Purple Rain, Lemonade, Blackness

Prince died this weekend.

Beyonce released her new album, Lemonade, this weekend.

Like many people, I spent time this weekend watching video clips of Prince, listening to his music, reading the news reports discussing his work, his legacy, and his private philanthropy. Like many people, I watched and listened to Beyonce’s Lemonade, read think-pieces about it, followed some discussions on Twitter.

I am reminded that there is no one, true, way to be a fan.

I saw someone, Sady Doyle, I think, tweet that she was a fan of Beyonce in much the same way she was a fan of Prince — she knew the top hits, the most popular songs, saw the Superbowl performances, caught a few interviews here and there. This resonated for me. That is my experience as well. I’m not a die-hard fan of either. I think they are both magnificent artists and performers. World-changers. Makers of the future. I don’t know any of the deeper tracks on any albums, I can’t tell you much about their families, personal lives, struggles, or passions. If it’s not in a Billboard Top 40 song of theirs, or a movie, or a top-ranked music video, I’m sure I don’t know it.

Yet, I grieve for the loss of Prince.

Yet, I grin in a hot, angry, teeth-baring celebration of exuberant, terrible joy at Lemonade.

Watching Prince videos this weekend, I wonder — what would black masculinity look like today, if the AIDS crisis had not robbed us of a generation of queer men, especially queer men of color? I mourn that loss. Watching Beyonce, her smile and laugh as she destroys a street with a baseball bat, I wonder whether her anger will be lost the way we have forgotten Hurston’s anger and joy, Baker’s, or Smith’s.

I’m not black. My wondering is an outsider’s view, a glance at something that is not my experience yet is performed for all to witness. Witness, if not entirely comprehend. As a fan, as a witness, as an outsider, as one touched by art whether or not that art is made for me, I desperately hope that these moments become fully part of the cultural record.

Prince and Beyonce need to be a part of our collective history.

We have to remember a past in order to grow from it. We have to see a past if we are to build upon it.

When I look at Prince’s legacy, I hope we remember that this, too, is American blackness. When I see Beyonce putting her entire reputation, personal and professional, on the line for her values and politics and family, I hope we stop forgetting that this, too, is American blackness.

I’m glad that Lemonade came out this weekend. The music, the politics, the art, and the blackness continue on.

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