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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  • kenzy

    PBS had special a few months back called black in latin america or soemthing of the sort and the whole dominican segment dealt with the fact that 97% of the country and people who have migrated to america do not consider themselves to be black. IM not talking about the “spanish” dominicans who look it im talking 97% of all the ones who clearly had an ancestor from the motherland…it just made me sad and look at dominicans differently but im on the west coast so there are none out here

  • arlette

    oh thats sad. this remindsme of some black girl who described herself as being mixed, i was curious so i asked her how. she said that her great grandad was white. i swear she almost bit my head off when i said she was technicaly black. no one is 100% anything especialy an american person concidering the history of the country.

    • Tiffy

      I have an aquaintance like that also, her great granddad is white and he’s still living i met him. So she is kinda mixed but she knows she black. To me at the end of the day the world sees u as black so ppl like Beyonce need to accept it and get over it. I feel like all this claiming of our multi cultural roots is fine in situations like the article with Blair Underwood but in everyday life it just furthers problems for our people. dominicans, brazillians etc can keep being in denial but black ppl in America need to embrace our African roots thats what the world sees and we shouldnt be ashamed of who we are

  • arlette

    sorry about my spelling

  • Beautiful Mic

    Historically, French was a nationality. The indigenous people of France are Nordic Caucasian Basque peoples, which is an ethnic group and cultural identity.

    During the time period this ancestry came about Beyonce’s family timeline, the French people in America were their own ethnic grup. The French were, still, rather recent immigrants, as a group, in this country. This was during a time when the different immigrant groups from the different European countries weren’t as blended in bloodline and culture in this country. So, to me and in Beyonce’s case, French is both a nationality and ethnicity.

    French isn’t a way of saying you’re American. Most Americans have ancestries from immigrant European ethnic groups. At one point, these ancestors were not American. At one point in history, while they were living on the American continent, these ancestors were not American, they still carried the identities of their perspective European root countries/linguistic/ethnic groups.

    The Black phenotype spectrum in America includes the White phenotype. Some notable examples of this include: Adam Clayton Powell, Jr; Fredi Washington and Walter Francis White.

    If this is the case, why the criticism about Beyonce and her varying skin tone? First of all, if she’s mixed in ancestry her natural skin tone may very well range from quite/very pale to golden tan/light brown. Her inherited undertones may naturally allow her to photography lighter at times depending on the lighting applied.

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEING ALL BLACK, not in America. Especially if we’re equating being ALL BLACK with being fully sub-Saharan African in ancestry, there is mostly no African descended person in the Americas who is all black. In the Americas, specifically the United State, inclusion into the Black race has always been defined by the One Drop Rule. That means, aside from the one drop of sub-Saharan ancestry that, historically, had been the only ancestry people were allowed to acknowledge we have other ancestries unacknowledged. This unacknowledged ancestry, truly, makes us mixed race in ancestry.

    We’re mostly all Black and mixed race, at the same time. And this spans across the entire Black color/phenotype spectrum which is very BROAD – primarily because of The One Drop Rule.

    Also, in some cultures, sub-culture, identities, Black does not equate to being African in ancestry. You applied the example of someone being from the Dominican Republic. People from that country know they have West/Central African ancestry, even though the overall cultural implications imply that they shun this. The mostly dark and brown in phenotype Garifuna people acknowledge their African ancestry and heritage, which is a prominent aspect of their cultural identity, do not consider themselves Black either.

    I think Blacks in America have a tendency to disregard historical and cultural perspectives about race, ethnicity and nationality among African descendants rooted in non-Black American culture, which includes many sub-cultures and sub-identities within the United States.

    The way many Blacks go about trying to impose their definitions about race and identity on others is rather imperialistic and should stop. People of sub-Saharan African ancestry, all over the world, we’ve already succumb to this imposition, which is why we have all these different cultural, ethnic, etc… dispositions today. We should allow each other to be who we are, which isn’t always Black. Let’s all be responsible enough to take a deeper look at other cultures and sub-cultures to understand why all people of African descent aren’t considered Black, and why it’s ridiculous to argue that lightened skin shades and altered phenotype via photography makes one ashamed to be Black.

    If anything, this topic is more about White beauty ideals than anything else. If the White phenotype is part of the Black, Asian, Latino, Native American phenotypes (which it is), this issue stems beyond trying to accuse someone of being ashamed of their race by acknowledging their personal, and individual, ancestry/heritage.

    We’re not all the same.

    • Beautiful Mic

      The problem isn’t with Beyonce, how she looks, has her looks altered or her claiming of her heritage, the problem is the historical system of racial accounting and how race is applied today.

      That’s the issue. Address the issue from there because, historically and today, people have been forced to exist under these racial classifications in a reality not fully accounted for by this system of racial accounting.

      Yes, it’s inaccurate TODAY, and it has ALWAYS been inaccurate!

    • Beautiful Mic

      Image if the person in the ad were her cousin Angela Beyince – same family and bloodline. What if Beyonce had her cousin Angela’s phenotype and was consistently photograph with the same brown skin tone and non-altered physical traits.

      Would she be wrong in acknowledging this ancestry? It’s her ancestry. Why shouldn’t she be proud of it.

      Be proud of your own ancestry.

      We aren’t all exactly the same.

    • Beautiful Mic

      ^ Image should be imagine.

  • Beautiful Mic

    ^ The first sentence in my first post should be

    “Historically, Historically, French was a ethnic group.”