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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2016 > Selling Lemonade

Selling Lemonade

As America suffers its worst racial anguish in a generation black artists like Beyoncé, despite the hype, are failing to say anything profound, says Thomas Chatterton Williams

In April, the 34-year-old singer-songwriter Beyoncé Knowles-Carter released her sixth solo album Lemonade on her husband Jay Z’s music streaming service, Tidal. Easily her most personal work to date, Lemonade was accompanied by a “visual album” broadcast on HBO, a lush and beautifully shot series of music videos interspersed with poetry from the female Somali-British writer Warsan Shire. Many of the songs apparently reference Jay Z’s longrumoured infidelity. But the album broadened one woman’s amorous troubles into a collective struggle against layers of historical oppression. “The most disrespected person 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,” the sampled voice of Malcolm X explains.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade arrived in anticipation of a summer of extraordinary racial tension in the United States. In July alone, we witnessed the horrifying videotaped police killings (at point-blank range in both instances) of two unresisting black fathers, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. These were followed by apparent retaliatory assaults on police. In Dallas, a former US soldier murdered five officers during a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest; days later, a man armed with an assault rifle killed three police officers in Baton Rouge. In the wake of such upheaval, it has become something of a cliché to liken the current maelstrom to that of the 1960s. For some, Beyoncé’s latest offering conjures a “Mississippi Goddam” moment—a confluence of pop culture activism and social consciousness (called “wokeness” in today’s parlance) in the mould of Nina Simone’s 1964 civil rights classic, along with a pro-black-woman message of self-love and body affirmation.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.
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