the country and throughout the world, but in 2016 the voices I hear the loudest from fraternity men are about how to maintain the traditional expressions of black “manhood” and call for the suppression of its unapologetic and sometimes flamboyant homosexual brethren. However there is not much condemnation for the men who are womanizers despite their pledge to uphold the “sanctity and chastity of women.” Where really is the school for the better making of men?
Drake gets ridiculed for his “light skinned feelings” because many of his songs express the regular emotions that men go through during various stages of a relationship. I argue that we need more artists, especially hip hop artists, to do the same. Black men have been hypersexualized, exploited for their strength and physicality, but shunned at any expression of emotion that isn’t anger, rage, or certain degrees of love and happiness. We must learn to become more in tune with our true emotions. If more black men were in tune with their own emotions they would better understand the emotions of their mothers, sisters, and daughters.
As seen in Beyonce’s Lemonade and many other compositions, music is an art form that really should feed your soul and help you appreciate the emotions you are feeling. I cannot say that there are no male artists that are expressing a full range of emotions, but when I turn on urban radio almost all men are talking about strippers, side-chicks, alcoholism, drug abuse, fighting, etc. There is not much balance, and I know this is done on purpose.
Rather than continue to ramble I want to get to the point. As black men we need to love and support ourselves. We need to see more expressions of the diversity of the black man in America. We’re not all thugs. We’re not all hustlers. We’re not all cheaters. We’re not all abusers. We’re not all addicts. We’re not all corporate businessmen. We’re not all athletes. We’re not all doctors. We’re not all lawyers. We’re not all straight. We’re not all Christian. We’re not emotionless. We are not monolithic.
It seems to me that black women have been able to come together to support themselves and express that support on a national cable network and even through the arts. I am convinced that if our young black boys saw us praise the achievements of other types of black men in addition to our athletes and entertainers, they would see themselves fit in in more spaces. There are more than two options for success, and I wish we could come together as black men and celebrate that.