Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl,” a song dedicated to bringing pride, adoration, and celebration to dark-skinned women, has been framed by some as an ode to women of all colors, sparking another debate about colorism.
Last week, Beyoncé dropped The Lion King: The Gift, a beautifully-crafted soundtrack for the newly-released Lion King live-action film. The album serves as an homage to the contemporary sounds coming out of Africa.
“Brown Skin Girl” — a standout from the album featuring SAINt JHN, WizKid, and Blue Ivy Carter — has received praise for being a commanding love letter to the brown and dark-skinned women of the world. Beyoncé leaves no ambiguity for who the track is dedicated to, acknowledging women like Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and fellow Destiny’s Child member Kelly Rowland. And yet, a song that is dedicated to bringing pride, adoration, and celebration to brown and dark-skinned women, has been framed by some women — particularly light-skinned women — as an ode to women of all colors, sparking another debate about colorism as it pertains to black people.
And, frankly, speaking as a light-skinned woman, this has been embarrassing to watch.
Colorism is a process that privileges light-skinned people of color over dark in areas like income, education, housing, and other facets of life. Slave owners utilized this ideology when they would section off our ancestors based on the lightness or darkness of their skin. The “brown paper bag” test, a form of discrimination within the African-American community by comparing one’s skin tone to a paper bag, is one of the earliest instances of colorism. During the 20th century, there were even “Paper Bag Parties” thrown by African-Americans, events notorious for denying access to those who were darker than a brown paper bag.
Colorism continues to be a problem. The overall representation of light-skinned actors that are cast over dark-skinned actors is alarmingly unbalanced. In the hip-hop industry, “foreign” and light-skinned women are glorified the most, not only in an artist’s lyrics but their music videos. Just last month, R&B singer Tory Lanez found himself in a peculiar situation after he allegedly staged the defense of a dark-skinned model being replaced by a light-skinned model on a music video set. The fact that anyone would have to “fake” a situation in order to defend dark-skinned women speaks volumes. It is cowardly to assume that any of these occurrences are solely based off of “preference” politics when history defeats this claim each time.
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A true member of the “BeyHive” would know that Beyoncé is strategic and intentional with any medium that she encompasses, and has constantly used her platform to showcase black excellence at all costs and by any means necessary. “Brown Skin Girl” is no exception. She’s deliberate in who she references in the track, saying the following in its second verse:
“Pose like a trophy when Naomi’s walk in. She need an Oscar for that pretty dark skin. Pretty like Lupita when the cameras close in. Drip broke the levee when my Kelly’s roll in. I think tonight she might braid her braids. Melanin too dark to throw her shade. She minds her business and wines her waist. Gold like 24k, okay!”
The Queen of Pop creating a powerful, inspiring anthem that’s dedicated to brown and dark-skinned women? We absolutely love to see it.
Beyoncé delivered a song that uplifted the women who are underappreciated the most. A true ally utilizes one’s privilege in order to uplift and inspire one’s community.
This homage to dark-skinned women was diluted by some women centering the song on themselves and disregarding who “Brown Skin Girl” is for. Nigerian songwriter MAJ basked in her willful ignorance with her lackluster, tone-deaf cover of “Brown Skin Girl.”
MAJ’s introduction alone is a blatant act of erasure in addition to glorifying “light skin” as supreme:
“He say he really loves my skin I see. Don’t believe in bleaching but the Almighty. Just a likkle jean and a pure white tee. I never do nobody be nobody wifey. Tonight I might just braid my hair… looking like Sade in a pretty long hair. Skin like Beyoncé but I really don’t care…”
Why would anyone in their right mind utilize Beyoncé’s name in order to manipulate her message and true intention? The moment was the embodiment of light-skinned privilege and co-opting something that clearly doesn’t belong to us. MAJ has been rightfully checked on social media, although she’s yet to address the backlash she’s faced from it.
Like MAJ, I was also checked by my Twitter peers for my light-skinned privilege. Up until that point, I was raised in a predominately white, suburban neighborhood in Roswell, Georgia. Assimilation and a lack of representation skewed my overall learning process about black history at a young age. Thankfully, I found purpose and salvation when I attended college in Atlanta, Georgia. Still, I had a good bit to learn when it came to understanding my light-skinned privilege.
I remember once tweeting, “Why do we always have to separate ourselves in the Black community? Aren’t we all the same?” One of my internet friends took the time to walk me through the problematic nature of my questioning. She also educated me on how to be a proactive ally moving forward. To this day, I am beyond thankful that she guided me through my mistake and turned it into an honest, transparent educational conversation. Self-awareness and vulnerability goes a long way when it comes to being a reliable and informed ally. I would encourage MAJ to listen to the critiques made against her cover.
It is incredibly embarrassing to constantly witness light-skinned women invalidate dark-skinned women and their experiences time and time again. Now — and honestly never — is not the time to “All Lives Matter” the overall meaning of this beautiful anthem. Colorism has been deeply engraved into society for a long time. It’s important to genuinely understand the colorist theory and its harmful effects on the black community as a whole, and why moments like this where a black woman uses her platform and voice to specifically highlight dark-skinned women, matters so much.
Court Kim is every Woman and then some. She’s the Owner of Court Kim Media, LLC, Curve Model, Humans Rights Activist, and a proud daughter of her loving, supportive parents. In her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her loved ones when she’s not working on her freelance career as a multi-dimensional creative. Court Kim is a New York based freelance writer from Atlanta, GA. Follow her @TheCourtKim