Even though I am a dark-skinned black man, I stay away from the argument about colorism in the black community. Not because it has no validity, but because it always misses a valuable point that we will get to later if my head doesn’t explode before I reach the end of this piece.
Mathew Knowles, however—grandfather of five, ex-husband of Tina and father of this little-known underground cabaret singer named Beyoncé—has no fear of wading into the morass to promote his new book, Racism From the Eyes of a Child. Many scholars and academics have hailed the book as necessary because, when discussing how racism is a generational curse, educators often notice the astonishing dearth of writings by guys who raised R&B singers.
In a recent interview with Ebony magazine’s Jessica Bennett, Solange’s dad expounded on the fact that many of our pop superstars tend to be fair-skinned. The interviewer asked if he noticed colorism within the music industry, to which Knowles replied:
Oh, of course! I challenge my students at Texas Southern to think about this. When it comes to Black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids [Beyonce and Solange], and what do they all have in common?
“They’re all light-skinned,” Bennett answered.
“Do you think that’s an accident?” asked Knowles Hotepidly.
Here’s the thing: Knowles is right. America has a conscious bias that always favors the proximity to whiteness, whether it is in speech patterns, hair texture or skin tone. To deny that fact is either naivete or willing duplicity.
But there is another point that is often missed in this discussion:
White. People. Did. That.
Sure, colorism exists in the black community, and it is a problem. But not prefacing every statement about this issue by placing the blame squarely at the feet of the American brand of racism as soon as the subject enters a conversation renders the discussion moot. It’s like going to Tuskegee, Ala., in 1950 and talking about how loose, immoral black men and women were spreading syphilis all willy-nilly.
I know what you’re thinking—“Mathew probably didn’t mean it like that”—and you are correct. I doubt that he meant to insinuate that Beyoncé, Solange, Rihanna or Mariah Carey can’t sing or didn’t work their asses off to get where they are. (The “work their asses off” part is rhetorical. We all saw Rihanna at the Grammys looking as if God looked upon her and blessed her with the gift of black thickness that would make a Kardashian call her plastic surgeon and ask for the Rih Rih special.)
But if Mathew Knowles was bold enough to wade into a discussion about colorism before acknowledging the complicity of white society, it means that he is unqualified to talk about the subject, much less write a whole-ass book about it. Especially since he admitted in the interview that he, too, was color-struck and thought his wife, Tina, was white when he met her.
And I’m sure some objective Caucasian is reading this and wondering how being light-skinned is different from white privilege. If white people must take responsibility for their privilege, then isn’t the same concept transferable to colorism? OK, I’ll bite:
Of Beyoncé, Rihanna, etc., we can’t forget that while their fair skin may have afforded them slightly more opportunity because, for white people, an overabundance of melanin is like kryptonite for vampires or daylight to Superman (I don’t read comic books or watch horror movies, but I think that’s right), the above-mentioned singers are still black.
White privilege is an all-encompassing, everlasting birthright. Light skin is just a thing respected by wypipo and backward thinkers. Beyoncé may have benefited from having “the look” that is based on a European aesthetic, but Carey’s skin ain’t the one hitting the high notes. Bey’s complexion didn’t write “Lemonade” (conversely, “whiteness” has a writing credit on every Taylor Swift single).
I could go on and on about this, but I don’t have to.
I’m sure the Beyhive will handle this bullshit.