Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On Lemonade and learning who Becky really is


I FINALLY WATCHED LEMONADE!!!!

I honestly wasn't expecting to be that into it.  I mean, I am a sane human, and so I know that Queen Bey is all things brilliant, but a visual album sounded kind of ... boring.  Even from Beyoncé.  Well I am happy to report that I was wrong.  So very wrong.  It is amazing.  I was so hypnotized.  It is such a powerful piece of music/visual art/poetry - I was transfixed and, for the first half, basically in tears.

There is so much, obviously, to ask.  Is this about her relationship with Jay Z?  Did he cheat?  Did she somehow manage to mine deep pain into art while forgiving at the same time?  Is she simply speaking into an experience that isn't necessarily her own - you know, as an artist?  Sharing an expression of strength, anger, and forgiveness?  A more widespread experience of Black women?  I DON'T KNOW!  And I probably won't ever get to know, because that's how art works.

In the meantime, I have OBVIOUSLY read about it, and while there are a lot of interesting commentaries, I really loved this article Bump Your 'Becky' Beef by Jacqui Germain in Feministing.

It is always good to be reminded that your view of the world and experience of life is not the same as everyone else's (not even close), and that there are whole cultures and subcultures with dialect, imagery, experiences, and knowledge of the life that exist right alongside yours that you are blind to - and that your blindness does not make them less valid.

So, Becky.  Before I watched Lemonade I heard a lot about Becky.  People were saying she is the girl that Jay Z cheated with and starting to drop guesses about who she is.

Well, according to Germain's article, it's not that simple.

Becky is not a specific woman.  Becky is basically a shorthand name for a pretty white girl who embodies liberal racism.  Or maybe just plain racism?  She may not be one individual, but she is the summary of so many women who Black people encounter on a daily basis who think they "get it" and think they are liberal and open-minded and non-racist, while completely undermining actual equality and supporting systems of oppression.

Of course, Germain says it best:
Although for Black Americans in general, “Becky” is a well-known social trope, for Black women, it carries some emotional weight as well. “Becky” is the white girl specter who has transformed across history. She’s the white feminist who argues that white women and Black women were both oppressed during slavery. She’s the white feminist who champions Miley Cyrus’ “sexual liberation” as sex positivity but goes on multi-paragraph expositions about how Amber Rose’s Slut Walk set a bad example for women. Or how Nicki Minaj is bad for women. Or Beyoncé. Or Rihanna. But Madonna is somehow a feminist icon. She’s Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” philosophy. She’s the white girl putting #AllLivesMatter on everything, swearing she’s part of the human race or a citizen of the world, while planning a mission trip to Africa. None of us know where in Africa, but just Africa. 
-Jacqui Germain, Bump Your 'Becky' Beef
What does this mean?  In terms of Lemonade, I don't know.  It could mean many things and unless I ever get to chat with Beyoncé about what it meant to her in the context of this creation, I won't know.  For me, it means that no matter how specific the inspiration for Lemonade was, it speaks to a much wider experience.

In real life, though, it means something pretty freaking clear.  People don't create shorthand names to sum up experiences that hardly ever happen.  The trope of Becky developed because this girl is real and encountered all the time, and we simply cannot dismiss it.

Read Jacqui Germain's full article on Feministing.


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