(Lainey: This post has been written by Cody Kreller, our newest contributor. I know Cody from Etalk through his work as a producer. And I had originally planned to introduce Cody later but then Beyoncé dropped a new song, without warning, as she does, and it accelerated our initial rollout. We are excited to welcome Cody to the team! While we are still setting up his LaineyGossip profile – shame on me for not being ready at all times for Beyoncé – you can reach him on Twitter @codyj and on Instagram @codosphotos. And now, without further ado… take it away, Cody.)
I've come to expect a lot from Beyoncé. I know this. She knows this. However I don't require her to use her platform for every single thing that masses want her to address. Beyoncé is ubiquitous, but only in a flash – and I love that. She knows the power she holds. So if she wanted to spend Juneteenth out in the sun with her Black husband, and Black kids, minding her own Black business, I would have been totally cool with that. But she didn't. And I'm ecstatic.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Juneteenth is a portmanteau of June Nineteenth, and marks the day in 1865 when all slaves in Texas were freed, two years after slaves were supposed to be freed when US President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was around 11PM ET — Juneteenth 2020 was almost over — when I noticed someone on Twitter share a YouTube link to a new Beyoncé song. What's going on? Is this a leak? Beyoncé songs don't leak. I click. It's on her official YouTube channel. It's called "Black Parade." Instantly, I have flashbacks to the day "Formation" dropped. The chills I got hearing the opening beats. The way my jaw dropped when she said, "You mix that Negro with that Creole," and not because I was offended, but because Beyoncé was putting her Blackness front and center.
That was 2016, and we now know that that would mark a new era in Beyoncé studies. Now it's 2020 and we have "Black Parade," on this specific holiday, during a time of civil unrest in her country, as Black Lives Matter protests are happening around the world. If you're going to pick up the mic in this moment, you better make it count. Good thing she's Beyoncé.
"I'm going back to the South / I’m goin’ back, back, back, back," she opens the song. "Where my roots ain’t watered down / Growin’, growin’ like a Boabab tree." That hit close to home on many levels. I'm biracial. One of my parents is white, the other Black, and I always felt like I was watering down my Blackness for the white community in which I grew up. When I started working in TV, producing entertainment news on a show that used to cater more to white audiences, I regrettably found myself playing Uncle Tom and trying to only display Black people as model minorities: well-dressed, well-behaved, well-spoken. Only recently, I've been having conversations with my coworkers about how at work, my Blackest stories, the ones that I feel most passionately about, either get shot down or whitewashed. I feel like Beyoncé is speaking directly to me, but I know she's speaking to all of us.
She goes on to sing about Black iconography, like the Ankh, that never gets mentioned much outside of museums, let alone in mainstream music. But it's right before she reaches the chorus where she hits me again:
"Being Black, baby, that’s the reason why they always mad, yeah, they always mad, yeah."
At first I interpreted this through the lens of police officers taking away the presumption of innocence for Black skin. Then I thought about it being a way to flip the “Angry Black Woman/Man” trope. Am I angry or are you just angry that I'm Black and empowered? I'm sure there are even more meanings that I haven't unlocked yet. But even without reading between the lines, it's a delicious statement.
Then the chorus:
"Talkin' slick to my folk (my folk), lift that lip like lipo (lipo)."
Um, is Beyoncé calling out white people who have fallen in love with the Black aesthetic (but aren't our allies)?! You know the ones. They are the Instagram girls with lip fillers, getting surgery to achieve the curves and swerves of Black women, tanning their skin 20 shades darker than they are, laying their baby hairs... I'm looking at you, Kardashians.
"Trust me, they gon' need an army / Rubber bullets bouncin' off me."
We've all seen the images of protesters injured by police firing rubber bullets at their faces at point blank range. But it's going to take more than that to break this movement. We're fighting for people’s lives, and that's not hyperbole. From Trayvon Martin to Rayshard Brooks, and all the names we know and don't know, before, between, and after.
"Made a picket sign off your picket fence / Take it as a warning."
You know in Mean Girls when Regina George pulls up in the car with her friends and tells Cady, "Get in loser, we're going shopping"? Well, I'm replacing Regina George with Beyoncé: "Get in, Bitch, we're going to tear down the white patriarchy!"
You've got to listen to the song a few times to let things really sink in.
"Put us any-damn-where, we gon' make it look cute."
Haven't Black people (to steal a page from Beyoncé) been making lemons out of lemonade for centuries?
"Pandemic fly on the runway, in my hazmat"
Did she know there would be pictures of her in her face mask deboarding a private jet all over the internet the day she released the song? UGH her mind.
But “Black Parade” isn’t just a song. Before I even heard the first beat, I got a notification that Beyoncé posted on Instagram — yes I have notifications on for the Queen. The post pointed me to a new page of her website, featuring a directory of over 100 Black-owned businesses. She is using her power to set up an infrastructure for her community? What does she gain from it? Nothing. Just the pleasure in uplifting her people.
‘Buying Black’ is important because the community often doesn’t get to pass down generational wealth since the system is inherently racist, from getting a bank loan for your business to trying to lease space. That’s why Beyoncé is really shaking the table by elevating these businesses on her platform. The “Black Parade” marches on.
So, thank you Beyoncé for you work behind the scenes and behind the mic. The song's a bop. I can sit still, in my room, by myself and listen to every lyric. I can dance to this song with my friends while we're drunk. And I did both this weekend with equal pleasure. The Black struggle is sewn through the song, but it's her gift to us for a specific occasion. Juneteenth is not a day of mourning slavery. It's a day of celebrating how far we've come and reenergizing for how far we still have to go. Beyoncé's sending out that call to action through great music, because it's the best way she knows how.