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Like Lemonade, I use political messages, themes and symbolism to get my points across in Tameka’s New Dress. The young-adult graphic novel is a visual tale of loss, hope, and Black female empowerment.
Beyoncé ’s Lemonade is a lengthy, creative concept video and album. The video is divided into 11 chapters: “Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Apathy,” “Emptiness,” “Accountability,” “Reformation,” “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” “Hope,” and “Redemption.” I want to divide my blog into four of those chapters, juxtaposing Tameka’s New Dress with Lemonade.
During the anger chapter, Beyoncé features an excerpt from a speech by Malcolm X:
The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.
A gifted Kemet Middle School student, Tameka is accused of pushing another student. When the principal mentions to Tameka that she may be suspended, Tameka starts to panic. Tameka’s fear stems from the abuse and neglect she experiences at home. Inside the home Tameka’s step-father disrespects her body, her mother fails to protect her, and both parents neglect her.
During the anger chapter, Beyoncé transforms into 18th Dynasty queen Nefertiti. Nefertiti is the wife of my favorite pharaoh, Akhenaten. The two began a religious revolution in Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, that influenced contemporary religions like Christianity and Judaism. After Nefertiti’s husband died, scholars believe she ruled Kemet as Neferneferuaten.
My favorite illustration in Tameka’s New Dress shows Tameka holding the fabric for her new dress, visualizing herself as warrior queens Nefertiti, Nzinga and Nandi. In the background of the illustration is the Sankofa bird. Sankofa is an Akan word whose literal translation is, “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.” In the one-minute long trailer of Lemonade, Beyoncé whispers, “The past and the present merge to us here. What are you hiding?” Standing on the shoulders of our ancestors is a major theme throughout Tameka’s New Dress and Lemonade.
In “6 inch,” Beyoncé walks out of a burning house and stands outside of it symbolizing the rising of the phoenix. In Kemet, or ancient Egypt, the phoenix originated as the Bennu. Greek historian, Herodotus, said the Bennu came from Arabia every 500 years. Before the phoenix dies, it builds a nest of cinnamon twigs, lays down it and dies. A new phoenix rises out of the ashes, able to regenerate when injured by a foe. Tameka embraces her African roots and her transformation into a phoenix symbolizes her overcoming past trauma.
Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kit. Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.
I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade. My grandma said “Nothing real can be threatened.” True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption and my torturers became my remedy. So we’re gonna heal. We’re gonna start again. You’ve brought the orchestra, synchronized swimmers.
First, I want to show love to Warsan Shire, Somali-British poet, who provided the poetry for Beyonce’s monologues. I loved the narrative during the redemption chapter because it describes Tameka’s experience with her grandmother to a tee.
As the chapter opens, Beyoncé dons an antebellum-style dress with patterns derived from African fabric. Tameka’s grandmother sews her an African wax cloth dress with redemption and resilience embedded in every stitch. A true alchemist, Tameka’s grandmother helps her turn lemons into lemonade. Her grandmother’s unconditional love and words of encouragement comforts Tameka and dries her tears.
Baptize me … now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.
The warmth that Jay-Z and Beyoncé share to the soundtrack of “Sandcastles” is EPIC! Push and pull, argue and make-up, it’s the duality of interpersonal relationships that make us human.
Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to move past the abuse and neglect. Without forgiveness, Tameka would not have been able to affirm her bully’s beauty.
My hope is that the curse of colorism will be broken. After Lemonade was released, I asked my illustrator to revise a line in my book. Mesha, the book’s antagonist, bullies Tameka because she is a new student and is light-skinned. After class, Mesha approaches Tameka and says, “You must be the new girl! Hey, light bright! You must think you’re cute like Becky with the good hair!”
I grew up down the road from the Johnville plantation, the place where my ancestors were enslaved and worked to death. Light-skinned vs. dark-skinned was alive and well when I went through school. I didn’t realize it was weapon created to divide us until I read the Willie Lynch papers in college. I asked an exceptional young lady that I met while working at Rappahannock Community College to submit the book’s foreword. Rebecca experienced colorism first hand, I felt her experience would make the political personal. I felt like I needed to address colorism in Tameka’s New Dress because the same preconceptions and misconceptions continue to divide children of color today.Tameka forgives her tormentor Mesha, breaking the curse of colorism. I want girls of color to know that melanin UNIFIES us. I look forward to the day when social activists like Jessie Williams can speak out about racial injustice without their “blackness” being put on trial.
For me, it was important to tell the story of Tameka’s dress. It’s her cloak, an impenetrable force field that shields her from negativity. The dress gives Tameka the ability to love unconditionally without the fear of being hurt. Like Lemonade, Tameka’s New Dress celebrates the diversity of Black women and visually empowers Black girls.
About: Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW is an author (Nelson Beats The Odds, Tameka’s New Dress), publisher, therapist, app developer (Nelson Beats The Odds Comic Creator), philanthropist and literary activist. Ronnie partnered with his illustrators Imagine That! Design to publish Nelson Beats the Odds and Tameka’s New Dress. For inquiries email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.creative-medicine.com.