by Ronda Daniel– @rondaemily_
This week, we saw black feminist icon Beyoncé release Lemonade, in which she wore “European features”, highlighting how the femininity of black women is persistently under scrutiny at the hands of white beauty standards. This visual album also featured cameos from feminist and anti-racist icons such as Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya Coleman, and tributes to black women who lost the men in their lives, such as the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.
This quickly became iconic in pop culture, after her Formation performance at the American Superbowl back in February, where she and her back-up dancers sported Black Panther clothing.
Unfortunately, the limelight was soon seemingly snatched, when Piers Morgan, a middle-aged, white British man wrote an article for the Daily Mail about this, accusing Beyoncé of exploiting the mothers featured who lost their children to police brutality, and writing that he ‘preferred the less inflammatory, agitating Beyoncé’. Rather than discussing the real issues, i.e. the fact that colourism exists, and that beauty standards are Eurocentric, debate was circulating about Piers Morgan, who was soon taken on by British singer Jamelia, who said ‘newsflash honey, it wasn’t for you’.
This colourism, has been revealed, however, within the transformation of rapper Lil’ Kim. Known for always altering her appearance, Lil’ Kim’s photos were circulating on social media websites – she was unrecognisable.
These images were met with comments such as ‘wow, she’s white’. Here’s the sociological part- why should we care?
Because we should seek to understand why Kim has altered herself to this extent, having frequently discussed her self-esteem issues relating to her skin colour and features in the 1990s. Kim relates to women of colour everywhere, constantly shown that they aren’t worthy to meet white beauty standards.
I should know. Here I am as a little girl, dressed up as Snow White:
Source: Author's own photo
Queen Bey has once again cast light on a real sociological and social issue in popular culture for women of colour, as well as casting light on loved ones that have been lost such as Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.
Jha (2016) discusses how whiteness is portrayed as associated with respectability, employment, success and attractiveness. What/who is to blame for this? When discussing this, we can take an historical outlook, delving into origins such as scientific racism (whilst this required a specific set of knowledge, science was steadily gaining influence in the Enlightenment Period), and commodity racism (advertisement was and is everywhere, and is thus more readily accessible). We can see how this is relevant to contemporary society, such as the media, and the nation-state. Both categorise and stratify people into groups; whilst the media does this discursively, the state officiates this. Scholars and anti-racists should continue to take this structural outlook- but remember that race is also individual– it has a profound impact on people’s lives. Just look at Lil’ Kim. Look at the mothers who have lost their children to brutality. Look into yourself, and your own perceptions.
Jha, M. R. (2016) The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism and The National Body. London: Routledge
A. Brah (1996) ‘Difference, Diversity, Differentiation’ in Cartographies of Diaspora. London: Routledge.
H. Carby (2009) ‘White woman Listen!’ in L. Back & J. Solomos (eds.) Theories of Race and Racism. London: Routledge.
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