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Race Card: Has Beyoncé Knowles Betrayed Women of Color?

Is Beyoncé Knowles' bleached blonde hair and light skin reason enough to accuse the singer of racial treason? Yes, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who just penned a piece in the Daily Mail about how Beyoncé is betraying black and Asian (meaning South Asian) women with her exterior.

One black friend of mine…saw the picture of U.S. singer Beyoncé at a pre-Grammy awards party," Alibhai-Brown writes. "Her complexion and limbs were translucently pallid, her locks long, straight and blonde. … Beyoncé's tone seems miraculously to be changing from dusky to peachy.

Doesn't this sound a little too familiar? Michael Jackson, anyone? And while the late King of Pop's skin tone really did lighten from dark brown to white—a transformation he said was due to a skin disorder—it's unclear whether Beyoncé's complexion has unnaturally lightened over the years. The before and after shots of Beyoncé that accompany the editorial show Jay-Z's main squeeze looking tan in one image and downright ghostly in another. But pictures aren't enough to make the call that Beyoncé is among the celebrities "trying to make themselves look white," as Alibhai-Brown suggests. The lighting, time of year, and makeup Beyoncé was wearing when both photos were taken could've made her skin look lighter or darker depending on these factors. As a woman of color, I can attest to this. My skin looks any number of shades in photos depending on the circumstances.

Alibhai-Brown, however, isn't interested in considering all of the reasons why Beyoncé's skin looks lighter. Instead, she chooses to spend her editorial claiming Beyoncé's light skin and hair are giving children low self-esteem. She mentions how her friend's daughter promptly announced that she wanted lighter, straighter hair after seeing the "after" pic of Beyoncé. Yes, this is all Beyoncé's fault and not the fact that the teenage girl lives in a village where "everyone else is white." Are we really supposed to believe that being raised in an all-white town never affected her but that the color of Beyoncé's hair led to the girl having an identity crisis? But it's not just Beyoncé Alibhai-Brown targets in her piece. It's Bollywood films starring actresses with light skin and eyes. These entertainers alone are ruining our children!

Look, I'm certainly not suggesting that popular culture has no impact on children. It obviously has a huge impact on children and adults alike. But it's irresponsible to suggest that a pop singer like Beyoncé is more at fault for children of color hating their dark skin than, say, British colonialism or parents who've criticized their kids' complexions. While Alibhai-Brown broaches these subjects, she devotes much more time Beyoncé-bashing than squarely placing blame where it belongs—cultural imperialism, white supremacy, and generations of internalized racism.

I'm not a Beyoncé fan. I much prefer her husband's music to hers. That said, I still think it's a bit much to accuse the singer of racial treason based on one photograph and whatever color her extensions happen to be this week.

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Comments

28 comments have been made. Post a comment.

?

What the **** is racial treason? I'm sorry, did I miss the memo that says all people of a subculture are to identify with, support, and represent that subculture? No.

Just to clarify...

Hi Jenn,

Just to clarify, Nadra is responding to Alibhai-Brown's article in the Daily Mail which accused Beyoncé of "racial treason," not making those claims herself.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

it needs to stop

why are black women the only ones who are "betraying their race" with something as superficial as hair. WE NEED TO GET OVER IT! no one else is held to the same standard. beyonce looks the same to me, so because shes lighter-skinned she wants to be white, but no one would accuse mary j blige of doing same, and she has had blonde hair since the 90s.

check out my blog for a righteous rant about the ridiculous of"race betrayal" when it relates to hair, you might like it!

http://hearthesiren.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/%E2%80%9Chigh-maintenance%E...

Photo retouching

Um...those pictures were Photoshopped within an inch of their lives.

Beyonce doesn't control the people that lighten, retouch, and alter photographs of her. The actions of the artistic directors and photo editors that promote these alterations is infuriating and irresponsible, but ultimately not the fault of Beyonce.

Also, as a light-skinned black woman, I can tell you that I, too, am affected by the sun (or distinct lack of it). My skin is far lighter in the winter than it is in the summer. It's ignorant to think that slight changes in her skin tone couldn't be at all natural.

Beyonce has to sign off on

Beyonce has to sign off on photos before they are released. She allows her skin to be whitewashed in photos. It's sad to me that the only black woman to have gained the ultimate spotlight is one that has conformed to society's view of beautiful and gives the image of a white woman. She should be ashamed of herself.

Thank you. Someone finally

Thank you. Someone finally stating the truth!

Beyonce's new look

Somehow I managed to miss this - probably because I don't slavishly follow celebs - but I was appalled when I saw the "new" Beyonce. She's erased everything that made her look uniquely pretty and I find her much less attractive. I am a short, plus-sized white woman; and while I have light brown hair and blue eyes, I would have to starve myself to even remotely look like Barbie. I have body issues due to my build and the fact that I will never be "skinny" even when I am, medically speaking; and I can only imagine how much worse it must be for women of color. For myself, I search for media that portray women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities not just for myself, but also for my son. And it is hard to find pictures of beautiful women that do not conform to what I call the Barbie standard. Beyonce was beautiful the way she was; now she's just another blonde automaton.

So because she dyed her hair

So because she dyed her hair blonde she represents everything you cannot be? I apologize but I honestly don't understand your comment.

"I have body issues due to my build and the fact that I will never be "skinny" even when I am, medically speaking; and I can only imagine how much worse it must be for women of color."

I don't understand what you mean by this comment, are you saying that women of color have body issues and are not able to be thin like "Barbie" and that they are all plus-sized like yourself?

"And it is hard to find pictures of beautiful women that do not conform to what I call the Barbie standard. Beyonce was beautiful the way she was; now she's just another blonde automaton."

So let me know if I understand correctly: You're criticizing Beyonce for having blonde hair, and saying that she's "just another blonde automaton." I don't understand where your criticism is coming from.

And could it be that the second photo of her was photoshopped and it could just be bad lighting? Or maybe her skin lightens in the winter, like mine?

"another blonde automaton"

So, Beyonce's singing talent and all other characteristics that make her an individual are erased due to the color of her hair? I'm sorry, but that's a very simplistic and reactionary argument. If you're looking to enlighten your son, I suggest not placing so much import on physical appearance an instead focusing on womens' accomplishments rather than the way they look.

dusky to peachy

I looked at the picture of Beyonce and didnt know it was her. What ever the reason is i know one thing. I dont listen to her music because of the way she looks but im guessing that im in the minority on that one. Girl has some pipes on her and i love to hear her sing.

I agree with this article

I agree with this article entirely. We should be critiquing the society that provokes women of colour into wanting lighter skin and hair than Beyonce herself.

hair????

I hope you have a chance to see that in the world that is the norm. Why? Status for one. Korea(south) has had problems with beauty queens not looking ethnic as does Japan. China who has a biracial singer has had disbelief among it's citizens because many of thee countries are of primarily one ethnic group.(yes, China has 50+ ethnic groups living within it's borders). People in low status jobs are dark from the sun. Not from spending time sunbathing!
Time to do some traveling and learn about the world. In the US up until the "black power" days; it was if you white your right if brown stick around if black get back.

Please stop hating

Beyonce has always been the same complexion.
I am a black woman. I was born with her complexion
...in fact I was sitting on the train looking at my
light skin in the florescent lighting. You could
see the blue blood coursing through my veins.

My family treated me like I was less than because
I was light and they were not.

I had dreads for ten years and now I wear
wigs similar to the one she is wearing in this
profile photo. my hair is natural underneath.

Leave her alone. She's a pop star. She is doing
her job. If she didn't look that way we wouldn't have
a black women who so much power in music at all.

I don't like this race card section.
Black on black hatred and jealousy.

Cut this out.

Please, we need unity.

Same old story, different names.

Beautifully put.

People need to understand that black people come in a vast spectrum of complexions among other things. As for the hair, let her do whatever the hell she pleases. She's donned afro hairstyles as well and openly spoken about her experiences with her hair (along with her sister, Solange, who recently cut all her hair off and decided to wear it natural ), but of course Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wouldn't want to acknowledge that since it doesn't support her argument. I'm too through with this story and with anybody trying to tell someone else they don't look, act, or represent their interpretation of a black person, or any group of people for that matter. Who appointed them the cultural police?

Huh?

You're saying you don't the like the Race Card section because it promotes black on black jealously/hatred. You are aware I was quoting another writer and defended Beyonce in response, no?

Beyonce's alleged treason against her race

One needn't assign blame to the black pop idols who are accused of bleaching their skin and wearing lighter, straighter hair extensions. Parents, or Parent of the children that are asking, pleading, demanding or begging to get their skin bleached or lighter, straighter hair extensions need to do a better job of exposing them to positive black role models worldwide. Unfortunately, if feel that those children have too much exposure to negative media, environments and possibly their own family members, immediate and extended. Parents, or Parent do themselves a disservice if they themselves are not striving to improve their quality of living which will raise the whole family to a better self image. Even if the message is screamed at the kid, "Stay in school. Get a God damn job. Don't go on welfare, and then you can buy your own God damn skin bleach and fucking fake ass hair extensions".

The Daily Mail

If Yasmin Alibhai-Brown would like a more positive message to be sent to women of colour than perhaps she should stop writing for such a terrible newspaper with a consistent reputation for sexism and 'subtle' racism.
Also, the rest of her article is a little dodgy; her examples of singers who didn't 'betray' their heritage and so didn't achieve the same levels of success are Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, both of whom I always thought had other factors working against them like, you know, segregation. Ugh.
The original article makes me need to go to my 'happy place'. I think I'll be blasting out the Beyonce all day long.

Exactly- I wish (but highly

Exactly- I wish (but highly doubt) Alibhai-Brown is making some subversive move to undermine this curiously British institution . The Mail has that insane 'teddibly,teddibly Conservative' gambit while it tries desperately to cover up the fact that it's pretty much responsible for all racial violence in Britain for the past forty-odd years(or longer; google 'Rothermere' for more on that).If it was a person, it would be a hardware-store owner by day and carry a pitchfork and a white hood by night. In fact, it's a miracle Y A-B can work in the same office as Richard Littlejohn, a man so convinced of his ' is racial/ male superiority that it's his goal to look exactly like a loaf of white sliced, lest we need visual clues.

What does a non-white woman look like?

I suppose maybe Alibhai-Brown wouldn't have made such a stir if we (the "societal" we) could get it through our heads that there is no specific way for people to "look". A black woman isn't supposed to look any one way, just like a Native American woman isn't supposed to look any one way, or an indigenous Australian woman isn't supposed to look any one way, or an Indian or other South Asian woman isn't supposed to look any one way. Some people even think East Asian women are supposed to all look the same, but they don't. I know that even on a tiny peninsula that Korean women don't look the same. We all (WoC/Non-white women) look different. We all have variations, even within the same family. Yet, when someone falls outside of the supposed norm, we are not appropriately stereotypical enough.

It's ridiculous.

Great post, and I really enjoy this series.

You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don't find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast, which is what I tried to do. ~ Jane Fonda

What about when a white woman

What about when a white woman gets a fake tan and darkens her hair? Does anyone tell her she is betraying her race?

I think it's also interesting

I think it's also interesting to point out that if Beyonce did wanted to lighten her skin/blonde-ify her hair because of pressure to look more "white" and less "black" and that means she's under the same pressure that the little girl was that's mentioned in the article... Does that mean the little girl is another enabler of racism because of her internalized self-hatred?

I'm not necessarily saying Beyonce hates herself--I wouldn't know--but it's obvious that there is lots of pressure to look more "white" than "black". It's extremely limiting.

Thank you for the post!

There's a big difference

There's a big difference between a little girl and Beyonce, whose every move is controlled by powerful, mostly-white executives seeking financial gain. Not even worth comparing.

I think they are both

I think they are both controlled by rich white corporate men in different ways, as most people are in the U.S.

Yikes

That article was awful, and designed to be offensive and ridiculous. If Beyonce is betraying all women who identify as Black or Asian, as if she is the sole representative of all those women, then we ought to crown Beyonce queen of the damn world. That's a large constituency!

I'm not saying we should

I'm not saying we should blame Beyonce as a person, but we should take seriously what she represents, and take seriously the magnitude of her influence.

You say we shouldn't focus on one person -- that we should be thinking about "cultural imperialism, white supremacy, and generations of internalized racism." Well, what else embodies these three awful things than prominent colored popular singers trying to look white? You never see light-colored artists trying to look black. Why? Because whiteness has been and remains the standard of beauty in this country, and because of globalization, in the world.

I understand what all of the comments above me are getting at, but I just think they are a little shortsighted. In a vacuum of time & space, yes, Beyonce and her managers should be able to dye her hair whatever color they want. But in a highly charged, political world that -- like or not -- is facing HUNDREDS of years of systemic racism and still is, it DOES matter when a prominent colored woman is trying to look whiter. No way around it.

Good Points

You raise good points, but I think it's a problem when we give celebrities too much sway over our children. I think pop culture is highly influential, but as parents (which I'm not), we can use these occasions to educate our children about racial politics. Instead of blaming Beyonce, why not have a discussion with the child detailing that, even though blonde hair has been idealized in Western culture, that doesn't mean that it's any more beautiful than darker hair. I grew up watching loads of television, but I think my mother did a good job instilling the message that "black is beautiful." I do think parents have more influence over their children than they realize. Lastly, I think the author should not have neglected the impact of the girl in question growing up in an all-white neighborhood. Surely, that's made more of an impact on her than Beyonce has.

I think Beyonce is a grown

I think Beyonce is a grown woman who can make informed decisions about her appearance. If she wants to dye her hair blond, that's her choice. It's her hair, and her hair color does not affect her singing talent or musical career. It's hair. I think the real shame in this is that Beyonce's appearance, like the appearances of many other female celebrities, still holds more sway than her talent, her achievements, and her socio-political stances. I don't care how "progressive" the original article was attempting to be; by reducing any woman to her physicality, you're setting us all way back.

Folks, what are you talking

Folks, what are you talking about ? Beyonce now looks like a South Asian/Indian or Hispanic woman, a blend of caucasian features and medium-to-dark skin tone.

Yes, what's happened is that the world is shifting towards a mixed race look of exotic facial qualities with fair skin. Thus, it's a Mediterranean future, not an African nor a Nordic one. In the future, the most beautiful people of the earth will be the classic beauties from the Mediterranean to the Caspian/Central Asian regions.

And even in India, people favor the 'Persian' princess look, wide round eyes and fair skin. Don't you think that this has negatively affected South Indian/Tamil women's self-image? Just look at Bollywood films if you don't believe me. It looks like they recruited actors from Tehran or Azerbaijan and not from within India, itself.