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How “Lemonade” Empowered Me As A Black Disabled Woman

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Lemonade 2

Lemonade is no longer known as being the sweet and tangy beverage Southerners like myself enjoy on a hot summer day.  It is now known as being the title of the visual album Beyoncé released on Saturday night via HBO, and “Lemonade” is responsible for the social media mayhem that transpired.  Beyoncé never fails to be an original, and “Lemonade” was a true work of art that encompassed so much depth, emotions, and empowerment in less than 58 minutes.  You may be wondering, “what does Beyoncé and ‘Lemonade’ have to do with disability advocacy?”  Let me tell you:  It has EVERYTHING to do with how we view the life experiences we endure on this earth, and how we grow and learn from them.  Being a Beyoncé fan, I did not expect “Lemonade” to strike me as profoundly as it did on a personal level, or to see disability representation within it.  “Lemonade” is a short film that caused me to get on a rollercoaster ride, one that made me reminisce on moments in my life that each “chapter” spoke to.  “Lemonade” is unlike anything I have watched as a music enthusiast in a long time, and I felt that it was a creation worth discussing here.

“Lemonade” –  I Was Not Ready for The Emotional Journey I Would Be Put On

From the first few minutes, one realized that this visual album is going to be something special.  I watched in amazement at how Beyoncé opened up to tell this story, her story, of loving someone who did the unthinkable to her, and having to live with the realities of the betrayal, learning to put together the shattered pieces of her essence (mind, heart, body, and spirit), and evolving into this new person at the end.  The evolution that unfolded in Beyoncé’s journey is one that I related to when it comes to love, and dealing with the pain caused by others.  

Each chapter, and accompanied song, spoke to how I felt when I experienced heartache and disappointment in my life.  For women especially, to love and be cheated on (and/or mistreated, abused, and made to feel unworthy) are hard to express into words because the pain felt can be too great to bear and at times, to process.  Watching the chapters titled “Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Apathy,” and “Emptiness” illustrated the wide range of emotions I felt when I was in my last relationship.  

I constantly wondered if I would “catch” him doing wrong in order to confirm my suspicions (“Intuition” / “Pray You Catch Me”).  When I finally listened to the red flags, which were consistently visible, and faced the harsh truth, “Denial” could not live any longer in my mind and heart.  The visual storyline for “Denial” showed a woman who took on an “I don’t give a damn” attitude, and was fearless in regaining her strength and power.  I related to that especially after my breakup – I was reclaiming the strength and fierceness that was stripped from me by someone I thought loved me.  It was at this stage when I had to face the actuality – they never loved me the way I loved them.

The chapters “Anger,” “Apathy,” and “Emptiness” encompassed three emotions that displayed how the most warm, loving woman can develop a cold-hearted, “f— you” mentality and demeanor.  What unfolded within these chapters showed the rawness of human nature:  possessing an absurd amount of rage to the point of wanting to cause destruction; having that intense infuriation turn into indifference and becoming unapologetically ruthless towards the person who is the source of the pain (“I ain’t sorry / I ain’t thinking about you” – lyrics from the song “Sorry”); and lastly, being so cold in developing an “I’m doing me” mindset and focusing one’s energy on getting what is theirs by handling one’s business.  All five chapters collectively and accurately told the story of my rebuilding during that time, and the songs associated with those chapters are some of my favorites on the album because of the stark flashbacks they evoked.  

“Lemonade” Reveals the Many Layers of Black GIrl Pain & Black Girl Magic

“Lemonade” does not stop at just showing us the wrath of a woman betrayed; it unapologetically shows us the plight of the Black woman, starting with the Malcolm X voice over in “Anger” that proclaimed the following:

“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”

“Lemonade,” to me, is the embodiment of Womanism, with its poignant portrayal of Black women overcoming hardships that are thrown at her, whether by those who are to love her or by a society that has little regard for her mere existence.  Several chapters in “Lemonade” – “Reformation,” “Resurrection,” and “Hope” specifically – visualized the unwavering pain, strength, power, love, and sisterhood of Black women.  We see the pain and strength on the faces of the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown during the “Resurrection” chapter, and the sisterhood bonding of Black women of all colors, creeds, and abilities in the chapter “Hope.”  Black women endure plights due to their racial and gender identities that White women and non-Black women of color do not; “Lemonade” is a stark reminder of that truth, and it does not allow us to feign ignorance to the world Black women are subjected to (whether interpersonal or systemic oppressions).  

“Lemonade” is indeed Womanism because it not only shows our obstacles, but also showcases the freedom Black women have in loving ourselves, supporting each other, and refusing to settle for less than what they are worth and what is theirs to have.  The chapter “Hope,” with the accompanied song, “Freedom,” perfectly illustrated this with its lyrics:

“Freedom!  Freedom!  I can’t move.
Freedom, cut me loose!
Yeah, freedom!  Freedom!  Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey!  I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”

I cannot accurately express the course of emotions that traveled through my body while watching this film besides saying that “Lemonade” made me proud to be a Black woman in this day and time.  To watch Beyoncé’s unregrettable sense of Black womanhood pride in a society that has tried to shame her since the “Formation” video debut and Super Bowl halftime performance is an act of defiance.  “Lemonade” is her way of saying that her voice will not be stifled – She is Black, a woman, and sees nothing wrong with loving the skin and life she has, both the struggles and the joys.  Beyoncé is forcing us to remember to not allow the world to dim our lights, and to not let the obstacles we face prevent us from obtaining the freedom we deserve to acquire.  

Seeing My Disability & Southern Roots Represented in “Lemonade”

“Lemonade” went further to represent aspects of myself that I have had to learn to love and accept – my Black disabled body and Southern heritage.  

I was shocked to see model Winnie Harlow make a cameo appearance in “Lemonade” as one of the many young women featured in the “Hope” chapter.  Winnie has Vitiligo, and her scenes were close ups of her face, which displayed her beauty and innate strength.  Black disabled women are rarely featured in musical performances, and to see one of us look so elegant and portrayed in an empowering regard made my heart swell with pride.  Winnie represented a form of Blackness that is ignored in our community – the Black disabled body.  Seeing Winnie’s appearance made me believe that I too have the “freedom” Beyoncé sung about, and to know that my version of Blackness and Black womanhood mattered immensely.

Beyoncé presented many elements of her Southern roots throughout “Lemonade,” and these elements and ways of life are ones that many Black people try to distance ourselves from.  We try to distance ourselves from these “country” Black stereotypes and traditions because we erroneously believe, and have been taught, that this is not the “right” way to be Black.  By putting this aspect of Blackness out in the forefront through powerful imagery, Beyoncé showed us know that there is no right or wrong way to be Black – all forms of Blackness are beautiful.  It took me a long time to embrace my “country” roots, and to appreciate that I can “code switch” on demand when I am at home and during those times that call for me to be “uppity”/”well-spoken” (or as we like to say, “siddity”) when I am around non-Blacks in public.  To see Southern Black life and heritage celebrated and portrayed positively made this Southerner sit up in her chair a little straighter.  

Why “Lemonade” Matters To Black Women Like Me

“Lemonade” was created for Black women by a Black woman – it is imperative to be in such positions to tell our stories our way, and to ensure that Black women from all walks of life see themselves fully within such depictions.  On Tumblr, I shared my excitement about “Lemonade,” and I had a fellow Black disabled woman comment that she, too, felt that “Lemonade” told her story in coming to accept her disability status (she became disabled due to a collision over a year ago).  Black women need to see their lives celebrated, their pain validated, and their strength unscorched from the trials endured.  “Lemonade” is the film that sent chills down our spines as we related to the story that unfolded, that went beyond the actual storyline of infidelity and forgiveness.  Each of us have experiences that correlated to the chapters of “Denial,” “Hope,” “Accountability,” “Forgiveness,” and “Redemption.”  This visual album has all of us buzzing because it forced Black women to fervently realize that their lives, pain, and empowerment matters, and demand that the broader society take note.  

Final Thoughts

“Lemonade” is a fine example of the creativity of Black musical artists like Beyoncé.  This weekend was a mix bag of emotions for me as a music lover because while I was celebrating the #BlackGirlMagic of “Lemonade,” I was grieving the loss of The Purple One, Prince.  Prince, like Beyoncé, was not afraid to be unique, and proclaim their truth for the world to see, no matter how unconventional it may have been.  Prince showed that Black musicians can do more than one genre of music, and that men could wear heels and still take your girl if your game was slipping.  Both of these artists defined their generation’s music, and both have met controversy about their musical and self expressions.  The lessons that I have learned from being a fan of both of these iconic musical talents are:  be your authentic self; live in your truth, no matter how painful or messy it is; and refuse to conform to fit in.  Those are lessons we all need a reminder of while living in a society that pressures us to believe the complete opposite.  

(Featured headlining image:  Courtesy of StockSnap.)

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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