Sound Off: Ideas of Blackness Beyoncé, JLo, & L’Oreal

Ideas of Blackness Beyonce

It’s a touchy subject, the meaning behind the color of our skin, but as women of color it’s a never-squelched bone of contention. Some members of the Black community are upset by the latest L’Oreal campaign for True Match that features Beyoncé labeled as “African American, Native American,  French.” Interestingly enough, the last of those doesn’t define her race – but that doesn’t stop people from jumping to conclusions or being upset.

(FYI: French isn’t a race, and while people want to talk about African American as a “race” – it really isn’t one, and neither is Native American)

The anger in this situation stems from Beyoncé being labeled as all of these things while Jennifer Lopez is labeled as 100% Puerto Rican. And while people seem to think that mentioning that Beyoncé is French is somehow invalidating her Blackness, it’s my belief that it strengthens it. Being Black isn’t just one thing and acknowledging all of our roots is important. Perhaps the question isn’t why L’Oreal labeled Beyoncé with multiple no-miners and Jennifer Lopez with only one, would someone please ask these women what they self-identify as? Beyoncé has never shied away from her French heritage, her first name is a homage to that part of her lineage, as is her clothing line. That accent on the end of her name isn’t there just for kicks, it’s French. Jennifer Lopez on the other hand, has stated time and time again that she’s 100% Puerto Rican. Yes she could have been labeled as Latina, but Puerto Rico has its own heritage, not willing to be stuffed into the box labeled Latina. Perhaps some will think I’m naive for not blaming L’Oreal for this, but I don’t think they sat there and genetically tested these women and decided to label them accordingly, it’s far more likely that they asked them the question I hate to be asked “what are you?”

Personally, I first and foremost always define myself as Jamaican. Whether I’m black, white, brown or blue isn’t of any consequence to me, and I hate to be asked to self-identify as a race. Perhaps it’s because I can’t call myself black without getting a few awkward glances. I’m exceedingly light-skinned and calling myself black is almost always followed by someone asking me what I’m mixed with.

If you can trace back your heritage there’s no shame in acknowledging it, all of it. I don’t like when my cousins call themselves African American (their parents are Jamaican, their parents parents are Jamaican). Being labeled as African American fits them into this tiny box that defines what it means to be Black, negating an entire other history and disassociating them from their roots. No matter how dark they may be – they are so much more than just one label. Saying you’re African American somehow creates this idea that your lineage begins with slavery – this is not something I’ll ever accept. The history of Black America isn’t the be all end of Beyoncé’s roots, neither is it that for anyone else. Knowing your heritage no matter how far it dates back is a powerful thing. I am Jamaican and thanks to the sense that is clear in my country’s national motto I can say that I am truly “out of many one people.” As someone who’s clearly of French heritage thanks to my last name – Sicard – I see nothing wrong with acknowledging that part of my story.

I see no fault in L’Oreal labeling Beyoncé as all of these things, so long as she is comfortable with it.
I say to hell with it all. I am not African American, but I am Black. I am Jamaican and my history started way before slavery – something Black people should acknowledge in Black History month.

One thought on “Sound Off: Ideas of Blackness Beyoncé, JLo, & L’Oreal

  1. Mariel

    I think the reason as to why people are getting upset about Beyonce being labeled anything but African-American is because she does not “fit” the preconceived assumptions of what a “French” woman is, or a “Native-American” woman is. Whether or not it’s coming from the black community, to her favour or otherwise, I think the concept of race and ethnicity has always been boxed, for the lack of the better word. I think if people don’t see it, people don’t believe it, or question it, or are skeptical of it.

    As a light skinned Filipino mestiza, many have asked me what exactly that means–some even ask me if Filipino is even a legitimate race because of all the different “mixes.” At times, I apparently confuse them, so they just boxed me as Asian. But I think, as you so wonderfully put it, if you can trace back your heritage (mine being part Spanish and Chinese), then there is no harm in declaring it. However, as you again said it, it has to be that person’s prerogative.


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