Pop performer Beyonce recently allowed her skin to be darkened for a photo shoot in French publication L’Officiel. The shoot was inspired by Nigerian musician, Fela Kuti. Beyonce’s (momentary) caramel to cocoa transformation set the cyber world ablaze.
To her Stans (ride-or-die fans), let me wave my peace flag first. I respect her hustle. I also find her girl-power performances enjoyable; but, I was baffled by the shoot.
Why pose in what reminded many of Blackface, especially during Black History Month?
One cannot help but wonder if the decision was truly born of inspiration, ignorance, carelessness or a combination.
Was the shoot a superficially couched attempt to keep a monopoly on mainstream relevance and attention?
In a world where controversy sells, was it a response to the media’s growing infatuation with Rihanna’s recent sadism inspired image?
Beyonce’s intentions could have been misconstrued. Her camp could argue that her family is down for Kuti.
After all, her hubby, Jay-Z, is a producer of “Fela!”. It is a musical about the Afro-beat artist’s life.
Beyonce’s mother styled her for the shoot. The styling included tribal inspired garb and paint. She looked beautiful, but jarring.
Maybe her mother should have offered a discerning opinion about darkening her daughter’s skin to honor an influential African artist. It is not about just the skin darkening.
The color was unevenly applied and the shoot was written about in a way that could trivialize the experience of people who were born of similar hue.
L’Officiel promoted the spread as “far from the glamourous Sasha Fierce .”
By darkening her skin, did she adopt a less glam presentation? Colorism, much?
By presenting herself with darker skin to “return to her African roots,” she perpetuated stereotypes about Blackness.
We must remember that African lineage is not solely a dark skinned affair.
Beyonce is a Black American performer and Houston native. She should be all too familiar with touchy issues of pigment and perception.
In a country that humored itself with negative stereotypes of people within the Diaspora, a little more thought could have conveyed that her actions would strike nerves.
We still grapple with modern examples of mammy, Jezebel and pickaninny portrayals of Black people.
To embrace a more phenotypic Blackness, she could ditch the Loreal lightened, straightened tresses and extensions.
She could request that Photoshoppers stop adjusting her photos to the point where she appears copper one moment and cream the next.
But, she won’t.
And others don’t either because it is beneficial for token Blacks, our famous few, to embrace physical presentations that are less threatening (read: dark) to the westernized public.
She released Spanish music and appeared beside belly dancing, also blonde, Colombian superstar Shakira in the video for “Beautiful Liar.”
The two were intentionally portrayed as visually interchangeable.
I am not slighting the power of international appeal and collaboration; but, we still live in a world that reveres light skin and hair and people who have either and/or both.
Commentators somehow attempt to render Beyonce, the Tina Turner channeling megaforce, post-racial. Bloggers and writers touted the French photo shoot as being in “Blackface.”
Traditionally, a component of Blackface was for the participant to not already be Black.
Can we just call it Wrecklessface? Oopsface?
Beyonce used the shoot as an opportunity to seemingly convey the experience of an individual in a group that she is not really a part.
She is Black; but, her colorism experiences will never be the same as someone who was born the shade she “artistically” portrayed.
Additionally, society should reassess viewing what women of lighter hues do as avant-garde, when oftentimes dark-skinned women’s actions are not looked upon favorably.
In a nutshell, the notions that a chocolate colored face, body paint, coupled with super-slick honey colored hair, and an intentionally less and less racial image are the best ways to honor an African great does not scream authenticity.
To honor the musician, she could have just made a song.