Revelist has been so moved by Beyoncé's "Lemonade" that we've commissioned a series of essays from Black women about the impact the visual album has had on them. Click here to read more.
"Lemonade's" April 23 premiere made me text my friend at 2 a.m. to talk about the beauty of Black feminism — and dissect how I have moved past years of insecurity to come into my own as a Black woman.
In "Lemonade," Beyoncé pulls in the words of activist and author Malcolm X, who once said that:
"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."
I, and many other Black women, are living that quote. We understand what it is like to be strange fruit in a garden of "normalcy." Apparently, Beyoncé understands too.
From birth, Black women are taught that we have to be twice as good as white folks in order to succeed. We are taught that we have to make lemonade with the lemons we are dealt. This need to be unblemished came from a lack of societal respect, which Malcolm X beautifully explains in his quote.
I didn't escape this pain either, even though educated and strong Black women surrounded me as a child. I wanted to have my mother's nurturing spirit, espouse my aunt's ferocity, exude my grams' sass and wit, and showcase a one-of-a-kind personality like my nana. Yet, I still hated myself — even though a troupe of Black girl magicians surrounded me.
It began in kindergarten when a boy on the bus spat at my newly-shined Mary Jane shoes and yelled that "n-words should sit in the back of the bus." I cried, even though I didn't know what a n-word was. My shoes were scuffed, and my self-confidence was as well.
His hateful words were the first bricks thrown at my self-esteem, but they weren't the last. Years of subsequent bullying made me incapable of feeling beautiful. I felt inadequate and unworthy — even though I portrayed a resilient and confident woman on the outside.
I appeared to be a force to be reckoned with, always striving to be the best: I consistently made the honor roll, helped to create an education foundation in my hometown, and won as many awards as I could. On the inside, however, I felt the heavy burden that many African-American women are struggling with every day.
It wasn't until I entered college that I realized I had to rid myself of self-hatred. After my aunt and grams died from cancer, I no longer had a complete force field of women propping me up. I was in danger of drowning in my own sense of inadequacy.
So I did what those women raised me to do: I educated myself on Black feminism — generations of Black women sharing the beauty and struggle of Black womanhood.
The words of Patricia Hill Collins, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Toni Morrison finally made me realize that I had the power to break the cycle of shame. I relished in Collins' "Black Sexual Politics," learned from Adichie that only I could foster a positive self-image, and found strength in Morrison’s characters.
For the first time I could self-define — build a perception of myself by truly learning who I am. For the first time, in a long time, I could see what the woman in my family saw — strength and power.
For me, "Lemonade" is as therapeutic and uplifting as those Black feminist books. The haunting images of Black women standing silently near trees, sitting on porches, or walking on water while wearing white, gives me chills. It's no mistake that Beyoncé positioned these Black women in antebellum Louisiana and dressed them in southern-gothic attire.
Visually, it's a nod to slavery's impact on Black women — or the generations of inadequacy that have haunted Black women.
But it's Beyoncé's and warsan shire's words that remind Black women that we are, in fact, "terrifying and strange and beautiful." Hearing Beyoncé belt phrases like "a winner don’t quit on themselves” encourages Black women to be the bosses of their own destinies.
Queen Bey ushered in the tide of a brewing storm by showcasing an array of powerful Black girls and women who are revolutionaries encouraging us to get into formation. "Lemonade" energized Black women. It energized me.
On April 24 — one day after the album’s release — I woke up before my roommates and went to the bathroom to take a good look at myself in the mirror. A scene with model Winnie Harlow sitting on a chair and staring at herself in a hand mirror really stuck with me because she, too, struggled with self image, but found inner strength and confidence. I've decided to do the same.
I smiled at my reflection as "I break chains all by myself, won't let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! I'ma keep running cause a winner don't quit on themselves" played in my headphones.
After years of struggling to figure out who I am, I can confidently say that I'm still working through body and self esteem issues, but I love my kinky hair, full lips, wide hips, thick thighs, and Jackson 5 nostrils.
There's a beauty to being a Black woman. We may be, as Malcolm X said, the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected people in America, but we take our lemons and make the best lemonade you've ever had. And that's what matters.
Watch a snippet of Malcolm X's amazing speech here:
Main Image: Wikimedia Commons