Let some Black folks tell it, there are certain people who are far above any kind of reproach, and even a whiff of fault-finding on your part will land you in the quagmire of a cuss-out: 1). Jesus, 2). Barack Obama, 3). Oprah, 4). Dr. King and 5). Beyoncé.
OK, so the last one might be a bit of a stretch, but there’s no denying that she’s got a very hearty, very loving, very vocal following who don’t take no mess when it comes to their Queen Bey love.
So let me first review some basic facts: Beyoncé is a singular pop cultural force. Beyoncé is stunningly gorgeous. But inasmuch as I applaud her rise from girl group lead singer (and some really unfortunate bedazzled outfits) to take her place in music icon infamy, Beyoncé got some issues with being Black, y’all.
First she was accused of giving the ol’ okie doke by allowing I don’t know how many pictures to be lightened, making her caramel complexion appear two shades paler than it actually is. That controversy has cropped up from photo shoots and album covers, but honestly, accidental whitewashing can only happen but so often before you have to raise an eyebrow and wonder how many times someone’s skin color can—oops!—be fortuitously Photoshopped down a shade or two. At the root of her latest dust-up: those darn L’Oreal True Match commercials that list her as “African American, French, and Native American.” Sigh. Why B, why?
The first time I saw it was also coincidentally the first time I ever used the rewind feature on my TV. (I don’t know. It just seems unnatural to be able to run back live programming.) I’ve got a ton of pet peeves—rusty, washed-up hustlers who try to lay their fossilized mack down on much younger bloggers, drivers who double park and mysteriously disappear into thin air like their two-way flashers somehow pardon their rudeness. But ranking up there on the list are people who try to make themselves more exotic by claiming to be a quarter-this and half-that and others who are so determined to run from being Black, they get all tangled and tripped up in race, ethnicity and nationality (for the record, a similar commercial featuring Jennifer Lopez only listed her as 100% Latina).
First of all, “French” is not a race. Or an ethnicity. Or anything that would require you to match a shade of makeup to it. France is a nation; therefore, “French” is a nationality, and there are about seven major ethnic groups in that country. Ergo, saying you’re “French” is just as generic as saying you’re “American” when you’re talking about a racial or ethnic context. (Not all countries work that way, though.) Her dad is Black, so I guess he makes up the African-American part. Her mother is Creole, a blend of Frech, African, Spanish and Native American settlers. But the word I do believe she was searching for was “White.”
But it’s not just her. For a lot of people, there seems to be a disconnect for the sake of not being just Black or Black at all. Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with my hairdresser, who is Dominican, and mentioned something in passing about being Black. She stopped styling, grasping a big ol’ chunk of my hair in mid-flat iron, and said rather crisply, “I’m not Black. I’m Dominican.”
I didn’t think it necessary to challenge her at that particular point in time. But let the record show that she is, somewhere along the line descended directly from somebody in Africa. Her hair texture, her skin color, her facial features all tell the story. I don’t know what’s so wrong with claiming and embracing Blackness anyway. I don’t see why more people don’t do it. It’s great.
The concepts of race and ethnicity are, for the most part, derived more from culture and society and history and even personal beliefs than biological findings. But the fact of that matter is they do exist. Denying them because you’re trying to start some kind of revolution is one thing. Denying them because you can’t fully embrace your heritage—especially if that heritage happens to come Africa—or reaching way, way, wayyyy back in your lineage to highlight some other part of your makeup when you know full well your most recent non-Black relative was seven generations removed is another. Race and ethnicity aren’t going anywhere. They’ll continue to define us in the foreseeable future because, well, that’s just the way things are. Just look at Beyoncé.