Akiba Solomon is the shit.
This goes without saying, of course. You don’t become an editor at The Source and the person behind the political humor column “What the F@#k” while there…and co-edit Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips, and Other Parts…and work for Jane, Essence, and Vibe Vixen…and currently serve as editorial director for Colorlines without being the shit. But it bares repeating. Just in case anyone forgot.
Anyway, since she’s the shit and all, it’s natural she’d be a writing ass chick I love too.
DY: Since Saturday evening, both my Facebook feed and my Twitter timeline have been filled with Beyonce and Lemonade-related hosannas. Even those who usually feel the need to preface their Beyonce-related thoughts with stuff like “I aint on Beyonce’s dick like the rest of y’all…” are finishing those sentences with “…but Lemonade changed my life, b.“
This, however, hasn’t been you. At all. You’ve been very critical of it, especially the hour-long film accompanying the album. And if I recall you made similar criticisms when “Formation” dropped. So why aren’t you drinking the Lemonade? Do you just hate nice things?
AS: I do hate nice things like the sunshine, fresh cut peonies and Black girl joy.
Seriously, though. My feelings about Lemonade and a lot of Bey’s recent stuff are complicated. Please keep in mind that I am not a Beyonce hater. I think she’s beautiful, savvy and an exceptional performer.
Anyway, I watched Lemonade twice. I hated it the first time and liked (but not loved) it the second time. The first time was the night it premiered. I had zero context about Warsan Shire’s poetry, the multiple directors or the Oshun references. As a piece of art, I thought it was all over the place and I am sick of the gangsta-Bey novelty. As a piece of Black art, I thought it was another example of how poorly Bey deals with skin-color politics and antebellum imagery.
Starting with “Formation” and the Superbowl performance and now with Lemonade, Beyonce has been doing this very particular thing of reinforcing color hierarchy by using groups of darker-skinned, similarly styled women with afros or some other “natural” hair as background noise.
In “Formation” the video and the Superbowl show, Beyonce doesn’t place herself in community with these women. The lighting, her position, her lighter skin and long straight blonde hair make her the queen. That’s superstar stuff, but people want to make this stuff Nina Simone-level Blackness–just without the sacrifice.
DY: But couldn’t someone make the counterargument that the juxtaposition exists because Beyonce is the star and they’re literally the background? That she feels a kinship with these women. But since they’re her background dancers, both the uniformity and them existing in the background are understandably intentional?
AS: The “Formation” lyrics—”Mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas ‘bama”—tell a different story than one of that type of kinship. Beyonce is literally saying that Creole people are not regular-Black but special-mixed Black. Her construction makes it seems as if there is no privilege attached to being a more European-looking Creole rather than a West African-presenting Black ‘bama. Like, “yay, we’re all mixed and equal and pretty.” We all are mixed and pretty. But it’s bullshit to imply that we’re regarded equally amongst ourselves and the overall trick bag of White supremacy. Bey did not invent the Creole idea.(Read this essay by Dr. Yaba Blay, a dark-skinned New Orleanian of Ghaniain descent and a scholar of skin-color politics.) But it’s still troublesome to me.
The color thing happens again in the Superbowl performance. The darker-skinned women are now wearing black berets over fro wigs and black pleather booty shorts. Despite the Black Panther allusions, Beyonce, maintains her signature long, straightened blonde weave and rocks a special bodysuit that looks like it’s from the Jacksons’ Victory Tour. That juxtaposition makes the 50 or so darker dancers part of the set rather than actual human women.
In Lemonade, she does this on the bus with the darker women in the body paint and various African hairstyles.
Then she takes things a step further by having Serena Williams—one of the best athletes in the world and a dark-skinned woman frequently called ugly, mannish and a monkey—twerk and body-roll as she sits on a throne doing no such labor. People have argued that Beyonce is giving props to Serena because at one point she drapes herself over the throne the way Serena did on her Sports Illustrated cover. Plus they say that Serena “wanted this.” And, OK. Serena Williams clearly does whatever she wants. But none of that context explains why Serena is a twerk-maiden for most of her time in the video.
Finally on this, her constant antebellum imagery is confusing and it’s romanticized. Here we see Beyonce sitting in the center of group of darker women fanning herself. Or Beyonce alone, fanning herself. Or Beyonce bragging about Guivinchy (sp?).
So the colorism and antebellum weirdness bother me, especially given how so many Black folks want to cast these cultural products as the ultimate declaration 360-degree Blackness–old Black, new Black, Afro-Futurist Black, Feminist Black, Rich Black, Slaying Black, Queer Black, ‘Hood Black, Southern Black, Real Black.
Yes, Beyonce is Real Black. But colorism and historical myths are Real Black too, and they suck.
DY: In your first answer you mentioned that your thoughts on Lemonade have shifted a bit since your first viewing. That you see it in more of a positive light now. (Or, rather, less of a negative light.) What changed?
AS: I watched it again a couple nights ago after skimming a billion think pieces and think-posts. I felt I was missing something. I was. This project isn’t as disjointed or unintentional as I thought and there’s a lot of symbolism I haven’t been exposed to before.I can now see why people are losing it. It’s an often beautiful piece with powerful scenes of Black male vulnerability, moms mourning their children slain by racist police or vigilantes, performance, love in many forms, baptism and Black women bonding.
I still feel the same about the color politics and antebellum shit, though.
DY: So, since you don’t like sunshine, fresh cut peonies, Black girl joy, and Beyonce’s Simply Creole Raspberry Lemonade all that much, what does catch your fancy right now?
1. VSB of course. It’s my favorite read.
2. The Hamiltones “Respeck.”
If you didn’t see it, Anthony Hamilton’s background singers turned Birdman’s terroristic threats on “The Breakfast Club” into an old-time gospel song with three-part harmony.
First of all, two of The Hamiltones sound like Bobby Womack. Second of all, while I don’t condone violence toward radio show hosts, Birdman’s repeated demand for “respeck” on his name is profound. (I’m joking. Sort of.)
3. Fantasia’s Prince tribute in Atlanta made me shout. People take Fantasia for granted. They should stop doing that.