Lemonade Is The Ode To Black Motherhood We Didn’t Expect, But That We Deserve
Words: Ev Petgrave
We care more about the triumph of Lemonade celebrating Black mothers than calling out “Becky With The Good Hair.”
When it was revealed last week that Beyoncé’s newest project Lemonade would premiere on HBO, many of us didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be a movie? Was she releasing her album? While both of these theories turned out to be true, no one could have predicted what 787,000 viewers witnessed Saturday—and what many are still talking about days later.
Lemonade, on its surface, sounds like a betrayed lover’s stream of consciousness: A profusion of emotions ranging from self-doubt and anger to ultimately forgiveness and redemption. The widely believed to be autobiographical work is Beyoncé’s most personal to date. And while we should appreciate and commend Beyoncé for seemingly opening up about the infidelity in her and her mother’s marriages, Lemonade is much more than that.
There are so many yaaaas-worthy moments in Lemonade—from Warsan Shire’s poetry to Serena Williams and all of our favorite Black girls’ cameos—it was easy to overlook one of the important underlying motifs of the visual album. But it’s there, plain as day: the strength and vulnerability of Black mothers.
Lemonade juxtaposes the realities of living in a racist, patriarchal society—most notably infidelity, sexism, misogyny, and police brutality—alongside a dreamscape we now all desperately want to be real: a place where Black women and girls are free to perform, to celebrate, to grieve, to love, to be magical without judgment. Lemonade dares to envision a world where matriarchs are divine and powerful. It reminds us that despite living under the thumb of patriarchy and misogyny, we’ve always had the power to turn sour lemons into lemonade.
This message was made apparent to me with the appearances of Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr, and Lesley McSpadden solemnly holding photos of their sons Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown respectively, all of whom notably lost their lives to police brutality. (Geneva Reed-Veal and Angela Helton, mothers of Sandra Bland and Rekia Boyd respectively, would’ve looked just as regal and pained holding their lost daughters.) By featuring Sybrina, Gwen, and Lesley, Lemonade brought the focus back on Black motherhood, something that America seems to only direct attention to when one of our children is unfairly murdered. These women are representative of the disservice society has done to Black mothers, but they also remind us of Black women’s ability to move forward from pain to serve a higher purpose. They represent the height of loss, but also the painful applications of Black Girl Magic.
We know that Black motherhood is not easy. We are oftentimes the ones left with the sole responsibility of raising a child—and even if we are in a committed relationship, there are so many nuances of raising a Black child that strikes mothers differently than fathers.
The moment a Black woman becomes pregnant, perhaps more specifically with a son, she must begin her life-long journey of forgiveness and reconciliation with patriarchy. Forgiveness of her father, who, for whatever reason, may not have been the best example of what society deems a man should be. Forgiveness of the American justice system, that will subconsciously (and oftentimes overtly) punish her son. Forgiveness of society for misjudging her son’s character, which sometimes may lead to his death. And forgiveness of herself because no matter how hard she tries and how well she raises him, it may never be enough to save his life.
Though we see the tragedy and pain life in a patriarchal society brings Black women, we also see the beauty in being able to survive in those spaces that aren’t welcoming to us. The love and transformation found within Black motherhood and womanhood is perhaps even stronger than partnered love in Lemonade. (Remember: “Me and my baby we gon’ be alright / We gon’ live a good life.”) Grandmother was an alchemist, as Beyoncé recites in “Redemption,” and she passed on this survival skill to her daughters to pass on to their daughters—not her sons:
“Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kit. Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.”
And as Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie White said:
“I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”
We’re all accustomed to making lemonade out of the lemons thrown at us. We oftentimes have no one else to confide in outside of other Black women, a communion that was also celebrated in Lemonade. We empower each other. As Bey reads in “Forgiveness”: “If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.” Lemonade pays homage to the women who came before us. It acknowledges the violence that brings us into the world (birth) and the violence that also requires us to be each other’s biggest supporters. It is through honoring these women, our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, and ourselves that we can find salvation.
It’s affirming for many of us Black mothers to finally see ourselves being revered and appreciated in mass media, and we can thank Beyoncé for that. We can only hope that the vulnerability and strength that all of the Black women showcased in Lemonade open more doors for us to be looked at, and treated, as humans with real emotions and desires and not just beings for the male gaze. Once Black mothers gain the freedom to fully express ourselves without fear of being labeled “crazy,” a real change will take place within society. Until then we’ll keep sipping this Lemonade and enjoying our renewed sense of sisterhood.
Ev Petgrave is a poet and writer traveling the world with her 4-year-old in tow. She enjoys writing about race and women’s issues. To keep up with Ev, follow her on Twitter @underpriv.