“Bein’ a woman & bein’ colored is a metaphysical dilemma I haven’t conquered yet. Do you see the point, my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of soul and gender. My love is too delicate to have thrown back on my face.”
Poet Ntozake Shange, once said these words in her play (now a movie), “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that Shange’s words could not hold so much truth. There is no denying that today in America, many groups of people – gays, Muslims, transgenders, even republicans – come under heavy scrutiny and at some point, have felt some type of discrimination. But almost without question, one group in particular faces some of the most challenging moments one can bear: Black women. Being part of a community that has worn physical and metaphorical shackles as early as the 1600s, and simultaneously being crippled because of gender, makes being a Black woman a dilemma incredibly hard not only to understand, but also to conquer.
The Black girl experience is one perplexed and overlooked. But 2016 has possibly brought about a change. The year 2016 has seen #BlackGirlMagic like none other. Instagram flooded with natural-transition selfies, magazines featured girls of the darkest hue on their covers, and Hollywood discovered that they did not have to solely resort to Olivia Pope as a means of promoting a diversified television lineup.
And following suit, the world of music made people proudly raise their fists in the air, and in ode to James Brown, people proclaimed out loud that they were black and proud. Almost setting a sort of trend, numerous artists started addressing issues of race, adversity and oppression through their lyrics. Though arguably, the two artist who made the most profound impressions would have to be Beyonce and Solange.
Between “Lemonade” and “A Seat at the Table,” the Knowles sisters have honestly impacted and nearly jolted my sense of self – and I am sure, others’ definition of identity.
It is easy to compare the two albums, after all Solange and Beyoncé are sisters with incredible talents that must constantly make Ms. Tina (their mother) proud to have given birth to two phenomenal young women. Be warned, though, the approach and listening experience of these two albums are vastly different – each completely their own. But essentially, the Knowles duo managed to craft a similarity that weaves through their projects – the celebration of being a Black girl in a world that has too often undervalued, misinterpreted, underrepresented, nullified and exploited their experiences.
Brilliant and real, both albums are necessary in understanding some of the simple challenges and hurdles that Black women face every single day. For instance, Beyonce declared that she likes her “baby hair with baby hair and afros” on “Lemonade,” while Solange calmly advises those, “don’t touch my hair when it’s the feelings I wear” on “A Seat At the Table.” With Beyonce’s hyped up beats and Solange’s delicate melodies, the communication and transmission may be different, but the overall message the same. The sisters highlight how something as simple as hair, stereotypes and hinders the Black female community. If it is not the harsh judgement and perception of going natural, maintaining a perm, or dropping big bucks on a weave – hair is factor of identity for Black women. For what is on your head, can say a lot about you (according to society). But the Knowles are telling the world, you will not exploit us – Black women – in your ongoing curiosity about our blackness. Do not ask to touch our hair. Do not ask if it is real. Do not ask if it hurts our scalps. Do not appropriate and commodify our existence while simultaneously denying it. Calling out a simple microaggression revolved around hair, we see how Beyoncé may have pushed us through the pain by urging us to recognize our strength – being proud in afros and natural tresses. And following right behind her big sister, Solange soothes and guides us through the pain by urging us to recognize our truth.
There is so much being conveyed here through these two projects. In terms of music, Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is a psychological timeline of the love and marital struggles women go through – Black or White. But the visual component is a celebration of not only Black womanhood, but also cultural identity. Beyonce hones on the fact that she stems from a diverse background. “Lemonade” showcases distinct Louisiana culture and the significance of the creole and African diaspora that has come together and made roots in greater America. Some of the most visually stunning shots in the film are those simply capturing the multitude of diverse women – some light skinned, dark skinned, others dripped in braids and beads and teased afros. The melting pot that is America has produced a rainbow of beautiful African American women who may look individually unique, but share similar threads that are weaved within the Black experience. Take for instance, “Lemonade” features the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, etc – women who have lost their sons to racial discrimination and police brutality. Hurt, loss, suffering and yet resilient strength- these narratives are a part of the Black female experience today, and “Lemonade” reminds people of just that.
Taking on a bigger stance, Solange’s album addresses facets of the Black community at large. It reflects the fact that in today’s society, it seems Black people are simply fighting for the right to exist, to just be on a daily basis. Speaking to the angst and frustration shared by so many – “A Seat at the Table” does not shy away from the root of theses struggles. Take for instance gentrification. It is a pandemic that has become – for some – an everyday, constant tragedy. Numerous urban communities – even Charleston – have undergone gentrification, seeing
packs of African American people forced to depart from their homes and communities to make room for industrial developments. Solange croons, “I don’t know where to go. No, I don’t know where to stay. Where do we go from here? Do you know?” To be cliche, home is certainly where the heart is. And the song “Where Do We Go” epitomizes the feelings attached to a place you may call home. With out your home, your community, your heart is taken away. Sense of self and identity is lost. And subsequently, the sense of Black culture is in danger of being extinct. And for a group of people who’s culture is so rich and holds so much meaning, to take neglect this is unfortunate. This is just a small example of how Solange weaves profound, unnoticed moments and observations that characterize the Black American experience, into a subtle, yet brilliant poetic commentary.
Not wanting to speak for the crowd, I have to admit that this is a moment. Black women – Black people in general are unapologetically affirming their humanity to be seen and valued. Beyonce and Solange managed to center Black people, Black feelings and Black culture. “Lemonade” and “A Seat at the Table” are pieces of art that speak truthfully to our harsh realities. They address what it means to be Black today – covering racism, loss and defeat – but that is never the main focus, nor is it the lens through which they wish the Black community to view themselves. These albums were made to for us, by us. They were made to empower and inform. They were made to heal and encourage.
We all should slide up to the table and sip some of this lemonade that the Knowles have prepared for us. Thank you Beyonce and Solange for reviving the souls of Black folk.