We are so tough but so scared–we black folk.
It’s actually quite a feat.
We can manage to survive institutional racism–the trauma, the stress, the constant devaluation, the violence, the seeming endlessness of its pain and suffering.
But we can’t do a Goddamn thing with love.
We run and hide from it like children.
So Beyoncé makes “Lemonade.”
She puts it out after years of hinting at Jay-Z’s infidelities in songs. After years of widespread rumors about his cheating. After the elevator incident. Making it that much more compelling. Arresting.
She opens a window onto a black marriage–possibly hers–through song. She makes a video for this body of songs.
She expresses emotions–again, possibly hers–that are completely natural, understandable, and recognizable to adult people that know anything of romantic love–
And grown black men and women all over the world lose their fucking shit.
That is way more disillusioning than finding out that–hey!–the man that made “Big Pimpin'” has commitment issues and may even be a misogynist.
People have accused Beyoncé of everything from making the video as a publicity stunt to shaming the black female community with her vulnerability and honesty.
A lot of black men in social media have literally mocked her for expressing the pain that comes with being betrayed by your spouse and having to face the decision of whether or not to break up your family.
The real shame–though–is how all of these reactions are motivated by nothing but fear and insecurity.
Men ridicule Bey to scare other women into keeping silent about their pain.
They are afraid to look the effect of their disgusting, dishonest, and dishonorable actions in the face and see what monsters they can be.
Women admonish Bey because they are afraid to be as vulnerable as her and risk getting mocked by these same men.
They are afraid to admit that they’ve had emotional bombs dropped on them in their marriages and romantic relationships and been devastated by them for fear of seeming weak and eliciting the sadism of future lovers.
Black men and women are afraid of each other. We are afraid to trust each other. We are afraid to be ourselves with each other.
We are afraid to love each other because we know how ill-equipped this American experience has made us for such a delicate and complicated job, and we are fatalistically certain that we will fail each other in the enterprise of being each other’s partners and co-parents.
In the place of confessing our fear, and/or, in a lot of cases, just acknowledging it, we attack.
We are far more comfortable attacking each other than loving each other at this evolutionary stage of our culture.
And that goes for men attacking men–for being “soft” or anything else that hints of vulnerability, concern, investment, conciliation, or accommodation–and women attacking women–for being “weak” or anything else that hints of hopefulness or hurt.
Whether Bey really did make “Lemonade” as an elaborate love letter to Jay, or catharsis, or a cautionary tale, she has definitely brought some important issues to the surface related to black love and intimacy.
The reaction to the work has illustrated that there is a dire intimacy crisis amongst black cis-hetero women and men that stems, I’m afraid, from the disrupted familial and sexual dealings of slavery and has been perpetuated by the divide-and-conquer tactics of Jim Crow, postmodern and post-postmodern racism, and even the prison industrial complex.
There is a famous quote by one of the wisest black writers of all time, James Baldwin:
But in order for the battle to be won, we can’t fight each other.
We have to fight our fear.
I am in love right now. I have been in love for 15 years. With a beautiful black man I met when I was 25.
Last year, I wrote about our relationship for Brassybrown.com:
J was 20 when we met. A rebel. He’d just been kicked out of his first of two colleges and sent back to Cleveland to get himself together. He was living with his mother, riding the bus, and barely scraping together money for cigarettes and $2 beers at the bar around the corner. He was scribbling poetry on any scrap of paper he could find, devouring political tracts and science fiction novels, and watching the news like most men watch football and basketball.
J didn’t have all the “resume” qualifications that most women look for, and it caused me quite a bit of consternation when we first met. He was kind, though. He was deeply intelligent, surprisingly funny, and beautifully soulful. He was handsome and a talented poet and emcee. He loved his mother and younger brother devotedly, and he fell decidedly in love with me.
I couldn’t resist doing the same to him.
J was wonderful, but J was five years younger than me. He was unsettled, unsure, and unprepared for a relationship as serious as ours. And we went through more ups and downs than I care to enumerate or narrate in this essay.
In other words, we were real people in real love. We had real problems. We made real mistakes.
I didn’t catalog those mistakes in the older post, and I won’t catalog them here, but I will say that I started the relationship afraid that he would never appreciate the “real” me–opinionated, bookish, awkward, restless, moody, freaky, and given to bouts of inconvenient and sometimes unjustified crazy–but he does.
I had to be open with him. I had to tell him all my stories. I had to show him all my scars. I had to trust him.
He had to be gentle and understanding and trust me not to ridicule him for it or throw it back up in his face. Trust me not to take advantage of him.
And vice-versa. He had to be open with me. Tell me his stories. Show me his scars. Trust me.
I had to be gentle and understanding and trust he wouldn’t take advantage of me.
This has been a long and often painful process, full of pitfalls. We’ve had terrible fights. We’ve broken up and gotten back together a few times. We’ve cried over each other. We’ve driven each other to some pretty desperate points.
But we have also made a miraculous little girl, built a beautiful and real friendship, and become each other’s family.
The work we’ve done to break free of our fear has been worth it.
I don’t know whether “Lemonade” is factual or not. But it does tell the truth about the heartbreak many black women experience in love with black men.
It is a very important and meaningful exposure.
It shows that black women have hearts. We’re not made of tin.
It shows that black men have power.
It shows that black women have power.
It shows that black love is an extremely complex and deep thing.
It also shows that black women and men have to allow for more complexity–and depth–in our interactions with each other in order to achieve love and effect some sort of healing of our collective brokenness.
We have to be less afraid, more vulnerable, and forego all this posturing we do for each other.
If America is going to do nothing but give us the “lemons” of living black and un-free in this forsaken place, then let’s be each other’s sugar.
Let’s believe and believe in–let’s help and stop hurting each other.