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.

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  • Bren82

    Is Beyonce denying her blackness or is she acknowledging her other heritages in addition to being black? From many comments I’ve read, a lot of people think that Beyonce is denying her blackness. However I feel that if she was denying her blackness, she would not have mention it. Period. I’ve also noticed that we as black/African-Americans seem to be the only ones who continue having an issue/continue to struggle with black people acknowledging their non-black heritages instead of embracing just one while other ethnic groups don’t seem to have much issue with claiming their mutiple heritages, if present. Maybe that is why we continue to struggle with getting ahead: because we are concerning ourselves with trivial things such as complaining about someone acknowledging their ethnic heritages as if their decision to do so will somehow affect our lives. We should concern ourselves more with matters negatively affecting our communities such as poverty, terrible schools and poor food choices which contribute to poor health. There is nothing wrong with Beyonce acknowledging her ethnic makeup. I think that the commenters are envious haters because we now live in a society where multi-ethnic individuals are no longer ashamed of their make-up and proudly celebrate it. These commenters are uncomfortable with who they are because if they weren’t they would not be threatened by an ad for a product they probably don’t use anyway. Yes, I agree that Beyonce’s skin being lightened when she is clearly not that light was ridiculous however people have a right to celebrate who they are and should not be made to feel ashamed. I am black and although I acknowledge that I have some mixture, I am proud of who I am and don’t claim anything else because it is too far back. Opinions are opinions and that is all that they will ever be. Be your own poster child for blackness. Be your own role model and stop expecting it from someone else.

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  • http://theputonputon.tumblr.com Trey

    I swear we all need lessons in nationality v. race v. ethnicity. Beyonce IS FrenchNativeAmericanAfricanamerican AND Black (or black and white respectively), these things r not mutually exclusive. NOW. i know the inability for most black descendants of american slaves to identify our specific individual ethnic group sucks. Most of us would have to dig way deep to figure out our true ethnicities, but in my opinion, if a black person knows where they’re ancestors are actually from (i.e beyonces mama’s people), I have no prob with them claiming it as their ethnicity. The problem is that Americans have used race & ethnicity interchangeably for a while now, which is hella confusing & oftentimes destructive. That being said, I can only identify myself as American and Black for the time being…I have no idea what ethnicities I could note, as I don’t really share a common heritage, language or culture with Africans. But if I ever find out my true ethnicity, and it doesn’t happen to be African, it won’t mitigate my blackness or firm place within the diaspora.

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  • rosie

    The “if I have to be black then so do you” mentality needs to die. That along with “blacker thou” and the “I claim ‘just black’ so that makes me real.” Beyonce’s just as accepting of her African heritage as any regular black American woman.

    Like someone else said, JLo’s ad was weirder and the entire campaign was not well executed, but let’s just dump all the criticism on beyonce since there’s nothing else to do, right?

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  • Ms. Information

    Because of the nature of slavery, most black Americans are “mixed” in some kind of way. However, being “mixed” has also indicated some form of separation from the group. The closer you are to “white” the more your features were praised. It’s almost like being mixed is a badge of honor. Most of us have Indian heritage, white heritage et cetera. It would have done the black community a major service if Beyonce claimed what she is, a black woman. She’s attempting to separate herself from being “black” to show some form of elevated position. Beyonce please…your name is Beyonce..the most ghetto name of any star out today..

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    • iQgraphics

      i like this ^^

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  • LemonNLime

    People have every right to identify themselves the they want but everyone else around them has that same right. Beyonce and those who are constantly throwing out that they are mixed have every right to say so. Just like the people who have one black granparent and pass for white or at least ambiguous say they are black. It is the same thing but I am going to identify them the way I see them. Beyonce can be as mixed as she wants to be but African Mami said it best, “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.”

    Personally, I’m a black American. I have two black parents. To me being a black American denotes that you are mixture of stuff, so I don’t have to list is all, some which I may not know, like a bingo card. I am not African American. Personally, I don’t understand why so many black people feel the need to for others to identify as black. And don’t give me any crap about the “one-drop” rule. That was a rule created by whites so that they could keep the descendents of slaves that they raped. They also had rules stating we were only 3/5 of a person and I don’t hear anyone championing that all the damn time. Personally I am happy to see more and more biracial people identify as such because they aren’t black. They are half black.

    In the end I really don’t care, I am not buying that make up anyway and I have other things to worry about other than what people decide to call themselves. While I have my opinions on the subject, so long as they aren’t messing up my scholarship chances I don’t care.

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    • edub

      In my best ne ne voice…bloop bloop

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    • NOTRIGHT

      Agree witcha all the way. Obviously I don’t know you, but I just have to say from your comments I like the way u think

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    • Yulez

      LemonNLime, we are perpetually on the same page. Diggin it! Black American and no qualms about it.

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    • thomas smith

      In america if you dont look white enough you are Black, I claim all those people.
      those who look white enough have already “passed”

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