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.

  • my2sense

    I’m 100% in agreement with you, Janelle, and don’t forget Tyler Perry in your list, lol.

    Though, what Beyonce is doing, I’ve seen it of Black Americans all my life, I think it may be what she and her handlers considering a good marketing tool, for both the products she endorse and for her white and other fan base.

  • Maurice

    I am Cherokee Indian, Irish, French Creole, Puerto Rican and African American. These are my cultural and DNA markers. These are what I have studied and been influenced by. At the same time I tell my children whose mother is full blooded Filipino, that if a cop pulls them over they will be recognized as BLACK. Even if you can tell they are mixed they will still be called black. The sad part about all of this is that black is an American concept. America since conception has played White as good and Black as evil. These are not even colors. You do not find black or white in the rainbow or color spectrum as they are only negative and positive energies. Because America has become so globally dominate black has become synonymous with anything that is not Latino, White or Asian. Just as white became anything that was not Latin, Asian or White etc. … etc… etc… I consider this a disservice to the cultures in the world. It is a fact that we can no longer be recognized solely because of our nationality. In America alone that is a concept that would denote that all Americans are one people. This is foreign because we hybrid everything (African American, Italian American, Japanese American…) It can historically be recognized that Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans are African slaves blended with Europeans and Spanish – but they are not black. They are their own culture. They have been raised and influenced by their own country. It is insane that in order to globalize a term and put people on one track that we have to say all people are black. This is crazy. It is better to say that all black people and/or people of color have African ancestry. (Personally I believe that all people have African ancestry)The media has brain washed us on many levels. We went from continent titles, country titles, tribal titles, city titles and of late color titles. By DNA I am many things, but I am a brown skin American with various immediate ancestries of which I am proud. I’m not trying to be lighter or darker. Content of character not the color of my skin. I relate to the sold and stolen, then enslaved Negro, Colored, African –American, Black culture as my main influence. Still do not do me a disservice by telling me I must consolidate and declare black rejecting all the things that have made me special and beautiful. I hate the title because of the historical negative connotations, but I am black, proud to be black. If you ask me my makeup I will still declare Cherokee Indian, Irish, French Creole, Puerto Rican and African American. My only consolidation will be I am AMERICAN, from AMERICAN! Content of character not the color of my skin. Get over the titles.

  • Metis Gal

    As a French Canadian who has multiple ties to Native Heritage (yes WHITE as you say or a bit darker than pastey, lol) I agree I am astounded at this controversy. It’s a commercial…she’s stating her ancestry and hopefully she’s proud of ALL aspects of it. She’s amazing and talented and that stand by itself. She OBVIOUSLY was not denying anything. There was a day even in my family my grandmother hid her mixed ancestry…yes she was considered mulatto being French and Native they even MOvED elsewhere to hide it when my great grandad died…I’m glad to live now where it’s embraced and not hidden. I am just trying to understand where being proud of being black makes it mandatory to denounce other ethnic origins…it seems like a step backwards in tolerance. Hypothetically If I was a portion black and denied it that’d be wrong in my eyes to not to embrace it, but at the same time what I’m seeing here, I’d be a “wanna-be” if I claimed so. It’s seems like a lose-lose situation. Just seems very unfair to Beyonce.

Read previous post: