February 25, 2019

VSU Explores the Black Female Experience Through Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”

The cover of Beyoncé's sixth studio album "Lemonade"

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University is now offering students the chance to study the work of Beyoncé for academic credit.

The course, AFAM 3600 E: Black Women in Modern America, kicked off this semester and is taking a deep dive into Beyoncé’s groundbreaking sixth studio and visual album “Lemonade.”

The 2016 album captured the pain and triumph of the black female experience to great critical acclaim using stunning visuals, compelling music, and rich storytelling. The work ignited widespread discourse on race, class, and gender, and this VSU class is continuing that conversation by unpacking the many themes found in “Lemonade,” including black identity, feminism, marital infidelity, sisterhood, and faith. The course is also exploring how black women are portrayed in mainstream culture.

The album will serve as a jumping off point to explore such issues through the eyes of numerous other writers, artists, poets, and scholars as the course unfolds. The course was inspired by the “Lemonade Syllabus,” a robust list of resources compiled by writer Candice Marie Benbow that help to unpack all the themes that permeate “Lemonade.”

“If you’re going to have a black feminist theory, then you need to study Beyoncé,” said Caterina Orr, adjunct instructor for African-American Studies. “It’s really just that simple.

“Beyoncé is very intentional. We think it’s good music, and it is. But she’s very intentional in the things that she says.

“What I like about her is she’s real. She tells the truth. She tells the good, and she tells the bad. What may be surprising is that I bring up the bad. I do explore all of those deep and dark things that we do not want to show, but that are present.”

Orr is also challenging her class to deconstruct and examine “Lemonade” in new ways by introducing material from renowned feminist and African-American scholar Bell Hooks that criticizes parts of the album. Offering different viewpoints in this vast area of intersectionality, and then parsing them out, will leave students with a stronger, more developed understanding of the issues, Orr said.

“You cannot be empowered by yourself,” Orr said. “It’s impossible. There has to be someone that you can lean on, that you can talk to, that will hold you up. For me, that is going to be the basis of this course.” 

Cori Griggs, a psychology major from Monticello, Georgia, who expects to graduate in May, said being a Beyoncé fanatic immediately drew her to the course.

“If I had to pick a face for modern day black women empowerment, it would be Beyoncé,” Griggs said. “The class has been really great just because of the dynamic of the conversation. I love to talk about these kinds of things. With it being broadly based on Beyoncé, it brings it to a more relatable perspective.” 

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