What to Make of Lemonade
by Margo Terry
Society is shaped by the ruling class, the popular minority attained often by force. They infiltrate the minds of the individuals in these societies to mold their perceptions. They distort the images of those who are not represented in the constructers of the social lens. These distorted images are then adapted by these individuals. These images circulate in their consciousness, seeping into their minds with the stench of inferiority. Masters of oppression have consciously shaped the combined consciousness of the society to impede on the sense of self of the oppressed so that they will subsequently oppress themselves. This is the tradition of many Black women dwelling in societies that have marginalized and depredated their character for centuries. It is a tradition that has been passed down from their foremothers; it is a cycle that has yet to be broken. Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a call to break this cycle. In the visual album Lemonade Beyoncé takes her audience on a journey led by her consciousness through the hurdle of infidelity in her marriage and towards finding herself. Although Lemonade may seem to be simply another glimpse into Beyoncé’s marriage a sequel to the self-titled Beyoncé, after the honeymoon phase. It is also a story about finding self in a world where the mirrors designed to reflect it are all broken. An analysis of the audio, visual, and textual elements in Lemonade will demonstrate an odyssey toward self-actualization as impacted by the status of Black womanhood and Black men because in its totality Lemonade is a passionate love story about self.
Beyoncé begins her journey at the very start of the video, as it opens up with an extended close-up of a chain dangling in black and white. This chain is deeply symbolic: the chain dangling alludes to the chains of slavery that still linger, which also helps to shape the identities of Black women. What is also important about this shot is the angle from which it is taken. The camera is positioned where the chain descends but it the vantage point is upward, this is indicative of hope. Beyoncé is draped in black her costume in the style of a New Orleans widow. She is mourning the death of those chains, the death self-prescribed by society. The first song, “Pray You Catch Me,” trails off with the repetition of the line “pray you catch me” as she hurdles herself off of a building but she isn’t caught by man, nor concrete, but water. Submerged in the water is an allusion to baptism and rebirth, and her love story with self begins. This love story is important especially for Black women who are oppressed members within already oppressed groups. The thought of a Black woman loving herself is profound because it defies a society that says she shouldn’t. Today, much of the world is dominated by White patriarchies, and societal standards reflect this. Lemonade is a response to this structure. It challenges the values that are often anti-Black and anti-feminist. It represents an ideal that has been absent from the popular social schema. What makes Lemonade effective is that it does not merely point to the problem it finds its roots and seeks to uproot it. These roots are White supremacy. This is revealed the most in “Formation.” “Formation” is the last song of the visual album and it neatly concludes the project by addressing some of the most trying issues occurring in the society today. In this section the mothers of Black boys slain by police are featured seated upon their thrones holding photographs of the princes they lost. This is a conscious reminder that Black women and Black wombs are the gateways to Black life and that White supremacy continues to steal the fruits of their labor. But Black people have defiance running through their veins as depicted in the contrasting scene where a little Black boy in a hoodie, an ode to Trayvon Martin, dances in front of a line of on-guard policemen who submit to him in the end. But this Black boy will grow into a Black man, another possible oppressor of Black women.
The White supremacy is strategic and does not place itself on the front lines often. Instead it utilizes insidious forms of oppression and seeks out others to enforce it. The purveyors of the White patriarchy take many forms. One of these forms is Black men. Lemonade features an excerpt from Malcolm X’s speech, “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself” where he states that Black women are the most disrespected, unprotected, and neglected people in America. This is because they constantly sacrifice themselves for the advancement of Black men who fail to uplift them in return. It is an unbalanced relationship so the question arises, Why do they stay? The answer is charity begins at home. The first Black men that Black women love is their fathers. In the first poem, one of many beautifully woven into the narrative, Beyoncé narrates, “In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me.” This is yet another tradition, it is a tradition of Black men who disappoint and Black women who have learned to expect it, a behavior learned in the fashion of elektra. The vicious cycle amongst Black men that is partially responsible for the cycle experienced by Black women, and can only be broken if it is understood. The genesis of this cycle lies in men who are so accustomed to running that they run from themselves and their families too. After a whirlwind of emotions and with a clearer state of mind Beyoncé acknowledges this perspective in “Love Drought” where she examines the causes of the infidelity and takes the first steps toward mending their union. She acknowledges that her partner feels “unworthy of love” but he is the “love her life.” However, this knowledge does not excuse him nor, on a larger scale Black men, from answering for their actions. They must seek redemption but a grasp of their perspectives provides women with the tools to grant it. As well as the tools for Black women to start building themselves back up.
The video outlines these building blocks through the text featured in the video. The words appear like chapter titles, a reading of the text outlines milestones in the journey. She undergoes a series of extreme emotions in the chapters “denial,” “anger,” “apathy,” and “emptiness.” These moments paint the darkness that she must wade through. Often the darkness is avoided but in order to defeat it one much go through it. After resurfacing into the light she is capable of assessing the situation from a different perspective. In “accountability” she digs to find the root of her pain and there she finds her father, and from there she is capable of evaluating her relationship. She forgives him not for his sake but for hers. What is important is she does not end with their reunion but with “Formation,” the call to Black girls to take the journey for themselves. It is a message to the lemonade produced from the tight grips of strong Black grandmothers, the Black women of the future, hence the futures of young and upcoming Black women. They are the lemonade, and they can take that lemonade and make a revolution.