I made the mistake of reading bell hook’s Lemonade critique before studying for my last final. What follows can only be described as a familiar disappointment. The bold paragraphs are excerpts directly from Hook’s essay.
1. As a grown black woman who believes in the manifesto “Girl, get your money straight” my first response to Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade, was WOW—this is the business of capitalist money making at its best.
Beyoncé is a Black business Woman in capitalist America! Get over it! I am sick and tired of Black Women being accused of insidious motives every time we so much as breathe. Beyoncé is allowed to create art AND be paid for it. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Furthermore, Black Women are criticized by White feminists to no end for seeking security in an income. We are not greedy or money-hungry for wanting to make a living. We do not always have the luxury of following our dreams and falling back on our family or imaginary pile of wealth if things don’t work out. Many of us have children, siblings, parents and grandparents who depend on us.
Beyoncé is living the dream of Black Women, being able to provide for her family AND creating art. Black Women have so many doors shut in our face because people believe we aren’t capable of being movie stars, writers, poets, screenwriters, playwrights, engineers, scientists, doctors, singers, leaders, lawyers, judges, etc.
2. Viewers who like to suggest Lemonade was created solely or primarily for black female audiences are missing the point. Commodities, irrespective of their subject matter, are made, produced, and marketed to entice any and all consumers. Beyoncé’s audience is the world and that world of business and money-making has no color.
Black Women aren’t saying the album is not allowed to be purchased or appreciated by other people, Black Women are saying the lyrics, poetry, and history resonate to BLACK WOMANHOOD, an identity that only Black Women can fully speak to.
3.Beyoncé as star appears in sporty casual clothing, the controversial hoodie. Concurrently, the scantily-clothed dancing image of athlete Serena Williams also evokes sportswear. (Speaking of commodification, in the real life frame Beyoncé’s new line of sportswear, Ivy Park, is in the process of being marketed right now).
Does Hooks have the same issue with darling Emma Watson speaking about feminism while promoting her films and TV projects? Every fabric, action, or word Black Women used is dissected and analyzed. Like I said, God forbid Black Women profit from their art or they are soulless, money hungry, sellouts. Black men? Nah, Black Men just tryna survive, who could hate on that?
4. Lemonade offers viewers a visual extravaganza—a display of black female bodies that transgresses all boundaries. It’s all about the body, and the body as commodity. This is certainly not radical or revolutionary.
I disagree. Lemonade is a symbol of Beyoncé’s evolution as an intersectional feminist. With each album, Beyoncé has been more and more unapologetically Black and unabashedly woman. It may not be radical for another artist but Beyoncé is a global, self-made popstar and a Black Woman. That she even made it in this white supremacist patriarchal music industry is remarkable. And now that she’s recognizing and representing the dynamic history of Black Womanhood, she has become even more legendary.
5. Among the many mixed messages embedded in Lemonade is this celebration of rage. Smug and smiling in her golden garb, Beyoncé is the embodiment of a fantastical female power, which is just that—pure fantasy. Images of female violence undercut a central message embedded in Lemonade that violence in all its forms, especially the violence of lies and betrayal, hurts.
Contrary to misguided notions of gender equality, women do not and will not seize power and create self-love and self-esteem through violent acts. Female violence is no more liberatory than male violence. And when violence is made to look sexy and eroticized, as in the Lemonade sexy-dress street scene, it does not serve to undercut the prevailing cultural sentiment that it is acceptable to use violence to reinforce domination, especially in relations between men and women. Violence does not create positive change.
Why is it that violence, specifically in music, is only discussed when Black women are the ones taking part? Just like the outcry over Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have my Money”, violence is only an issue if wielded by Black Women but not when used against Black Women. If Hooks demands truth and authenticity, than what is more honest than the rage of betrayal? Rage is not candy coated for consumption, it is raw and painful.
Furthermore, Hooks can at least concede that Black women’s rage is mocked and unacceptable in society. Black girls are labeled angry, ghetto, and loud for speaking their minds. The rage in Lemonade is a big middle finger to respectability, a theme that is all too evident in Hooks critique.
6.For example, Beyoncé uses her non-fictional voice and persona to claim feminism, even to claim, as she does in a recent issue of Elle magazine, “to give clarity to the true meaning” of the term, but her construction of feminism cannot be trusted.
It’s all about insisting on equal rights for men and women. In the world of fantasy feminism, there are no class, sex, and race hierarchies that breakdown simplified categories of women and men, no call to challenge and change systems of domination, no emphasis on intersectionality.
Hooks manages to mimic black men and white women in the same breath. Her beloved girl crush Emma Watson says “”For the record, feminism, by definition, is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.‘” As well as “”I think it is right I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decisions that will affect my life. I think it is right that socially, I am afforded the same respect as men.” Hooks lets Watson get away with saying the EXACT SAME rhetoric that she denounces Beyoncé for. I’m appalled that Hooks believes that because Beyoncé’s interpretation of feminism is not indistinguishable from hers, it is therefore untrustworthy. Hooks paternalistic tone asserts that there is no room for growth or evolution afforded to Black Women. Black Women must be exceptional in every form or risk criticism for the same language used by white women.
7.But it is a false construction of power as so many men, especially black men, do not possess actual power. And indeed, it is clear that black male cruelty and violence towards black women is a direct outcome of patriarchal exploitation and oppression.
This passage is more disappointing than anything else. If we are analyzing power constructs between Black Men and Black Women, there should be no question as to the privilege afforded to men due to gender. The “invisible” power of Black men is evident in the lack of think pieces and critiques on the constant violence Black men dump on Black women all the while maintaining that feminism has “destroyed the black family”. The power of Black men is apparent in the lack of discourse on the misogynoir employed by Black male artists/rappers/entertainers.
8. It is only as black women and all women resist patriarchal romanticization of domination in relationships can a healthy self-love emerge that allows every black female, and all females, to refuse to be a victim.
Hooks weaves in and out of the identity of Black Women by constantly referencing other races. If other women are named in this dialogue, why are they protected from the critiques you’ve assigned black women/Beyoncé?
Additionally, Hooks decries the tired usage of victimhood throughout her essay. Black women are not allowed to be vulnerable in their own art. Our pain and emotion can be exploited by other people but we are not allowed to express it. Hooks does not allow Beyoncé to be vulnerable and she does not allow her to be angry. The question must be asked, what expressions are acceptable to Hooks?
9. To truly be free, we must choose beyond simply surviving adversity, we must dare to create lives of sustained optimal well-being and joy. In that world, the making and drinking of lemonade will be a fresh and zestful delight, a real life mixture of the bitter and the sweet, and not a measure of our capacity to endure pain, but rather a celebration of our moving beyond pain.
To truly be free, we must allow Black Women to simply BE. Whether that includes being angry, vulnerable, happy, sad, tired, jealous, bitter, confident, sexy, or just existing, we must stop policing one another on the right way to be. Beyoncé’s art is open for interpretation and critique, but we must be mindful of the basis of these discourses. Before we move beyond our pain, we must acknowledge that such a pain exists.