Beyonce told all black girls that we are here, we are real, and we matter.
Before Lemonade was released yesterday, I was a black girl. I was a girl with brown skin and thick, kinky hair and full lips and a full nose. I was a black girl whose perspective of everything was always imbued with my ancestors and the pain they faced, the secrets they told, the sacrifices they made. After I watched Lemonade, something changed. I could feel it as soon as the video ended; at first I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but after the poetry, culture, emotional vulnerability, and cinematography had finished marinating in my mind, even in my bones, I knew. I knew that I was still a black girl, but the definition of my existence had changed. Or, at least, it had come to light.
Being a black girl is a unique experience that cannot be understood, translated, or replicated by any means. It does not necessarily mean that we do not share experiences with other groups and other people, but that the experiences that we share are always influenced by who we are. For that reason, we are forever burdened with a feeling of otherness and a struggle to understand ourselves in a world that provides us with their own biased, racist understandings.
But that burden does not have to last forever.
Watching Lemonade gave a sense of realness to who I am, to what we are. It gave a loving, reassuring confirmation of validity to the recurring thoughts, feelings, and situations that every black girl faces or will face. With every song and every scene, Beyonce told all black girls that we are here, we are real, and we matter. But the statement coming from that video had a very specific tone. It said more than that; it held an encrypted message that only we can
understand, something that cannot be put into words. Harriet Tubman is going to be on the $20 bill. A black woman who personified bravery, strength and altruism is going to be on the face of the currency of a nation that she and her generation built. A nation that worked, and still works, to bring she and her descendants down. Harriet Tubman’s face on the bill, in itself, does not change the position of black people or black women in America, but it shows us something. It shows us ourselves. It is a symbol of the kind of power we are coming from; it is a dare to take things further.
Amandla Stenberg told us at Black Girls Rock that our blackness does not inhibit us from being beautiful and intelligent, but it is in fact the reason that we are beautiful and intelligent. The fact that she was able to say this on national television, and the fact that such an award show even exists, is another symbol. It is another poke at black women to stand up, to keep going, to test the limits that truly do not exist. A couple months ago, I watched the Netflix documentary, “What Happened Miss Simone?” I learned about Nina Simone and her internal conflicts, her desire to be free and to help instill black pride in her people. I learned about how her radicalness contributed to the downfall of her success. I learned that society will do everything in its power to keep a black woman from being who and what she truly is, and that this restriction will often lead to her demise.
Prince, a musician who had no regard for gender conformity or conformity to any other constructs built by society, passed away a few days ago. His freedom of expression showed black kids what could happen, what we could be, if only we pretended that the world would allow us to do anything. Ethan Ambrose, a black boy who I’ve been going to school with for the past few years, was accepted to Harvard University. He received a $250,000 scholarship to cover all of his expenses. He worked hard and surpassed his own expectations of himself. He’s about to be immersed in a world of people who have better opportunities than him, and no matter how hard he works, they will always be of more value to the world than him.
I could go on. I could keep listing the things that have been happening between January and now that made me really, truly look at my skin and what it means. These things don’t stop. Our greatness will never end, and for the first time I truly realize that. For the first time, I know that black girls are on this planet for a reason. I know that there is a divinity to black girls, something that makes us different from every other person, every other woman. I know there is a secret that we all share, and this secret is the key to what makes us so unstoppable. I know that we don’t have to become beautiful, intelligent, powerful or brave, but instead we have to remove and unravel the inhibitions placed on us by the world that we are in.
This is quite a time to be alive. More and more, we are realizing that we have everything we need, and all we have to do is activate it. All we have to do is decide for ourselves that we are ready to change the world and decide how we’re going to do it, and nothing can stop us. Lemonade showed me that being black, and being a black young woman, is nothing simple. It is a poetic existence, a happening ordained by a divine being. It showed me that everything I am, everything my grandmother and mother are, is not only legitimate, but deliberate. Black women do not experience the things we experience because we are cursed, but because we are supposed to. Everything that we are is an advantage to us. Everything that we are is an accessory to our ability to move mountains and break barriers.
What a time to be black.