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.

163 Comments

  1. Beautiful Mic

    ^ The first sentence in my first post should be

    “Historically, Historically, French was a ethnic group.”

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  2. BeautyIAM

    But I thought that is why so many of her stans like her…because she’s “black” but not “too black.” I saw her barbie doll and it looked like a White barbie doll. Beyonce is as famous as she is because of her racial admixture. That is how she has always been marketed and its not going to stop. So this commercial is not a shock.

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    • apple

      And all this time I thought it was her undeniable talent,her longevity and her positive image

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    • Reason

      Then you were wrong, Apple.

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  3. Can I just keep it one hunded…..
    1.) to white folks….she is BLACK-whether straight from the motherland or American bred, she still BLACK
    2.) to black folks…she is BLACK-she may claim all these other heritages to suit her, don’t nobody give a damn….she still BLACK
    3.) to other folks (Asian, Pacific)….she is BLACK-
    4.) to African Mami…..girl STOP! You is BLACK

    In summary-STOP IT! Just be great at what you do-being an entertainer. Stop with the sociological and anthropological references. Let them be great at what they do! They’d still reference you as BLACK

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    • Tonton Michel

      @African Mami

      Thank you, how you see your self and how the world sees you is another matter. The one thing that ties all black people is that same African heritage that some try to run from, (or claim when convenient to them), no one points out every nook and cranny of their blood line unless they are trying to distant themselves from that on particular black spot in their gene code. No other group would sit their and say I am mixed with this or that unless specifically asked they would go the Lopez route and point to their nationality. All Beyonce had to say is I am an All American girl.

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    • Right on my sister! I totally agree. Perception is reality and that is not how they perceive her, us or we’z.

      I do think the title was a little misleading, should have just thrown Beyonce’s name up in there. We get it.

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    • @TonTon, she couldn’t say she was an “all American girl” because that’s not what the advertising campaign is about. Its a makeup brand that’s trying to say that no matter what race you are, we have a shade that can match your skin tone. I personally chuckled when I first saw her commercial because I always laugh whenever people try to say that they are 1/10 creole or 1/20th white. While I did have a little bit of an issue with the commercial, I have a much BIGGER issue with her and all that photoshopping in her photographs. Beyonce is a big enough star to have editorial control over anything with her image on it and some of the pics lately have been lightened significantly.

      I do give props to J. Lo for not going that route and proudly admitting that she is 100% Puerto Rican. But what I’ve found is that Latinos in general are more proud of their heritage and will let you know in a hot second what race they are. I have a friend who is Mexican but she looks white and she gets so upset whenever someone calls her white. I once heard her say rather loudly (in an office no less), I AM NOT WHITE!!!! I AM MEXICAN!!!! It was actually kinda funny when she did it, but I totally respect her proudness. (I know that’s not a word)

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    • binks

      Amen! Beyonce was riding this ambiguous identity from the start of her career for what reason who knows, but I don’t know why people are shocked now. Not to long ago Clutch published an article about white beauty being uplifted by nicki minij due to her miarilyn Monroe song but Beyonce always takes the cake in that regards. There is nothing wrong with identifing with your racial heritage “all of it” but keep it in perspective. Like someone said being African American means you can be comprise of these ethnicities regardless. And as for the Creole bit…um most Creole people I know say or identity as black “even the ones who can seriously pass for white” and their are brown/dark skin creole people so the argument people try to use is null and void. Personally I don’t like this ad and don’t see where it or the company was going with it his dies this apply to some damn foundation?

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    • @ Drew Drew

      HHHHHHHHeeeeeeeeeeeey!!!!! I’m loving your magazine!!!!! Congrats brother…Can I contribute ONE article…I swear to write in Oxford English, no typos, and very very thought provoking, nothing to do with Africa-errrmmm..yeah!

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  4. look I usually claim I’m Black but make sure I emphasize my Carribbean heritage cuz both parents were born and raised overseas which is a very diff experience growing up, particular living in a bilingual household which is not a purely American experience. That being said I also know that I’m black and have no problem claiming that,,I can say I’m also “french, blah blah” because of a great parent but that’s wayy too far back..no point in saying all that.

    My primary issue with the commercial is that just because Bey may be mixed with all that, it DOES NOT predict her phenotype. A person can be directly mixed, half and half, with “French” and “African American” and STILL come out darker than Beyonce. Therefore the commercial is false and the reasoning behind mentioning the background becomes moot. IT just doesn’t make sense

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  5. Acosta

    Um, seriously? Why are we disputing what Beyonce actually is? Her racial mixture is what it is, why should she deny it? I honestly think this is why America’s view of darker-skinned Americans remains so one dimensional…it’s the one “dimensionality” we force on ourselves.

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    • I agree. I just don’t see the issue. And it’s not as if she’s not mentioning being black or African American at all. At the most, she’s being silly, but do I think she is another Tiger Woods? Naw. To me, it seems as if she is acknowledging all parts of her heritage (that she knows of). I don’t see what is wrong with that. Just because a racist society decided to label all people with a drop of African blood in them as just black, that does not mean that we are destined to follow the same racist ways of thinking. (And I see nothing wrong with being “just black”, but there seems to be a whole lot of resentment among black folks about black people who acknowledge other parts of themselves.) She is embracing all parts of herself, just as Paula Abdul did in the 90’s when she was telling everyone (when they asked “what are you”) that she was “Brazilian-Syrian-French-Canadian.” I don’t know if Beyonce has a problem with being black…I have no way of knowing that. Does a person who claims other things in addition to being black automatically have a problem with being black? Or are they abandoning old ways of thinking? Also, the whole skin lightening thing? I don’t know about that, either. I am considered “light-skinned” and under certain lighting, I look really pale in photos. It happens to me a lot. Same with my daughter. Maybe that’s what’s happening to her? When she starts verbally excluding the black part of herself, speaking only French (bet her a$$ doesn’t even know the language… LOL) and leaves Jay-Z for a white man, then I might start to raise an eyebrow.

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    • mary mary

      To Joan:

      I actually think Tiger Woods had more of a right to claim his mixed heritage because he was raised by an Asian mother and a black dad. Like he is one degree from it, so he making up a term makes sense. Both of Beyonce’s parents are black. She’s trying to make herself seem more exotic to increase her image and sell records. I saw her perform on TV once and she was so light I couldn’t even tell it was her at first. She got skin issues, which is unfortunate for many black women because she is just perpetuating the stereotype that black isn’t beautiful, but at the same time, it is what it is, those are her personal demons to work out.

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    • 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.

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