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beauty is pop culture // sex rules the world 

  • Ennie Fakoya.

Another kind of Renaissance: In Defence of Beyonce’s Melanin.

Photo Credit: Destiny’s Child | Marion Curtis/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Destiny’s Child | Marion Curtis/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The complex diversity of blackness and Beyoncé's impact.

"To be a person of colour is to be marked in a peculiar kind of way" - Zetta Elliot

Within the lived experiences of colourism, how much of its impact do we lend to celebrities?

From Keke Palmer being compared to Zendaya at the height of the latter’s success, to Beyonce being targeted for whitewashing, there is never a shortage of issues surrounding colourism. But is it Beyonce we should be having a problem with?

The obvious answer is no, and recently, people - mostly within the black community - are taking less liberties with who they do and don’t consider to be black. The “Biracial isn’t Black” argument takes place fortnightly on Black Twitter and subsequently creates the one of the same conversation pieces we’ve heard time and time again - Does Beyonce lighten her skin? 

The Renaissance tour at this point has become a cultural happening. Whether you were here, there, or somewhere within the crowds of people on mute, (if you were one of the people that wasn’t… good for you I guess) you understand how impactful the entire sequence of Beyonce centred events have been. For Black Women it’s been especially miraculous, and Forbes considers that, “the entire tour itself transcended borders and sparked a global conversation about the economic clout of Black women". The glittery tour’s economic impact has since been dubbed the ‘Beyoncé Bump,’ according to Yelp’s Economic Coverage.”

During the premier of her newly announced Renaissance film, Beyonce donned a metallic Versace dress and platinum blonde wig. You’d be shocked to hear that what surprised me wasn’t the fact that she was clearly whitewashed in the pictures taken, but rather the response, and how seriously people were targeting their negativity towards Beyonce herself.

This phenomenon happens quite often, where we tend to forget that despite Beyonce’s solidarity towards blackness, she is still a light-skinned woman. But the narrative that “Beyonce is white and she wants to bleach her skin” is a rather strong conclusion to come to.

It is a pretty peculiar assumption, to decide that someone bleaches their skin. As a dark-skinned black woman that has actually attempted it in my younger, stupider years, it doesn’t really work like that. With the photo, matters of lighting, makeup and, of course, the social media intern that decided to spark controversy, need to be taken into consideration. However, consideration isn’t easily seen in this situation.

The white journalist that asked Beyonce’s hairstylist if she wanted to be white probably didn’t consider much either. But it is fascinating how a white woman considers a light-skinned woman in a horribly lit photo to be aspiring for whiteness. And once again, we’re thrown back into the loop of eugenics culture, where anyone that isn’t ‘black black’ will always fair better when passing for white.

Photo Credit: Khadija Mbowe/Biracial isn’t black!" The rising tension of the one-drop rule.

Pop culture commentator Khadija Mbowe explains this through the “One Drop Rule’, a racial classification unique to Black Americans. The separation of ‘fully black’ people and ‘mixed black’ people is at the crux of this rule, essentially boxing fully black people into a singularity, whilst those that have some form of racial mutability do not identify with one race of origin. But Khadija also points out that “America is not the center of the world. Western culture is not the center of the world. The Black diaspora is going to be filled with many different types of identification and that should be okay.”

The purity culture that was produced through classifying black people created a litany of terms and titles that are now embedded so deeply into every corner of our culture that a picture of whitewashed Beyonce can create an uproar. But the mistrust of black people isn’t entirely groundless when we have a history of racially ambiguous people claiming blackness without understanding the privilege they have. Khadjia goes on to say that the “one drop rule was used to gatekeep whiteness. And it’s kind of funny because I’m observing us doing the same thing to blackness.”

The reason Beyonce’s blackness is so important is that, like other light-skinned people, it may not be definable. But Beyonce isn’t just anyone. She has a cultural impact. A white journalist claiming that Beyonce wants to be white will upset black people because she has an influence that champions blackness. To have a black woman be so close to the top is important.

Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Beyonce’s case has always been an interesting one, because as mentioned above, her biggest source of brand loyalty are black women. But how much solidarity can you have with someone so close to lightness? To someone who can slip out of certain stereotypes and identity markers placed on you simply due to something you can’t change?

Ethnically, I’m a third culture kid. Born in Nigeria, raised between the Caribbean and the UK. I was considered ‘white’ because of the culture I grew up around, but I was still black so I could never escape micro - and macro - aggressions. I can sympathise with not knowing where your home lies, but I am constantly aware that the advantages light-skinned women have - and use - will never be an option for me.

Despite the fact that most arguments surrounding colourism have to do with it, it isn't a matter of biracial people picking a race to stick to, it’s about understanding the difference in lived experiences. The impact of colourism persists in everyday settings; from academic achievements to workplace bias. Whether the argument is about dark-skin or light-skin, it is still a product of racism, where the belief is that the closer you are to whiter-skin, the closer you are to success.

In the creative industry, it’s less subtle, with beauty brands forgoing inclusive shade ranges, and facets of black culture being used to diversify a brand's creative portfolio despite the lack of representation.

So what then, dispels this centuries long argument? Do we continue gatekeeping black culture? Do lighter-skinned people of colour show up for blackness whilst understanding their privilege? Do we make space for darker-skinned pop stars and allow them to be black in whatever way they see fit? Or are we all just trying to be white?

Are you passionate about exploring the intricate worlds of beauty, sex, wellness and culture ? Do you belong to a marginalised community and have unique perspectives and stories to share? If so, Nightstand Service is eagerly seeking contributing writers like you! Get in touch:


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