“The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.”— Gloria Steinem
N.E.R.D’s incredibly fun song “Lemon” (personal favorite, actually) with Rihanna is anything but your typical feminist chant. There’s hardly anything that rings with feminist association, the word “hate” tossed around 17 times, the n-word running amuck like a chicken with its head cut off, and repetitious allusions to bath salts. You know, super feminist.
But on closer look we might just see some radical cries for equality, both racial and gender.
His part pleads:
You keep askin’ me where I’m from
About the borders and, “Did I run?”
Keep askin’ how I feel ’bout guns
There’s a light and dark army, which side you choose? Oh
If not now then when?
And if not me then who?
His lyrics call to mind discriminate stop-and-frisk tactics and the profiling young men of color face daily. If every day, this young man was treated like a criminal, like a purveyor of violence, could he really believe in himself to succeed as anything else? #Timesup never felt more relevant. But after Black Power, Women’s Liberation:
Rihanna jumps in:
I get it how I live it
I live it how I get it
Riri, thank you for your recursive reminder. These powerful verses pack in a depth of philosophy with attitude and ferocity that makes it palatable and fun to sing to (a work of sheer genius). She “tricks” us by the simplicity of the words but it reminds us that we must shape the way for what we want; we take action and accountability to work hard for our dreams and to not fall to victimhood. HOWEVER, she acknowledges there is a cycle the one is born to. If you’re not happy with what you’ve got, you’ve got to change how you live. She reminds us that our lives are shaped by what we were given from the start, and our actions thereafter with what we’ve got.
She raps a few more lines, flaunting her potency with business, fame, and power but after she reveals with bittersweet tenderness:
Woo! This beat tastes like lunch…
But everyday, hey, wasn’t lemonade
I was afraid, once a nigga graduate
Would I be okay?
So I prayed and I played
It’s Rihanna, nigga
My constellation in space
Firstly, as of 2009, 30% of all college students drop out after their first year; Rihanna should be lauded for her optimism. The inequality isn’t spread equally though. At four-year institutions, black men completed their degrees at the lowest rate (40 percent), reports Tate, writer for Insidehighered.com. Worse than that, unemployment for a Black/African-American person is at an all time high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics this group suffers the highest rate at 8.4%, next Latinx at 5.8, White at 4.3%, and Asian at 3.6%. A reminder that the statistics for unemployment are defined as “people who do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the past four weeks, and are currently available for work.”
“Would I be okay?” is an emotional and factual concern for her own future. Through faith and action, finally she can comfortably refer to herself in the third-person, a sure sign of success. Stars are pretty cool too.
But what about Gloria Steinem? Read more in my next post!