I can be happy for Bey because, now, I'm happy with myself...but that wasn't always the case.
Editor's note: "stan" is an informal noun or verb expressing an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity and the act of expressing said zeal.
My relationship with Beyoncé has been a constant ebb and flow that matches my journey toward accepting both my blackness and my womanhood.
I used to love Destiny's Child, and like many black girls, often had the argument among friends about who would be Kelly and Michelle.
I thought I would never forgive her for disbanding the trio and launching her solo career until my mother bought me the "Dangerously in Love" disc. Three years later, she had me belting the lyrics to "Check up on It" when the only thing I was "pushing up on" were grocery store carts when I'd help my mother do Sunday errands.
But as I got older, things changed. Nothing was as simple when I went away to boarding school and represented 1 of about 4 black women in my freshman class. Those years for me were about survival.
I was "Beyoncé" in a high school talent show in the fall of 2008 when my friends and I did a rendition of the "Single Ladies" video sporting cubic zirconium rings from Claire's.
But even when I spent countless hours as a high school sophomore memorizing, perfecting, and choreographing the "Single Ladies" dance, probably one of the greatest pieces of choreography of all time, I remember being annoyed by Beyoncé.
I was peeved with her blonde hair. I critiqued her for wearing a weave. I joined the echoes of haters that felt as though she was trying to "look white." The accusations that L'Oreal had whitened/lightened her skin in their ad campaigns in 2008 only added fuel to my burning disdain.
With arguments like those, you would've thought I was the most pro-black high schooler on the planet. Quite the contrary.
My boarding school was extremely whitewashed to get straight to the point. It was a typical New England prep school seen in the likes of those academies in "Gossip Girl," but with dormitories.
It was a convenience only for the admissions office that I was black. For every other measure it kind of haunted me. I was either met with white classmates saying "hayyy girlfriend," as they snapped their fingers and rolled their necks to imitate the black girl stereotype. Or, there would be strain in my black friendships, particularly with other girls, because I spent a lot of time with white people.
The more confused I was, the more I rejected black things, particularly black women, because they made me see myself and think about who I was becoming. I avoided black women even in my earbuds. I loved Drake, Kid Cudi, and Kanye but I recall listening to very little music made by black women--especially not Beyoncé.
Beyoncé, an omnipresent and inescapable black woman, was just one vehicle through which I navigated all of my own very personal insecurities with becoming a black woman. I spoke out against her "whitewashing" because that took far less introspection than examining whitening taking place in my own life.
"She's trying to be too light-skinned," I'd say about Beyoncé, working my fair complexion into as many conversations as possible. I remember laughing with some of my Asian classmates on numerous occasions about how I was more fair-skinned than them in the harsh New Hampshire winters that stripped me of my melanin.
"She's not trying to be black at all," I'd say, assimilating into New England culture by rowing crew, by pretending I liked J.Crew sweaters, or that I could spot a Hervé Leger bandage dress from this season versus last.
"But, she definitely wears a weave," I'd say, fingering my natural curls that brought me a perverse joy when people complimented them and asked if I was of mixed race.
"She can't even really sing; she was manufactured by her mother and managers," I'd say, struggling to be standout in anything I tried from sports, to dance, to essay writing, wishing I had the guidance of my mother during those years away from her.
In 2012, my junior year of high school, I denounced Beyoncé further when L'Oreal released an ad for their "True Match" foundation. The one where Beyoncé reveals the "unique story" behind her skin, as her ethnic makeup scrolls the screen: African-American, Native American, French. Of course she couldn't be only black, I'd say. And of course she was described as French vs. Creole.
To this day, I believe that the criticism about that ad was fair. But I was still without balance. I continued an outward campaign against Beyoncé, a black woman with the gall to downplay her blackness, without bothering to take a look at my conscious efforts to do the same.
Beyoncé released "4" just about a month after I graduated high school in 2011. I didn't play the album a single time. I paid so little attention to her I barely realized it came out, only hearing the singles at parties or on the radio.
I entered college that fall and embarked on one of the most trying times in my life.
I went to one of the whitest colleges I could find on purpose. I remember admitting to a friend that I actually looked at the diversity statistics to find the schools with the smallest percent of black people. I had done well socially at boarding school, and I hoped to keep my momentum somewhere else just as white.
Within the first couple of months I had a series of near panic/anxiety attacks in the middle of the night and an ironic near physical altercation with another black girl who I accused of not being aware that she was black. I had had enough.
In October of 2011, I called home crying to my mother because I realized I had made an awful mistake. But this one could not be corrected so easily because my mother had already paid the spring semester's tuition, and thus I'd be trapped at least through May.
At my college in California, I was "too black" but likely not black enough to my peers who ran the Black Student Association that I dodged. My booty was "too big" and often a topic of conversation at pre-games, etc. I was trying to be three times as good, four times more involved, but felt as though I was only getting half the credit I deserved.
In this time I was still too self-unaware to realize, that this very plight of black women in America, of having to work twice as hard to be half as good, of constantly being sexualized even by people who would never date you was the plight of Beyoncé, a full-figured woman working in a very white industry. The plight had been mapped out by our shared black female ancestors. This plight was mine, too.
But at the time, I couldn't feel the same joy that my college hip hop dance group mates felt when we choreographed a new number to "Dance for You" by Beyoncé. They loved her. I tolerated her. I was still too naïve to see that the source of my infliction was that I would never understand totality myself in the context of the white world I had been been clinging to since high school.
I couldn't see that I wasn't meant to succeed in white America, that no black woman was, and that fact made Beyoncé's rise that much more remarkable. Had I had the tools to see myself as a pawn in the white man's chess game that he's always predestined to win, Beyoncé's unfathomable success against the odds of racism and white feminism would've meant more to me.
I left that college and studied abroad for a semester until I could figure out where I would transfer. I did Semester at Sea to earn college credit in the meantime. Through the program, we sailed to about 15 countries over the course of 3 months. In between ports, we watched whatever movies, videos, shows we had downloaded prior to departure because as you can imagine, WiFi in the middle of the ocean is scarce.
There was a boy on my voyage who stanned for Beyoncé. He hosted Beyoncé watch-nights throughout the voyage. We'd pile into his tiny cabin room, watch whatever DVD of some Beyoncé tour, he'd motion along to all the dances, and my girlfriends and I sang along.
His favorite song at that time was "I Was Here." In every port, he recorded videos and took pictures holding a sign that read "I Was Here." Ultimately he compiled his experiences abroad set to the Beyoncé track in a YouTube video and performed the song with the video montage at our end-of-voyage talent show.
I'd loved the fellowship of watching Beyoncé together during a point in time where I was emotionally recovering from my freshman year in California. I was envious that my friend had found a role model in Bey. I was still too prideful to sing someone else's praises in his manner, especially a black woman's.
For reasons that I attribute to my friend and the phenomenal black women on the Fall'12 voyage of Semester at Sea, I transferred to Spelman College, a historically black (HBCU) women's college, in January 2013--the semester following the voyage.
I was at Spelman almost an entire calendar year before Beyoncé released her unannounced, self-titled album on December 13, 2013--her first album since I'd started college.
I spent those months at Spelman surrounded by some of the most radiant, self-aware, and involved black women I have ever met in my life. I learned raw African-American History for the first time from a Spelman alumna who would later become my prophyte (meaning we entered our sorority via the same chapter). I shared a room with one of the most humble women I had ever met and she never hesitated to compliment other women, including Beyoncé.
I began to change my narrative about Beyoncé, still with a looming hesitancy to accept her fully. I maintained that I would "stan for her" once I felt that she "stanned for social causes." I felt as though she still had to earn my allegiance, even though I, myself, had virtually been a living, walking "Uncle Tom" for my adolescent years. I put Beyoncé through this final test and put myself under the microscope.
By association with the most diverse array of women I've ever experienced in my life, I became more understanding of what it means to be a black woman in America, and to be myself.
If you've attended an HBCU, you understand the transformation I underwent. If you haven't, imagine living in a world without mirrors, and then finding out, at the age of 19, that there's a means by which you can actually see yourself for the first time.
By the time she released "BEYONCÉ" in December of 2013, she had sung the National Anthem at President Barack Obama's second inauguration, caused a blackout in a legendary SuperBowl performance, and attended a rally for "Justice for Trayvon Martin."
In the same timeframe, I'd been appointed as Editor in Chief of Spelman's newspaper; I'd spent a summer in Mississippi planning a memorial service for slain Freedom Riders; and I'd made the promise that everything I do would be for the advancement of black people.
I remember hearing my roommate squeal when "BEYONCÉ" dropped. She came over to my side of the room to show me her favorite video clips before I embarked on my drive home to Mississippi, where I would spend the Christmas holiday. I played the album in a loop on the 5-hour car ride, belting the lyrics to "Mine ft. Drake" the way I used to holler "Check up on It." I made my mom listen to it in both directions on our way to a far away outlet mall to do Christmas shopping. I sang Bey's praises in between tracks.
Since then, I've been to the On The Run Tour in 2014, her Made in America Festival where she performed in 2015, and the Formation World Tour in 2016 in a lemon printed skirt to celebrate her album "LEMONADE."
I was stunned at work this summer and dropped everything to read her letter published on her site that urged police to "Stop Killing Us." I was in awe of how she was using her platform. I watched the reveal of "LEMONADE" with 6 other people around a friend's iPhone 6. She quoted Malcolm X, she spoke up for black women, she begged the police to stop killing us.
I felt nothing but pure joy when I heard Beyoncé would be having twins. And in those moments since, I've been vexed by the people who have gone out of their way to call her "tacky" for her pregnancy reveal, egotistical for her Grammy performance, where she portrayed OSHUN the Yoruba goddess of water, pleasure, luxury, sexuality, fertility, beauty and love, among other deities.
I still pity those who took to social media to berate women who were excited about the pregnancy because they "should be keeping up with politics" instead (as if women do not have mental dexterity to do both, as my line sister tweeted.)
But, I understand where that misguided rage and frustration comes from because I once exuded these sentiments. This is not to say that Beyoncé is immune from fair criticism--nobody is.
However, I challenge the general population to ensure they are not caught up in their own envy-breeding self-hatred and self-unawareness to see Beyoncé, and all black women, for the greatness they exude.
I didn't like Beyoncé because I thought she embodied all of the things I was becoming--a social climbing black girl who tried to be as white as possible. Nevertheless, that confused adolescent girl is as much a part of who I am today as Beyoncé's politically silent L'Oreal days are part of her journey.
It took me a long time to learn how to be happy for other women, to congratulate them. My instinct was to see other women's strengths as threats, rather than viewing gifted women as contributors to a vat of love and inspiration re-purposed as ammunition by women across the world to combat misogyny, sexism, and naysayers everywhere.