After a few days of hoopla I figured I should sit down & finally watch Beyonce’s Lemonade. Admittedly I’m a fan, but never I-will-defend-Queen-Bee-to-the-death as some are prone to doing. I expected an enjoyable viewing experience, but what I got was so much more.
I read that Lemonade’s concept was being described as “every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.” Ain’t that the truth? The journey those tracks immediately took me on was a wild ride of emotions I related to in more ways than I expected. Specifically my journey as an ethnically black & Italian woman who racially identifies in the Black-American community. Lemonade reminded me of the questions often swirling through my head: how am I a black woman? How am I biracial woman? What’s the difference? But mostly this: I’m biracial, but ain’t I black woman too? Does the whole of me fit into the black experience of women across America or nah?
Watching Lemonade I found myself in it. I found me. I realized it’s okay that who I am doesn’t perfectly align with the blackness I see in others. I mourned how split in two I’ve felt. When I was with my ex-husband who was white, I felt (more) black. Now when I’m with my husband who is black, I’ve feel (more) white. Never once has my husband viewed my preferences as a mark off my black card. He’s joked about my inner white girl which I take in stride because I see it too. There’s no denying it.
I was raised by a white woman. My black father was abusive for years then spent the rest of my childhood in prison. I had no access to him, my black family members, or his cultural tutelage beyond 10 years old. My mother sent me to an all-white private Christian school seeped in a conservative Baptist tradition and we attended their accompanying large Baptist church. We spent Wednesday nights at A.W.A.N.A., a program for youth designated to memorizing Bible verses, and running around primarily colored circles. When they say it takes a village to raise a child it’s true and my mother made sure my primary village was white. So do I have an inner white girl? Absolutely. Not only do I have an inner white girl, she is a part of me. She is me. If I think too long and hard about it I have a very “Fight Club” confusion about it all.
But that white village didn’t protect me from the experience of being a young black woman in America. In fact, that white village did everything it could to be sure I knew just how exclusive it was. That white village made for damn sure I knew I was among them, but not one of them. When I was told I was not allowed to be baptized in that white church on account of being black my heart experienced the first tightening of the lynching cord. And when in the 7th grade my best friend told me I couldn’t come to her birthday party because her mom didn’t allow blacks in her home, the noose burned a bit tighter. Her father sat on the school board and was a prominent leader in the church. Even at 11, I understood the implications of this: structural, systemic racism ran deep and wide and tarnished the souls of the young.
As the years went by the village became more suffocating, the noose tightened further. When my older brother from my mother’s first marriage, a white man, often referred to me as a nigger in our home, I got a quick lesson of what an oppressive emotional lashing felt like. He often accompanied his rabid use of the word “nigger” with “stupid.” I only remember him referring to me that way a handful of times, but I will never forget the number of times I heard him use it in our home. In my home. In my supposed den of safety. After every news story, “those niggers . . . look what they did,” after anything happened to our house or cars, it was the niggers’ fault. He was relentless. He warned me against becoming a stupid ass nigger, talking and walking like a nigger. In fact, he was the only white person in my life who held out hope that I’d see myself exclusively as white, denying my blackness all together. As messed up as it is, he was the sole white person to ever communicate you’re welcome to be white like me. In essence he asked of me, Please be white. Be white like me. To which I vehemently responded there wasn’t a shot in hell.
In junior high, the girls never hesitated to point out differences: “Why is you hair so . . . greasy?” they’d lament with disgust. I knew of several other girls whose father told them if they brought home a black boyfriend he would be met with a shotgun at the door. Thus began the fear that most black women feel at every point in their life: that every black man they know and love is susceptible to the antics, fears, suspicions, violence, and hatred of reckless white men which history has yet to disprove. I felt the angst of little white boys who I wanted to like me but found me gross: my hair, my skin, my poverty. I lived in Detroit. The actual city of Detroit. I was shipped to this school, while the suburban kids lived in fear of Detroit like I fear a snake pit. I was raised in this village but I was not safe in this village. While this village gave me a huge part of my whiteness, it also caused me to repel it, to despise the parts of me which mimic it.
Meanwhile in my urban center, my circle of black friends in my black neighborhoods contributed to a growing sense of my inclusion to the whole of blackness. I was strongly corrected by an older child or adult when someone would ask “what I was” and I’d say “mixed.” They’d cut me off with a fierce passion, “No! You black!” The one-drop rule was heavily in place in my Detroit neighborhood. One drop of black blood meant you were blackity-black, which was fine by me. I wanted nothing more than to distance myself from all the white people, all of them with one problem or another with the minuscule amount of blackness they saw in me and the pervading blackness they saw in Detroit itself which they obviously feared and hated. I pitied and loathed them, and many of them I hated even while embracing a few dear ones.
The neighborhood kids sat around talking about racial issues. With our limited perspectives and young minds all we knew was the racism we’d experienced. I’m not sure we used that word but our experiences could be summed up this way: shit hurt. I didn’t know how to articulate how sad and sorry my weak ass white village was, only that everyday I was a part of it, I hurt. Somehow instinctively in my gut, I felt the brunt of the racism even when it was the most covert undercover BS the North had ever seen. And I felt the pain of it uniquely among my black peers on the block. I was an anomaly. They attended 98% predominantly black schools where they were spared from interacting with racist white Christians.
Where was my inner white girl then? What did my inner white girl do to save me from all that noise? What did having a white mother or light skin do to keep me from the pain of my primary village teaching me directly about racism? Does my light skin prohibit me from experiencing the fullness of the black experience? Has it protected me so far? No. I will acknowledge the inherent privilege of this skin. All day every day I will speak of how it benefits me over my darker-hued sisters. I will carry the extra burden and shame of walking every day with this skin in a system that would give me privilege I did not create and do not sustain.
And as I watched Lemonade all at once I felt I had lived the fullness of the black woman’s experience. I felt all at once that despite my inner white girl, my light skin, my white mother, or any other thing that I had lived the fullness of this pain.
Ain’t I a black woman?
Haven’t I felt the emotional lash?
Haven’t I been denied the humanity?
Haven’t I watched a black man being ripped from my arms into the system?
Don’t I love a black man who lives under the weight of being feared?
Don’t I know the sting of betrayal?
Haven’t I longed for the safety of the sisterhood?
Haven’t I looked at white women with both awe, despair, jealousy, pity, envy, anger, and adoration?
Is not my biracial confusion a valid experience?
Haven’t I been forced to make lemonade out of America’s lemons?
Ain’t I a black woman too?
Yes, yes I am.
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