guest piece by Shah Noor Hussein
Beyoncé’s notoriety, musical legacy and recent string of explicitly feminist and political statements have together ensured that her release of the visual album, Lemonade, exactly two years ago this week, was an instant hit. Not only did the album itself and its visual compliment spark the interest of the media and her fans, it also intrigued the academic and cultural communities who are actively interested in Beyoncé’s artistic praxis. For black women, the visual album was an opportunity to witness a work created by black women and designed for black women. This is a refreshing exercise for us all, to put it lightly, and a life changing experience for many.
Throughout this paper I will analyze Beyonce’s Lemonade through the lens of Queer Black Feminism, an ethic that represents the struggles of black women and their communities from an intersectional lens that honors self-care, community building, and revolutionary healing. Using this theory as both the foundation and backdrop of my analysis, I will discuss Beyoncé’s portrayal of black women’s emotional experiences and mental health, focusing primarily on anger and grief, and her search for pathways to healing from trauma.
RECLAIMING CRAZY: BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH
It is important to note that Lemonade album has twelve tracks, which are shown in order (excluding Formation) through the visual album coinciding with eleven emotional stages Beyoncé finds herself grappling with. So “Pray You Catch Me” coincides with the “Intuition” and “Denial” pairs with the song “Hold Up,” here the scene opens to a city street saturated with color where Bey takes the road without hesitation, smashing cars and smiling to herself. Here, she is a carefree black girl in flowing yellow garb that represents a lightness she wishes to “deny” herself into feeling. These lively streets are bustling with neighborhood regulars creating a colorful world that somewhat contrasts with Beyoncé’s serious and contemplative lyrics.
Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you
Slow down, they don’t love you like I love you (7 – 8)
After she sings this catchy hook over a relaxed island beat with a tempo that matches the vivacity of the scenery, she repeatedly asks, “What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy / Jealous or crazy? / Or, like I’ve been walked all over lately, walked all over lately?” (19 – 21). Answering the questions boldly and directly, she states, “I’d rather be crazy” (22).
These lines are thought-provoking, pivotal and important; they centralize a stereotypical views of black women as either jealous or crazy, both roles leaving them in compromised positions and subject to ill-treatment from their lovers. It’s not difficult to recall the many unpleasant, descriptive terms hurled against black women when society deems their behavior unacceptable. Sometimes they are called manipulative or controlling, while other times they are cast as anxious, spineless or obliviously naive. More often than not, the words are crueler than this. Beyoncé casts all these stereotypes aside as she unabashedly claims that she’d rather be “crazy.” For me, the embracing of this very stigmatized label for women, in particular black and brown women who have been continuously and vindictively punished for their “crazy”, is powerful and intentional act.
One glaring case of the importance of the label “crazy” in the history of black women’s health is exemplified in Malcolm X’s autobiography* when he discusses what America’s mental health system did to his struggling mother.
*Interestingly and not coincidentally, Beyoncé directly references Malcolm in the following scene while also discussing black women’s stereotypes. This is a theme is her recent work.
Thank you for reading part one of the LEMONADE Series. Please consider donating to the production of this work! Your contribution will help support the printing of this series as a novella in the Fall of 2018. Donations of $20+ will get advanced access to Part 2 of the series, where we continue to discuss “crazy”, Malcolm X and black motherhood.
More about the author:
Shah Noor Hussein is a writer, educator, and unapologetic queer black feminist with an M.A. in Anthropology and previous work in gender studies, urban environments, and teaching pedagogies. Shah has self-published two poetry anthologies, Ain’t I A Womxn (co-edited with Fatima Nasiyr, 2015) and Black GRRRL Healing (sole editor, 2016). Their writings have appeared in The Black Aesthetic (2018), CUNJUH (2017), Veudux Child (2015), and MANCHA Mag (2017).