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