guest piece by Shah Noor Hussein
In part one, we opened our discussion by unpacking “Hold Up,” the signature track where Bey asks “What’s worse being jealous or crazy?” and chooses “crazy”. Read it here! What does this mean for black women? History shows it can have tremendous consequences as well as tremendous healing.
Reclaiming Crazy: Bey, Malcolm and Black Maternal Health
As Malcolm painstakingly shared over a few chapters of text, his family had fled to Lansing, MI after their house was burned to the ground by the Ku Klux Klan. Despite their relocation, his family was tracked down again by members of the Legion that despised his father for his outspoken support of Black Nationalism and Marcus Garvey. Malcolm’s father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in 1931 on his way to work.
Malcolm’s mother, an undereducated and previously unemployed black woman, had to struggle to both adapt to life without her husband and to becoming the primary breadwinner for her family. As his family struggled with poverty, Malcolm describes how they began to receive visits from government agencies. These people, mostly white men who were from some sort of child or family services agency, would visit the household to speak with each child and their mother individually. Malcolm recalls these men planting seeds of separation between the young children and their mother, using problematic and biased language to describe her as “crazy” or “unfit,” and citing her independence and denial of government assistance as justification. He explains that eventually, and quite tragically, they used this language and their ability to plant this language in him and his siblings to forcibly place his mother in a mental health facility where she remained for the next 25 years (X and Haley, 1965). Her name was Louis Little.
In an interview by Keisha N. Balin with Erik S. McDuffie, Litte’s story is discussed as it relates gender politics in civil rights movements. McDuffie closes his commentary on Little’s life and legacy by stating, “Her time in that hospital can be viewed as a form of incarceration…the state targeted her because she was proud, she was independent, she owned her own land, and she refused to bow down to white supremacy and patriarchy. For these reasons, she was placed in that hospital, her land was taken away from her, and her children were put in foster homes.”
This is an insidious case of how a black woman’s independence and refusal to conform to white supremacy can lead to her incarceration and and even death. A black woman who dares to say that she will not be “walked all over” is a direct threat to the patriarchy and its institutions. In these moments, we cannot forget Sandra Bland, the black woman who dared to treat herself with dignity and expect the same from our system. In these moments, who will speak for Chikesia Clemons, the black woman who simply asked to talk to the management at her local Waffle House and met with undue police violence. In these moments, we cannot forget Cece McDonald, the black trans* woman who defended her bodies and livelihood and was imprisoned because of this. She deserves better. As I write this, Mother’s Day draws near and in these moments we cannot forget Marissa Alexander, the black mother who dared to protect her children and, without hurting anyone, succeeded in doing so until she was jailed by the criminal system some call “just.” These women who were met with silencing when they tried to speak their voice, their rights.
By embracing the term “crazy”, it may appear as if Beyoncé places her black motherhood in a vulnerable position. However, in an act of reclamation, she seems to not fear retribution and queers the line of dominance and submission created by heteronormativity and male supremacy.
Thank you for reading part 2 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.
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).