So, once Mrs. Beyonce Knowles Carter is at the center of controversy. What else is new? Again a question of race and skin color has come up in regards to the alter ego of “Sasha Fierce”. I say again because in the past few years, there have been complaints that some photos of the “irreplaceable one” have been thought to be doctored or Photoshopped in order to make her skin tone appear lighter or whiter. In this latest controversy, there are questions as to whether Knowles is trying to distance herself from her African ancestry due to a photo of her being used in the new L’Oreal foundation makeup True Match. In the ad, Beyonce accredits the tone of her skin to her “African-American, French and Native American” ancestry. Some folks are crying foul! “Why can’t she just be black?” “Why black people always tryin’ to be something other than black?” are just a few of the questions people are asking. Although I cannot call myself a fan Beyonce’s music, I’ll say that I have to ride with her on this. The point here is, Beyonce defines herself as a black woman and always has. Period. The issue here is that the media, mainstream society and, quiet as it’s kept, black folks themselves seem to appreciate the beauty of African descendants just a little more if not they’re “too black.” Let’s be real, we know it’s true. This is why it’s common to hear white men say, “She’s pretty for a black girl” and black men to say, “She’s pretty for a dark-skinned girl.”
In a world where blackness is continuously devalued, it’s easy to simply call Beyonce out and accuse her not wanting to be black, but this is why it’s always tricky to debate this issue of race. Simply put, black folks, we must either accept all persons who define themselves as black, whatever the skin tone, hair texture or facial features, or give up the notion of blackness altogether. If we’re going to claim Halle Berry’s 2002 Oscar victory, we must accept that she is a black woman of mixed race. She is a black woman of mixed because this is how she defines herself. I think the problem we have when we’re dealing with Beyonce is the fact that both of her parents define themselves as black, so, in our minds, Beyonce is also black. In the US, Americans only define people as “mixed race” if they have two parents who are socially considered to be of different “races”, while in places like Brazil and Latin America in general, one can be considered “mixed race” regardless of how distant or recent the racial admixture. I dealt with this issue in an old blog post on October 23, 2008. Here is how I laid out my argument:
“In Brazil, a person can be considered a mestiço (mixed race) regardless of whether their European ancestry is recent or distant. In America, people are considered mestiços only if they are the product of a first generation mixture between two people of different “races”. But in reality, it doesn’t truly matter. For example, let’s imagine there are two women that looked as if they were identical twins. Let’s also assume that one of the women has a black father and a white mother while the other woman has two black parents. Which of the two women would be “mixed race” and which would be black? The parents of the people in the photos could easily be a couple that looked like singer Seal and his wife, model Heidi Klum. But they could also easily be the products of a couple that looked like French soccer player Thierry Henry and French model Noemie Lenoir. The point is, some people may call them mulattos, other may call them blacks but none of these people would be accepted as white. And that is the real issue.”
My October 17, 2008 post was entitled “Black yet mixed, Mixed yet black”. From the title itself, you can kind of figure what my argument was and Beyonce is the perfect example of this. Looking at her two parents, most people will notice that she looks like a near carbon copy of her mother Tina, who is said to be of a Creole background. Of the two parents, Tina Knowles has a more “mestiço” appearance while Beyonce’s father has a more “negroid” appearance as anthropologists would have said 50 years ago (although this doesn’t negate that he is also probably of some degree “mixed race” as well). Thus, if Tina is obviously a mestiça and Beyonce is a near exact replica of her mother, how is one to argue against Beyonce’s acceptance of her mixed race heritage? Like the Halle Berry example, Beyonce is also a woman of mixed race ancestry but she is also a black woman. Although the whole theory of race has been shown to exist only in the sociological world rather than the biological world, in the US, a person of African ancestry is black regardless of their phenotype. In Brazil, often times, the rule was the exact opposite. People who clearly looked black would argue that they were anything but black. But this is changing.
Beyonce with parents Matthew and Tina Knowles
Singer Graça Cunha, like many other black Brazilians of mixed heritage, gets it. One year after I posted my article, “Black yet mixed, Mixed yet black”, Cunha spoke on this topic in a book highlighting the careers of black Brazilian female singers.
Speaking about herself and the two other background singers of the popular Saturday late night variety show, Altas Horas, Cuhna said this:
“The funny thing is that neither I nor the other girls are “pure” black. The production guys always play around saying that we are yellow girls! Just thinking about this makes me laugh…In reality, we are mestiças. Black, yes, but mestiças. Curiously, as much myself, as Leilah Moreno and Jakeline Ribas, we are mestiças of Indians, blacks and Portuguese. Us three, we’re pretty Brazilian.”
Jakeline Ribas, Leilah Moreno and Graça Cunha of Altas Horas
Cunha, Moreno and Ribas were added to the show by its host, Serginho Groisman, when he realized that his all-girl stage band featured all white women and felt it was necessary to make a change. In Brazil, in large part due to the efforts of the Black Consciousness movement that has encouraged Brazilians of African descent to define themselves as black, women like Camila Pitanga, Taís Araújo and Ildi Silva all define themselves as black women even though they clearly recognize their mixed race backgrounds. The concept of race itself is based upon privileges and penalties given to one group at the expense of another. If one were to look at women’s magazine covers of the US or Brazil over a period of time, this would be easy to recognize. Light-skinned, dark-skinned, more “negroid” or mixed, it doesn’t matter: white women are the standard.
Taís Araújo, Camila Pitanga and Ildi Silva
The fact is, in the Americas’, from Canada to Argentina, the vast majority of black people are of some varying degrees of mixed ancestry. Some of this admixture is due to sexual assault and authoritative coercion of black women during the era of slavery, some of it is due to people relating to each other out of a mutual recognition of oppression (blacks and Indians) and some of this admixture is due to more recent, consensual relations. In the case of Beyonce Knowles, let me say this. If people are going to denounce her acceptance of her mixed background and revoke her “black pass”, when Black History Month rolls around next February, there will be a whole lot of other black folks that we’ll have to take off of our walls and out of our history books as well.
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview
The simple expression "I am not black" is where most issues stem from in Black people's discussions about this topic. That expression says so much. And black people's knowledge on this subject has expanded tremendously due to it's exposure. Both sides should consider to actually understand the other before becoming offfended