Toni Morrison over an 808


I don’t want to make a big production out of my Lemonade thoughts. The world doesn’t need many more think pieces on Lemonade, and it sure as shit doesn’t need to hear what some white guy thinks about it. Plus, anything under 4-5k words on Lemonade is not doing it justice. She gave us a novel, Toni Morrison over an 808, and a few hundred words is nothing to capture it.

But nobody’ll read this so w/e. In my albeit limited reading on the visual album, I didn’t encounter anything about how guilt is distributed—that is, how it doesn’t simply land on Jay, for cheating, and stop there. Instead, she goes beyond simplistic, juridical assignment of guilt and indicts American white supremacy  and apartheid. It’s how pain and guilt (and redemption) flow, not how they statically reside. Lemonade is about history, too. How we got here, what led to today, the back story to the choices we make in the present. She’s careful to trace how guilt and pain travel across generations. Lemonade is about parents, their parents, children. It’s about lineage, but a black lineage.

And one doesn’t properly talk about the black family in America without talking about slavery and the pathologies concocted by white patriarchy. The institution of slavery actively ripped apart the black family for hundreds of years. White supremacist culture in the century of Jim Crow taught us of a supposed black male criminality and outsized, almost unbounded, dangerous sexuality. But at least the black man was seen. The black woman is subaltern during this time, invisible, history-less.

Call Becky with the good hair. If this what you truly want, I can wear her skin…over mine. Her hair, over mine.

I don’t mean to say that Bey exculpates Hov by distributing guilt. Far from it. And that’s what makes Lemonade so powerful, such an achievement: she drags Hov for most of an hour in front of the entire world. She puts his shit out there for everyone to see and reminds him and everyone else that she’s bigger than he is now: “keep your money, I got my own.” (And more of it, if the numbers I’ve seen are right.)

Jay is sure enough guilty for cheating on her. But she recognizes the “darkness” in him. She recognizes the genealogy of pain and guilt: “In the tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3AM and lie to me.” This isn’t justification tho. Jay is still guilty as all fuck. Bey is marching down the street with a baseball bat fucking shit up, and when that isn’t sufficient she hops into a monster truck to annihilate the world in her anger.

But then there’s this:

Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you.

There is such care for Hov. But, all that said, the woman bears the brunt. As much as she acknowledges how Jay adopted the pain taught to him, she is one who suffers his destruction. The magnanimity of “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself” is offset by the real pain and anger we find throughout.

[Shit, I said this was gonna be brief. Let me work to a close here and maybe hold this post open for revision as my thoughts develop…]

I do want to close with another thing I didn’t see written about: Jay’s song “Blue” from his last album, which, like Lemonade, speaks on their marital strife but stretches the narrative out to involve generations and the passage of pain:

Please don’t judge me, only hugged the block
I thought my daddy didn’t love me

And then in these bars, again in “Blue,” with Biggie spliced in to complete the lines (Biggie’s in parentheses).

I dream filthy (My mom and pops)
Mixed me with Jamaican (Rum and whiskey, what a set off)
And I know I’m not perfect baby
I been through so much trauma, it gonna be hard to reverse it

This relationship shit is complicated
All I know if we ain’t speaking everyday, I fucking hate it
I don’t wanna duplicate it
I seen my mom and pop drive each other mothafuckin’ crazy
And I got that nigga blood in me
I got his ego and his temper, all is missing is the drugs in me



neoliberal interpretations

“Neoliberalism” is the new fuego term to spice up your take, but there are two—in the end, irreconcilable—meanings of the term, or so I’ve recently discovered. “Neoliberalism” could be a helpful term to describe one of two distinct (yet related, compounding the confusion) phenomena, but instead it obfuscates as much as it clarifies when it’s used to name both. I hate to be that guy, but we can’t use the word to describe two different things.

At the outset, I’d like to propose that we call contemporary Democratic Party orthodoxy “Clintonism,” and we let “neoliberalism” remain an internationally understood term that refers to the project of economic liberalization of the sort devised and promoted by Friedman, von Hayek, Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet et al, and critiqued by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Joseph Stiglitz and others.

The newer, minor, and distinctly D.C.-oriented meaning of “neoliberalism”—what I propose we call “Clintonism”—that I’ve seen bandied about lately is, far as I can tell, mostly, if not entirely relegated to folks in the US, where “liberalism” is used to name a general set of ideals and aims of its Democratic Party. Neoliberalism, then, is simply new liberalism, in the US political sense, epitomized by the DLC-era Democratic Party of the Clintons. It’s an epithet for a certain set of leftist writers.

This newer, secondary use of the term has become so prevalent that even Jonathan Chait was hip to it, prompting him to tweet, “What if every use of ‘neoliberal’ was replaced with, simply, ‘liberal’? Would any non-propagandistic meaning be lost?”

In his response to Chait, Jacobin‘s Corey Robin offered a very good and helpful account of the term’s history in its, I’m arguing, secondary usage. Robin illustrates the slippery nature of the word’s semantic core, liberal: “Chait was probably just voicing his disgruntlement with an epithet that leftists and Sanders liberals often hurl against Clinton liberals like Chait.”

So there are Sanders liberals and Clinton liberals. Are there other liberals? That’s p slippery. The word’s meaning shifts and slides and moves to and fro depending on the speaker and the listener. “Liberal” means left-of-center in American political parlance, but where the fuck is the center? Your placement of the political center point is almost guaranteed to generate lengthy debate with anyone to whom you explain how you drop the pin on that spectrum. So “liberal” means something different to Rush Limbaugh than it does to Al Franken, something different from Sanders to Clinton, Chait to Robin, etc. Add another shifting signifier in there—neo—and we’ve got a fantastically subjective word, about which entire debates must be had about its precise meaning.

It’s for that reason alone that I think we could go ahead and kick that sense of the word to curb.

Then there’s the international, dominant meaning of the word that I propose we keep. That “neoliberalism” is founded on the economic sense of the word “liberal.” Economic liberalism goes back as far as Adam Smith. To liberalize markets is to reduce or remove hindrances on market interactions and trade, eg free trade deals, reduced regulations, lower taxes, and all that. Neoliberalization, in this sense, is the ever-increasing and ever-widening application of capitalist market principles.

So while the new, Washington-oriented use of the word is slippery, its international use is much cleaner and easy to understand. Is it a furthering of the capitalist market? Then it’s probably safely considered neoliberal. Financializing Social Security: neoliberal. The TPP: neoliberal. Privatizing public housing: neoliberal. Privatizing the military: neoliberal. Repeal of Glass-Steagall: neoliberal. Anywhere capital achieves new latitude or new domains of action and accumulation.

In any case where capital is permitted greater freedom you have economic liberalization. This is typically the diminution of market barriers and hindrances (regulations, say), but it can be the creation of markets too (like proposals to push large federal outlays off the budget and make them into market provisions, like Social Security). Thus, neoliberalization is the project in late decades to erode the nation-state in order to establish a society increasingly governed by market logic.

That neoliberalism is very easy to identify, while the newer, D.C.-oriented use almost invites misinterpretation. Plus, the use I advocate is international. A simple goog search for “neoliberalism” produces an article by a Greek about Brexit, published by a Canadian site. Our curious American use of the word would likely confound and befuddle those folks.