Black people have great imaginations, not just in the arts but in everyday life. We imagined ourselves as family when we were treated as property. We imagine equity and freedom when we seldom get to experience them. We imagine a generous and loving God when it often seems that if there is a God, he does not love black folks nearly as much as we love him on Sunday mornings.
In her performance at the Grammys, which had people across the country talking all Sunday night and into Monday, Beyoncé showcased her imagination. She appropriated European images of the Madonna and conjured other images of African Orishas like Oshun. She celebrated her pregnancy and gathered countless black women on stage as words by the poet Warsan Shire filled the air. The performance concluded with many black hands greeting Beyoncé as she smiled into the camera like a black Mona Lisa. It was not just the smile of a satisfied performer, but the smile of someone who knew she had just won.
When the Grammy for album of the year was awarded to Adele, I was surprised that so many people were disappointed. I thought of my mother telling me countless times that I must work twice as hard to get half as much as a white peer would get. I thought of Beyoncé’s candid remarks on losing the popular talent competition show “Star Search,” which could have given her mainstream stardom when she was still a child.
“You can actually work super hard and give everything you have, and lose. It was the best message for me,” she said. “The reality is, sometimes, you lose. And you’re never too good to lose. You’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens and it happens when it needs to happen.”