Janelle Monáe Learned from the 60s: Lorde’s Legacy in Dirty Computer

While speaking on Malcom X at Harvard in 1982, Audre Lorde foregrounded the imperative of intersectionality in social movements. Whereas most people maintain several complex, interacting identities, popular discourse often fails to account for more than one at a time. Lorde, however, distinguished herself as a fierce advocate for acknowledging, validating, and incorporating the variation of identity and experience within the black community, particularly as it pertains to gender and sexuality. In defining her politics, Lorde invoked her own identity, making it a corroborating point in the case for intersectionality: “As a Black lesbian mother in an interracial marriage, there was usually some part of me guaranteed to offend everybody’s comfortable prejudices of who I should be,” (4). With this statement, Lorde speaks to the importance of recognizing how various social identities can reach a nexus point in one individual.

In Dirty Computer, Janelle Monáe employs an Afrofuturist narrative arc to epitomize Lorde’s doctrine of intersectionality.  As arguably Monáe’s most personal work, Dirty Computer offers artistic celebration of the creator’s racial, gender, and sexual identities, much in the vein as Lorde. In “Django Jane,” for instance, Monáe highlights the particulars of her experience as a black woman: “Remember when they used to say I look too mannish / black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it.” This lyric points not only to the policing of black women’s bodies and appearances, but also to Monáe’s conscious decision to subvert scrutiny by celebrating herself. In “Pynk,” meanwhile, she foregrounds her pride in female sexuality: “Cause boy, it’s cool if you got blue / we got the pynk.” This lyric clearly expresses Monáe’s conviction in gender and sexual liberation; the accompanying segment of her visual album only exacerbates this notion, as it features the singer and dancers making frequent less-than-lowkey allusions to vaginas, specifically with their costumes. Indeed, Monáe’s project certainly vindicates and affirms Lorde’s thoughts on intersectionality, in the way that it blends, affirms, and celebrates the entertainer’s distinct identity against an Afrofuturist backdrop.

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