Could Be “Crazy In Love,” But Only If You’re…

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?

The full article and interview can be found here.

3 thoughts on “Could Be “Crazy In Love,” But Only If You’re…”

  1. Wow Caroline, I really am happy that you brought this to my attention. I had never thought that colorism existed or even was a big thing within minority communities. Coming from my Jewish background, it is common for families to push to marry within the group, rather than without. My assumption is that people tend to want to marry into their in-group, but it seems that when there are so many negative stereotypes surrounding people of color, that even they begin to internalize them and believe them, which inevitably leads them away from their own in-group. I am interested to see if this idea of colorism can be translated into different subordinate and minority groups as well and if it would look different for another group than for Black people.

  2. I think this is a really interesting topic of conversation. Recently, I’ve been doing research on stereotypes of minority groups and predominantly Black people and have been intrigued by my findings on the stereotype of “attractiveness.” It seems well ingrained in many white families to “date within your race;” however, there also seems to be some tendency to fetishize Black bodies — woman and man. There appears to be some fixation over objectifying Black women’s bodies in particular. It does seem, too, that light skinned Black women are the object of admiration whereas dark-skinned Black women tend to be looked at in a different light, one that is exclusively made up by their body parts. For example, there has been a great deal of controversy over backup dancers accompanying white singers (Miley Cyrus and many more) who are not only being objectified for their culture but also used as a sexual display of their body parts. This brings about a load of questions regarding dehumanization of Black women and men among mass culture; society seems to have interesting lines between who is a person and who is an object.

  3. I am so glad that you chose to do a blog post on this article because I actually wrote a journal entry about this interview with Matthew Knowles because I found the topic of colorism in our society so interesting. It wasn’t something that I had really thought about before reading it and having time to reflect on it. I think that currently it is more common to hear about conversations having to do with colorism and the media. Throughout the press for “Black Panther,” many members of the cast addressed these issues and stigmas and attempted to break them down. People from all different backgrounds, cultures, and social status levels were cast and proved that it is possible for these types of films and projects to have an effect on not only Black communities, but also on all types of other communities. I think that the more open and willing people are to listen and support these types of projects that support change, the easier it will be to change the system.

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