Birthing a New Nation

I read recently that what really defined the fall of man, in the beginning, was gaining awareness. The knowledge we gained was the knowledge that we existed on this planet. Instead of simply living blindly, allowing events and circumstances to unfold as they may, we started thinking about it, started plotting, started making plans and strategies for how to live – something that, as far as anyone knows, we’d never thought to do before. Because we didn’t know any better.

But, in the societies that followed this awakening, many groups were excluded from living in the light this knowledge provided. Women and people with darker skin tones or different religions were excluded from the greater plan that straight white men conceived and subsequently enforced. It’s taken hundreds of years and countless atrocities to get to where we are today. Damage has been done, but we are making progress. Think about when this country – America – was originally founded. White men who thought they ran the world came in on their ships; they plundered, exploited, and enslaved entire native civilizations. Our country – and others – were founded on practices of slavery, of cruelty, of subjugation.

Really, what was our nation birthed on? On the one hand, we have strong principles of liberty, of freedom to pursue dreams. Supposedly, if you read the poem on the Statue of Liberty, we are a nation for the poor, the downtrodden, for people who are suffering in their homeland and need a fresh start. If only these things transcended the boundaries of race and class and religion and gender.

Nate Parker’s film – The Birth of a Nation – is necessary, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time. If you don’t know, it’s using the same title as one of the first movies ever made in America, one that praised the KKK as a heroic force and showed black men as unintelligent sexual predators. One hundred years after the first try, Parker redeems the title, telling the true story of Nat Turner, an enslaved man who led a rebellion that started this country on a path toward ending slavery.

Schools today are deficient in education about slavery – people like to brush over it, gloss over the filthy things that slave owners did. This movie no longer lets that slide. Jarring cruelty is shown, but it’s not simply to shock – it’s told in such a way that brings it home, that makes it real, that makes you as angry and as heartbroken as if these unspeakable things were being done to your own brother or wife. Because really, the people who live in this country with us are our brothers and sisters regardless of race or class or religion. The emotion is intense, and that’s exactly what this country needs. It’s what I needed, and I know I’m not the only one who is able to live in some kind of bubble because of the lack of melanin in my skin.

This movie works like hydrogen peroxide on a wound that has been festering, infected, never fully healing. It’s massive and dirty and awful, but this film, along with other movements and works of art, is cleaning it out. Healing will take some time and some pain. But pouring the hydrogen peroxide is a step forward. Acknowledging what happened can lead us toward progress. It can unite us as people under new empathies, new knowledge. We can express our concern by speaking up, by looking critically at what our nation was founded on, and by evaluating if that is still what we need.

Discrimination is dead. We can look to current news and politics to see that this is not yet true in practice, but I know enough people who believe that – that nothing is skin deep, that a person lives INSIDE a body, and any judgments should be suspended for conversation. I know this is easier said than done, but at least we’re talking about it. Let’s use our fallen trait – our awareness of living – let’s use it for good. Let’s stay woke about what’s going on, let’s practice love and kindness and inclusivity in our own lives. It starts small, with individual people, and when individual people all watch a movie like The Birth of a Nation – that does the world some good. And isn’t that what we all want?

Take care –

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[Lemonade] Deconstruction Part I

Everyone drinks lemonade. She did not call this Grape Soda or Jungle Juice or champagne. She called it Lemonade. Pour yourself a tall glass. Share the pitcher with everyone you know. It is delicious.

On the first track, “Pray You Catch Me,” she’s praying to be caught, to end the dishonesty. We all know how painful lying is. The betrayal of feeling slighted, deceived – disrespected. “Maybe it’s a cause for concern / that I’m not at ease.” Trust yourself. And, in the beautifully shot visual album, she jumps off a building into water. He didn’t catch her.

Beyoncé reads poems between the songs, all by the poet Warsan Shire, In the poem after this song, she grieves how when men hurt us, we attempt to reduce ourselves. If we weren’t enough for them…then what?

Then she opens the floodgates, in the most amazing dress I’ve ever dreamed of owning, and is enough for herself, singing “Hold Up / They don’t love you like I love you.” This is the freedom, the power that comes with realizing your agency. If you’re Beyoncé, this manifests in smashing car windows and fire hydrants with a baseball bat, smiling and twirling and owning every inch of your fine self. It is glorious. She’s showing off how incredible she knows herself to be, graciously showing him how stupid he was to step out on her. Everyone watching this is thinking, “Jay-Z, what the hell is wrong with you? You’re married to BEYONCE.” And she knows it. She won’t reduce herself for him.

She labels the phases of enduring trauma, beginning with Anger. This album is a how-to guide of sorts, a method for feeling and accepting and gracefully processing the emotions that surface in hard times. She’s mad, asking, “Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.” Maybe they don’t. But she sees herself clearly. She knows who she is, and love can only come from someone else who sees her this way. She put Jay’s ass in check. But she did it kindly on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – “When you love me / you love yourself.” This is good for both of us. Do better. You don’t want to lose this, Jay. She is too much for you. Be the man Beyoncé deserves.

She intersperses the power of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” with a quote from Malcolm X, speaking about the struggles black women go through. And the worst part is that much of America has no idea. Well let Beyoncé inform you. She gets crazy in this song, and it’s beautiful – she is free, and she is speaking truth. But she knows what’s what – when referencing God, she flashes “GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT” across the screen. Fans of anyone, please remember this. People are not gods. Beyoncé is a powerful woman with a good message, but she is not a deity. She’s just out here doin some good.

Next phase: Apathy. She proclaims her greatness as taken for granted and rocks it out on “Sorry.” Because she isn’t. She didn’t do anything wrong. And this touches on a common problem among girls and women – an epidemic of over-apologizing. Sorry for taking up space. Sorry for being a person. Sorry for having an opinion. Please, ladies, let’s put a stop to this. Personally, I caught myself doing this a few years ago and consciously made an effort to stop. It is possible. Now I say “excuse me” when I walk through people in a crowded room.

She ends the song with, “You better call Becky with the good hair.” Please don’t interpret this as Beyoncé calling out someone named Becky. This is a common slur for, typically, a slutty white girl or simply someone who gives head freely. “Good hair” – I refer to Chris Rock’s documentary; it’s traditionally seen as straight, smooth, tame.

Beyoncé continues to celebrate the power of wild women. “6 Inch” is anything but tame. It’s an anthem, an anthem that celebrates another woman slaying the game, lauding the work that she puts in. As women, we should be each other’s ultimate supporters. I notice women glaring at me when I walk into a room confidently. Let me be great. It doesn’t detract from your greatness. In fact, celebrating another woman makes you look better, if that’s what you’re worried about. There’s no need for pettiness – think of the greater cause. If you want women to make strides in society, start by supporting your sisters in the club. We are all beautiful. And when I say sisters, I mean all women. A term for black women has been “sisters.” During my time at Howard, I realized that that’s how they see each other. They do have it rough, and they support each other. Fashion was a thing, but never in a competitive sense. I learned how to support other women by being friends with black women. But all women should exercise this – why not empower ourselves? We’re playing for the same team.

Sisters. In Costa Rica.

Sisters. In Costa Rica.

It’s interesting that she puts the phase of Loss in the midst of “6 Inch” and ends the song with the repeated plea, “Come back.” Even at her strongest, she knows that she can accomplish the most as part of a team.

The next phase is Accountability. “Did he bend your reflection? / Did he make you forget your own name?” [Warsan Shire] Women in my family have been abused. Not my immediate family – farther up – but the marks are evident. And that makes you tough. That’s “Daddy’s Lesson.” You learn strength when women in your life have been wronged. You learn it for their sake. In this song she uses her father as someone she learned from both directly and indirectly, citing his mistakes as reasons for her toughness and his words as reasons for her strength. Women can have male role models. My dad was one of the people I respected the most.

Reformation. “Why do you consider yourself undeserving? / Why are you afraid of love?” [Warsan Shire] Love yourself first. Maybe that’s scary. Change happens when you go through some shit. It can be scary, because it’s a loss – parts of you die. But the most beautiful life can come from death. Daisies grow on graves.

To be continued.

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