Friday, August 08, 2008

Race Bait: Beyonce Haters Blinded By The Light

So the latest race-bait garnering some media buzz is the purported Whitewashing of Beyonce Knowles. Various blogs and others are taking L'Oréal to task. Gawker after reviewing the arguments decided to put some compare-and-contrast pictures up. And, y'know, she definitely looks lighter. Maybe even whiter.

Jezebel is doing a good job of pursuing the whole skin-lightening-as-gross-epidemic angle, with lots of informative and scary links on bleaching of the skin and there being a market for these products. But I think focusing on the skin-caucasianizing of Miss Knowles is sort of missing the point.

Many people in the comments and elsewhere have referenced Michael Jackson in relation to this "scandal." I think one question with regards to MJ serves as a great reminder of why the bleached skin is not the issue: Does anyone think Michael Jackson is attractive?

No one of sound mind and body sees obviously bleached skin as "hot". Maybe there are a small percentage of folks who are f'd up in the head enough to think slathering your face/body with dangerous chemicals is worth it to get just a little more pale gray, but I think it's a stretch to make this any sort of society-wide problem. This doesn't mean we're not still contending with issues stemming from centuries of reinforcing the White Beauty Standard, it just means that we've evolved past "make-it-white, make-it-right" thinking en masse. Like sticking a banana in a black guy's hand and saying that makes him a gorilla, it's a little too simpleminded to actually reinforce the white-superior/black-inferior complex in 2008. These are not ideas that will gain traction en masse no matter how many shades Beyonce lightens up, or chimp noises LeBron makes.

Point being: if you're going to get hrrumphy about the Whitewashing of Beyonce as it pertains to reinforcing improper beauty standards, well that slave ship sailed long time ago. I'd actually contend that the hair is the real issue here. Straight, sleek, satin-smooth, that ain't no black person's hair! And no one's batting an eye at the actual point of the product being to get the kinky blackness out of your hair, soooooo ....

But do we really think L'Oréal would have the brainstorm that Beyonce would be more attractive if she were white? Photoshop mistakes happen, in this case it's the equivalent of airbrushing out a bellybutton or whathaveyou; a definite testament to the artificial beauty complex, but not with any racist intent.

And if you want to combat the White Beauty Standard, let's get Beyonce in an ad campaign rocking an afro. Maybe a little Náps by L'Oréal?

Everybody Staring At Beyonce's Skin [Gawker]
Photoshop of Horrors [Jezebel]


  1. I think you may give fashionable elites too much credit. No one really finds anorexia attractive either, but skin sucked into ribs is still presented as an ideal.

  2. Please call me out if I'm dead wrong, but I don't see it as a stretch that Beyoncé and her camp might have authorized--maybe even commissioned--this slight lightening (slightening). I mean, it seems impossible that an artist with her level of celebrity doesn't have the final say on everything her image is attached to. I think if you asked her she'd deny it, or pass this off as an oversight by one of her peeps, but the last place I looked for fault was L'Oreal (though, certainly not absolving them of guilt for the part they've played in that game over the years). I'm just sayin...B's been slowly trying to make that big "upgrade" for a minute now.

  3. Anonymous8/08/2008

    Beyonce is doing a bit of 'whitewashing' on her own account by wearing all those elaborate extensions to look like she's got white women's hair.

  4. micah - Yeah, but Beyonce flaunts her curves in such a way that I don't think "slightening" would be her thing. It doesn't fit her brand.

  5. I am admittedly cynical. I think Beyoncé "flaunts" her curves because a) she couldn't lose 'em if she tried (and she has) and b) because she understands the importance of maintaining her black audience--the same audience, to generalize, that knows there's nothing wrong/unnatural about a curvy body. The same audience that knows that when B goes home--away from the camera flashes and red carpet gowns--it's to a slab of ribs. L'Oreal may not know it, but we do.

    I think Beyonce's branding strategy has been flawless, much in part to careful planning by "Papa Joe" Knowles. It's the kind of branding that keeps black fans knowing that their girl is riding with them 'til the wheels fall off, but tells advertisers and investors (aka "YT") that "I can pass if/when you need me to". We all know that she can shake someone off her like a flea when necessary (see every other member of Destiny's Child), so I don't think it's any surprise that when duty calls, Beyonce puts all the niggatries to the side. It just hasn't been her color 'til now.

    Personally, I'm not mad at her, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the fact that B has been trying--with great success--to have her yellow cake and eat it, too.


  6. Anonymous8/09/2008

    Beyonce is incredibly beautiful, I don't understand why anyone would change her look.

  7. Hello there!

    What is interesting is that black folks are ALL UPSET and Beyonce has not said a word about the ad...or how light her skin appears in the ad...

    Since Beyonce doesn't care enough to complain publicly then why are black folks all up in arms over it?

    OH...they forgot that L'Oreal has been promoting white beauty for the past 50+ years???

    {shaking my head}


  8. Anonymous8/11/2008

    This is nothing new. People are consistently complaining about "loss of black" or "selling out". Perhaps I say this because I'm fairly light-skinned. Who knows. I would have never thought to question the Beyonce pictures, the same way I didn't question the picture of Lebron James when they said he looked like a gorilla or something. If I was getting paid millions of dollars, I really wouldn't care what they did to me as long as they didn't make me ugly. People need to relax sometimes.

  9. What, no blue contact lenses? L'Oréal was sloppy.

    Skin bleaching, frying the hair with harsh chemicals to remove the curl...having plastic surgery to "Westernize" Asian eyes. These things are absolutely related. I have an affluent Bangladeshi friend—her daughter is quite brown and this is an affront to her relatives back in Bangladesh, who feel light = better. There's such a strong fetishization of whiteness, and yet nobody really wants to sunburn and freckle like I do. It's madness.

  10. Anonymous8/18/2008

    seriously...your blog was excellently written...just passing this one to get to the bernie mac clips...but at the end of the day, why does anyone care?

  11. It's easy to treat ad images like this as marginal, saying they are more a comment on the poor choice of the particular industry. I disagree.

    This post shows a particular "individualistic" approach to dissecting distasteful material as this. The very industry has a view of beauty through a "white lens", you gotta be damn near african looking to keep your blackness on a set of prints. Otherwise, the typical black human will be prepped to accentuate his/her "whiteness". Lights, camera, ACTION baby!

    An industry as flawed it might be in itself is still a creation of society. A reflection of the classes within the culture, what is obtainable to some and not for others. These things have shaped the mass consciousness and at times like this MAGNIFY our assimilation, as well as prove the masses approval of "whitening of america".

    Not any racist intent? Maybe. But with racIAL intent, yes.


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