An Open Letter to White People

Cassandra Pilla 29.04.16

Everyone’s talking about it, so how can we ignore it? This week in “controversial” news: Beyoncé dropped her visual album Lemonade. The response has been huge, and with the release came the backlash from white people against Beyoncé. Several “celebrities” have come out to speak about Lemonade as a very controversial and discomforting piece of music media – I’m looking at you, Piers Morgan  and Iggy Azalea!

First of all, I am white, and I do not assert that any of my opinions on Lemonade are of greater value than anyone else’s. Lemonade was not intended to resonate with me and my experience as a white woman. What Beyoncé created speaks directly to an experience of being a black woman living in the United States. And that is the whole point!

Dear fellow white people, this album is not for you to find common grounds. It does not speak to your experience, and therefore you are not expected to comment, in any way, shape, or form, on how Lemonade makes you feel. And while I’m at it, we hear way too much about how white people feel about everything (including from my loud mouth self). So instead of making this a post about how amazing and special I think Beyoncé’s Lemonade is, I will say this: those in positions of privilege need to stop assuming that all media is created with the sole purpose of reaching their ears, and resonating with them and their lives.

Changing our media so that it accurately depicts the experiences of diverse people means that it  will be created to reach audiences with those experiences. And it is time for people who have only ever experienced privilege to get comfortable with appreciating expressions and representations that demonstrate the experiences of others. Furthermore, when such pieces are created, it is necessary for white people to stop commenting on how they do not relate, or that they are uncomfortable. Why should all media relate to white experiences? Those of us who are white ought to live with the discomfort associated with consuming media which was not created for us. That discomfort you feel so inclined to express is a discomfort that many others, who do not share white experience, have constantly felt and lived.

The attacks on Beyoncé’s Lemonade that claim it is radical, racist, “inflammatory” and “agitating” are completely unfounded. From my perspective, these people are commenting because they are uncomfortable with the fact that Lemonade is not made to reflect their lives and feelings. This all comes back to the delusional notion that if people who are not in positions of privilege attempt to dismantle power structures, then there will be less privilege to go around for us whities. Let me be clear that this is not how it works – there is not a privilege pie with only so much for everyone. And so, in response to Piers Morgan’s comments after singer Jamelia asked him not to give an opinion on Lemonade because he is a “white, British man”, I say this: there is no such thing as reverse racism! Pointing out that Lemonade is not made for white people is not discrimination, and criticizing those who do not experience white privilege simply for questioning this inequality only seeks to invalidate their voices and reinforce said inequality.

In closing, go watch Lemonade. The visual album is phenomenal and the music is great. And if you’re white, don’t waste your time trying to ponder how this might offend you; instead, take the opportunity to learn and take in the experience of a powerful, brave, African-American artist and feminist.

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