By Shevaughnne Brown
Over the last few days several media outlets have purported that a host of mega churches in the southern region of the states have decided to band together and launch a boycott against the mega star Beyoncé Knowles protesting lyrics from her no. 1 album Lemonade. Allegations of specific lyrics being blasphemous come nearly six months after the album’s April 23, 2016 release. No specific churches have been named in connection to these claims, and representatives for the churches in question have yet to come forward,or confirm whether or not plans to protest the Queen Bey’s upcoming shows are indeed true. The verse that seems to have ruffled a few feathers is actually an excerpt borrowed from a mash-up of several poems by British-Somali poet Warsan Shire, who collaborated with Beyoncé on the visual portion of the hit album. The verse states “I plugged my menses with pages of the holy book and still inside me coiled deep was the need to know –are you cheating on me?” The poem in its entirety is about a woman being submerged in denial about her lover’s infidelity, and the sacrifices she makes in order to unveil the truth. The verse is indeed thought provoking, and pushes certain boundaries; however, when you look at the poem in its entirety, contextually blasphemous is all wrong when it comes to analyzing the statement both the author, and Bey are trying to make.
In the wake of tragedies involving police brutality against Black-Americans, rampant violence within the Black community, poverty, housing inequality, and a host of other serious issues that plague the Black community as a whole, I hardly find it plausible that these alleged churches would devote any amount of time, energy, effort, or resources to such a preposterous cause when there are much more pressing issues at hand.But if they have truly decided to partake in this pointless attempt to tear down yet another successful Black entertainer, then I will try my best to save them the time and trouble of launching such an inane demonstration.
First and foremost, this is an artistic expression about a spiritual cleansing-she did not actually tear pages from any “Holy Book” and use them to stop her menstrual flow; in the lines preceding this she also stated that she bathed in bleach, are we also to believe that she actually sat naked in a tub of bleached water? Absolutely not! Those of us who understand artistic expression recognize that these statements are used metaphorically to illustrate how extensively this woman has tried to cleanse herself of her moral imperfections in order to address her lover’s. Another way of interpreting this verse is to come at it using the perspective of a woman and the Bible itself; for many women, during their cycles they feel the most unclean and, since we are talking about the bible, Leviticus 15:19 (New Living Translation) states that “Whenever a woman has her menstrual period she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.Anyone who touches her during that time will be unclean until evening.” It even goes further to state that anything she touches, lies or sits on will also be unclean.
Imagine a time when you are considered so filthy that anything you touch or that touches you is also considered filthy; it is during such a time that this woman is attempting to piously cleanse herself and thought what better way to do that than with the pages of the “Holy Book” itself? Calling such an expression of spiritual cleansing blasphemous is an invalid argument -it is actually quite the opposite. The woman in the poem is seeking redemption and this verse was not intended as an insult to the Bible or any other “Holy Book”, it can actually be regarded as a testament of the “Holy Book’s” sovereignty and inviolability.
The next thing I would like to implore is why they chose to admonish Beyoncé for whatever point they are trying to get across. If you’re calling out Beyoncé for being blasphemous, and want to hold her accountable for what you consider disrespectful and/or offensive to Christianity why not call out a throng of other entertainers such as Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, and Lady GaGa for their sacrilegious stunts? Why not boycott them and hold them equally accountable? Where were these supposed southern churches when Lady GaGa belted out a tune of devotion to Judas, also known as the betrayer of Jesus Christ? Where was the boycott of Kanye West’s album artwork where he depicts himself as Jesus Christ with a crown of thorns seated next to a red skinned being, whom we presume to be the devil? Or what about the fact that the title of the album is Yeezus? While there have been boycotts and protests launched against West, one being led by Rev. Al Sharpton, they had nothing to do with his use of sacrilegious themes and content. On the contrary, the good Rev. Al Sharpton reproved West for his use of the confederate flag on items from his popular clothing line. So I ask, why Beyoncé and why now?
When we talk about the social responsibility of an artist we must do so without imposing upon his/her artistic integrity. We must understand that an artist is not subjugated to what the public desires of them, or in this case what these so-called southern black churches desire. It might not have been pleasing to hear what Knowles said about the use of the pages in the “Holy Book”, but just because you do not share her way of thinking or understand her artistic standard does not make her expression wrong or offensive; it makes you biased to your own personal opinions and beliefs and one cannot build a solid argument on bias. Beyoncé Knowles is a true artist showing a real commitment to a higher standard of excellence that far exceeds public applause. If she were only seeking public approval her work would be meaningless and un-affecting. In that verse from Lemonade she felt compelled to make a bold statement of a deep spiritual cleanse, and while we acknowledge that it may not have been what the public wanted to hear and, as the resulting rumored boycott has revealed, what they do not understand and may never understand she should not be prevented from making that statement. The verse from the poem in question is not blasphemous at all, it’s devoutly spiritual and shows a woman soliciting her faith for answers. I deeply encourage individuals who are outraged by this statement to revisit the work and to view it not through the lens of bias, but from the artist’s perspective. Try to see and listen to understand, not to form an opinion, because like those nameless southern churches, you might get it all wrong.
To view the scene “Denial” from Lemonade click the link below:
Holy Bible. New Living Translation. Carol Stream:Tyndale House Publishers Inc.2013, (New Living Translation – The BibleOnline) http://www.biblestudytools.com/nlt/leviticus/passage/?q=leviticus+15:19-33
Richards, H. (1966). The Social Responsibility of the Artist. Ethics, 76(3), 221-224. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2379120
Shire, W. (2016). “Denial” [Recorded by Beyoncé Knowles]. On Lemonade [recording]. New York: Parkwood Entertainment & Columbia Records. (2014-2015)