By Jessica Chotiner ’17
I cannot understand why Mather serves grits. This is not grits territory –– this is really more of a cream of wheat kind of school. As someone who grew up eating grits, grits made by my Georgia-native mom, and her mom, and all of my aunts, eating grits with cheese, or shrimp, or anything for that matter, I am going to assert myself and say that what Mather serves next to the oatmeal in the morning and calls “grits”, pales in comparison to the real thing.
Between the grits and the so-called “cornbread” which sometimes accompanies dinner, a piece of my soul wants to say, “Dear New Englanders, stop trying to do Southern cooking, you should actually be ashamed of this and yourselves”. I refrain mostly because telling all New Englanders to do something is a terrifying prospect, but also because it is not my place to tell other people what they can or cannot enjoy (or cook), regardless of any archetypal notions I have. If someone wants to enjoy watery corn grains, that is his business.
Where is this going? Obviously, it’s a lead into a discussion of Beyoncé’s new album.
Queen Bey aka Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, has recently released her sixth album Lemonade. The album is a musical and visual work of art, and there are any number of poignant underlying themes to both her videos and songs. Unfortunately, despite the inevitable admiration Beyoncé inspires, the world is unable to exist in an amicable ‘Yoncé-induced haze. The release of this album has sparked a backlash of criticism and anger directed at non-black music critics, reviewers, and even general Beyoncé listeners. The claim is that Lemonade is “not for white people”, and hence, non-black listeners cannot begin to understand the true message of the album much less write accurate reviews of it.
That sentiment is not entirely unjustified; Beyoncé is black, so it is entirely possible that the album is about her personal culture and may speak truths about that culture that are difficult to discern if one is not a part of that culture. Lemonade may be laced with messages targeted to the black community; it may be that Beyoncé was trying to write music that would speak to a specifically black audience.
That being said, I highly doubt Beyoncé put out Lemonade with the intention an exclusively black population would consume or purchase it. I like to think Beyoncé is a business savvy lady, and that would be a very bad business move. The suggestion that a white music critic, a Latino music blogger, an Asian Beyoncé lover, or anyone else who is not black is not allowed to interpret the meaning of the album is absurd.
Throughout my years of liberal arts education, the question of what or who defines art has been common, and the answer always seems to point to one person: the individual. A work of art is a symbol that is to be interpreted; yet the line between artistic intention and interpretation is blurry at best. To me, that interpretation is very nature of the relationship between artist and consumer. The artist may have an explicit intention in a book, or song, or painting, but what makes art powerful and inspirational is the consumer’s personal experience with the art and in life. Every time we read a book or listen to music, our interpretation of that media is laden with the burdens of our experiences in life. This is why when I reread a book, I notice new caveats to the story and new facets of each character –– the lens through which we view art changes as we age and gain knowledge of the world and ourselves.
Stating opinions as a “white” person, which by the way, vastly over-simplifying human existence into a binomial system ––black or white, cool or uncool, in or out –– is divisive and seems to be the kind of thinking that instigates poor race relations. So if, as a white person, I wrote a music review and titled it “Dear Black People, please stop reviewing music by Billy Joel; we the whites, claim him as our own”, a similar title to many articles written about Lemonade, I would not be well received. Yet, some say the standard is different because white people have never been oppressed or subjugated as black people have been. This is true, and I would never want to belittle that difference, and those arguments are batted back and forth over this time and time again. Yet, isn’t it a touch illogical to ask members of Group A to stop thinking of themselves as separate or different from members of Group B, while Group B attempts to surround their cultural contributions with an air of exclusivity?
I am not an expert an expert on race relations, or on anything for that matter, yet I am a person who enjoys music and art –– music and art created by anyone. In fact, I believe art is one of the greatest and most crucial equalizers. Art is evocative and unites us by eliciting a shared emotional response; clearly not everyone will feel the same way about a piece of art, but that is not important. It is important, and human, that we feel at all. How can we claim to want an integrative society, a society that has progressed beyond racial stereotypes or bigotry, when we are simultaneously trying to exclude people from enjoying or expressing opinions about something as unifying and universal as art? If a white music critic writes a review of Lemonade is at odds with the opinions of the black community –– so what? That is one person’s interpretation, and if the metaphorical grits don’t taste right, don’t eat them.