How 'Lemonade' Has Shaped The Way I'm Raising My Black Sons
Beyoncé's new visual album Lemonade is playing on repeat everywhere. It's visually stunning, the musical influences vary from rock to country to trap, and the poetry... my God, the poetry! Warsan Shire's poetry gives me life. Lemonade is Beyoncé's very own The Song Remains the Same. It's her Purple Rain. Her masterpiece. And Lemonade is going to help me raise my sons.
Lemonade's connection to Beyoncé's presumed personal life has everyone talking. Is it about Jay Z cheating? Is it about her father's infidelity? What is Lemonade all about? Every news article or review seems to make the assumption that the album is autobiographical, and maybe it is. But as a writer and an artist, I believe in artistic license. I believe an album, even if it touches upon real-life events, including clips or videos from personal moments, should still be considered a piece of art, and not, unless explicitly stated, a documentary. We'll never likely know who Lemonade is about or if it was written in response to her husband's alleged infidelities. But the power of Lemonade comes from the fact that it's a story about the long history of infidelity and what it does to women, specifically black women. And as a black woman, seeing the beautiful imagery of us in our glory, and in our shame, I wondered also, what Lemonade has to say about our boys? What about our black boys? Our sons?
Lemonade does highlight men beyond Jay Z and Matthew Knowles, but it does so in shorter snippets. So I listened to the words of Beyoncé's songs and the excerpts Beyoncé chose from Shire's poetry for what I felt her message is for men. And I came to the conclusion that it's there, in plain text, spelled out in black and white bold letters during the song "Don't Hurt Yourself": God is God and I am not.
When Beyoncé sings, "You not trying hard enough. You not reaching deep enough. I need love," I am reminded that I want to teach my sons that, when they love another person, they're to treat that person as if he or she is royalty, and doing so fosters respect. But I also want them to know it does not make them their king.
Patriarchy is so invisible, so seamless, that we often don't even realize when we are participating in and encouraging it. As a mother of two sons, I have to constantly make sure I'm not blindly teaching them the ways of patriarchy, the ways of misogyny. Doing so is hard. Boys have always been favored historically. They're treated differently, given more freedoms, allowed to get away with more than girls, doted on more, and all the while, they do so without the pressure of high expectations. Parents, families — society in general — often provide boys with excuses for their bad behavior: "Boys will be boys"; "he only hits you because he likes you"; "what do you expect? He's a man." It's more than pervasive — it's the way our society operates.
Looking at these women and their lost sons reminded me that no matter how well we teach our children, especially our sons, one day they'll no longer be within our control. We'll let them go and be out in the world. We can't shelter them from whatever or whoever seek to destroy them. And that is terrifying.
This favoritism gives men the false sense of godliness, the idea that they're above us mere females, us mortals. But, I hope to always keep my boys grounded, down to earth. When Beyoncé sings, "You not trying hard enough. You not reaching deep enough. I need love," I am reminded that I want to teach my sons that, when they love another person, they're to treat that person as if he or she is royalty, and doing so fosters respect. But I also want them to know it does not make them their king. I want my sons to respect their partners enough to not behave like the men in Beyoncé's narrative: not come home late, not give love away, not be so disrespectful as to leave the scent of another person on his body, not take the love of another person for granted.
Male entitlement starts in the home. And I believe that if we treat our boys differently, they'll treat others with that same lack of deference. It's my responsibly as a mother to make sure I do what I can to teach my sons that just because they are males that they are not Gods, so that in the next generation, the next Beyoncé will not be writing songs about them that call into question the very structure of manliness and godliness.
We ache and tremble in fear because what if what we teach them— confidence, self-love, respect— is the bullet in their back? What if a strong, proud foundation becomes the coffin we must lay them in? What if they are shot for just being a black boy playing alone in a park? What then?
There is one scene in particular that truly yanked at my maternal heart strings. When the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown are shown sitting down with portraits of their slain sons, it struck me symbolically: these mothers holding their sons on their laps such as they did not so long ago, wearing clothing inspired by traditional African attire — weaving our collective past as slaves to our present and the continued willful disregard of black lives. It's a scene that's incredibly hard for me to watch, and with each viewing of Lemonade, I cry harder. Looking at these women and their lost sons reminds me that no matter how well we teach our children, especially our sons, one day they'll no longer be within our control. We'll let them go and be out in the world. We can't shelter them from whatever or whoever seek to destroy them. And that is terrifying.
This fear is the curse of black motherhood. Not only do we feel the normal anxiety of raising children, but we ache for what we know our sons will know and face because the color of their skin is not white. We ache and tremble in fear because what if what we teach them— confidence, self-love, respect— is the bullet in their back? What if a strong, proud foundation becomes the coffin we must lay them in? What if they are shot for just being a black boy playing alone in a park? What then?
Lemonade mostly reminded me that I need to teach my sons respect, yes, for all women, but especially black women. There is a soundbite from Malcolm X, also during "Don't Hurt Yourself," where you hear the civil rights leader saying
The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.
It's a snippet from a speech Malcolm X gave in 1962 in Los Angeles, and though his words are now decades old, they are still true. Hearing them sampled in Lemonade showed me just how important it is to teach my sons that women who look like their mother, their grandmothers, their aunts, and their cousins deserve more than just respect. They deserve love, and as Beyoncé said, "When you love me, you love yourself."
I love my sons, and I will always kiss and dote on them. I'll constantly shower them with affection. I'll make sure they know they are loved, and I'll continue to respect them as human beings. I will make sure they are protected and well-cared for. I will parent them to the best of my abilities. But I won't teach them that they are above reproach. My sons will be raised knowing there are consequences for their mistakes and bad choices. I plan to hold them accountable for the way they treat others just as much as I will protect them against harmful treatment from others. I believe that God is God, and men are not. And I'll do everything I can to make sure my boys know the difference.