Beyoncé benefits from colorism. Her light skin and flowing golden hair give her proximity to whiteness that no dark-skinned woman can ever obtain. Beyoncé was never called dookie, charcoal, or any other dark object synonymous with trash. She never had to wonder if she would find love because her skin color was deemed too dark for desire. And no one ever told her that she can’t be seen at night by black men of her same complexion. Instead, self-hating black men weaponized Beyoncé’s beauty as a measuring stick for women like Lil Kim. Beyoncé’s praise meant a dark-skinned woman’s denigration. Until now.
Beyoncé sends a love letter to dark-skinned women in the visual album, Lemonade. Hidden within Beyoncé’s story of marital reconciliation is a journey of racial justice. Beyoncé’s 11 chapter visual album highlights dark-skinned women reclaiming spaces once denied to them. Lemonade is proof that a black woman cannot be fully healed until all black women are healed.
On what looks like a southern plantation, black women of all hues bask in what slavery stole: fashion and leisure. Their Southern gothic clothes and unhurried stillness were once reserved for elite wives of plantation owners. What was once separated by color (field slave vs. house slave) is reunited in freedom. Just the presence of a diverse group of rested, fashionable black women is a revolutionary act.
This film makes you see black women and the micro-messages in their faces that we overlook when we quickly turn away. Each elongated B-roll is an act of racial justice. We see black women intertwined by elongated sleeves as if they are wrestling toward the light of being seen and centered. With the evocative Malcolm X soundbite,“The most neglected person in America is the black woman,” Beyoncé shows what happens after betrayal when black women have no one to turn to but themselves.
Serena Williams prances through a mansion in a way that is typically reserved for light-skinned video girls. This moment is as if Beyoncé lifted her crown of privileged beauty to place on the head of Serena, and by proxy, dark-skinned women everywhere. Beyoncé ends with the jolting statement, “He better call Becky with the good hair.” Even for Beyoncé, the colorism that she benefits from can be used against her. That one line that Beyoncé deemed worthy of repeating stands in solidarity with dark-skinned women who are shunned for the same mistress.
“You desperately want to look like her.” Beyoncé knows black girls are watching. And she creates space for their beauty by celebrating their collective identity. Lemonade seeks to right what’s been written out of existence by displaying black fatherhood; not as the idyllic Million Man March, but as a flawed image scarred and healing from generational violence and infidelity in the earthiness of the Deep South.
Beyoncé continues to show how hurt and healing are a collective emotion. Mirroring the Orisha religion, black women encircle her as if they are interceding on behalf of the divine. Beyoncé heals through the healing of dark-skinned women.
“The deep velvet of your mother, and her mother, and her mother. There is a curse that will be broken.” Nina Simone softly sings in the background while Beyoncé recites Warsan Shire’s poetry. This is no accident that a symbol of dark-skinned beauty is heard at the turning point of Beyoncé’s healing.
Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption
What does a black woman utopia look like? Beyoncé offers a glimpse. Multi-generational black women of all hues and hair textures celebrate themselves on the same land that brutalized them. We see artistry without restraint or marginalization. We see no skin hierarchy. Women with marginalized complexions (like albino, vitiligo, and dark-skinned) take up just as much space as light-skinned women. Elders are given space to impart into their progeny. We see spirituality, both indigenous and Western, as a space where black women can be embraced.
We also see black women holding what’s left of their slain children. We see life emerging out of death.
“My grandma said nothing real can be threatened.” That real can be described as oneness with earth. oneness with the divine, and oneness with ourselves. The close of Lemonade proclaims dark-skinned women as worthy of giving and receiving love. Now, when Beyoncé rises, we rise with her.