I recently read an article from the website Ebony that began circulating after the Grammy’s which features an interview with Mathew Knowles, father and former manager of Beyoncé and Solange Knowles. The first part of the interview discusses Mathew Knowles’s internal struggle with “colorism”, which can essentially be described as prejudiced treatment or preferential treatment of individuals of one’s same race based on their skin color. I had personally never heard this word before, but have always wondered if this was ever an issue within minority groups. After reading further regarding this term and its significance, I imagine this is an issue that will make taking small steps towards racial equality that much more difficult if there is a sort of inner circle of prejudice occurring within races as well.
Further discussing his struggle with colorism, Knowles acknowledges that he grew up during a time where the more White one appeared, the better off they were. He even mentions that when he wanted to attend Fisk University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), that he was in the last class of accepted students that could not have a skin tone darker than a brown paper bag. If their skin tone was darker in comparison to a paper bag, they would not be granted admission into the university. This was in the year 1972.
On his experiences with colorism, Knowles states that it was instilled in him by his parents from a young age to not date “nappy-head” Black girls, which seems to have ultimately altered Knowles’s disposition to being more attracted to girls who were White or very light-skinned. He also explains his experiences with the concept of “eroticized rage”, in which he states that “there was actual rage in me as a Black man, and I saw the White female as a way, subconsciously, of getting even or getting back”. Knowles noticed when he was younger that he always dated White women or Black women with a very light complexion, and this could be traced back to what his family had always told him about Black girls, despite their own blackness. This lack of attraction to Black girls and women stems from an inherited, and mostly unconscious, dislike for Black girls that his own family stereotyped negatively. After reading this quote, I was a little unsure what Knowles meant when he used the terms “getting even” or “getting back”. Perhaps he is referring to his own blackness here, and an acknowledgement of his own implicit negative bias he has towards it. Maybe by “getting back”, he means that by being with a White woman, who is typically “supposed to be” with a White man, it will be viewed by White people, and potentially Black people alike as “getting even” with them in that respect.
This issue draws attention to the question of why his family would teach Knowles these negative stereotypes around women of his own race from such a young age. The answer might be found later in the interview, when Knowles discusses his opinions regarding the music industry. When discussing Black females in the music industry, Knowles asks, “who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids, and what do they all have in common?”. The answer is simple; these women are all light-skinned. Knowles has not only been conditioned to think negatively of Black women’s appearances – thinking back to the comment made by Knowles’s mother about Black girls being “nappy-headed” – but now he associates lighter skin with more success because that has been his lived experience. Could Knowles’s parents have had a similar experience early on based on negative stigmas around people of color during slavery, the Jim Crow years, and the Civil Rights Movement? Is this why they instilled this negative image of women of his own race in him from such a young age? Is there anything we can do to begin to change this stigma? Along with these questions, why is the issue of “colorism” not being addressed more frequently?