We were talking about hair diversity in the media, not Super Bowl 50. A classmate wrote a piece on a new coloring book created to celebrate hair in various textures and colors. During the conversation, my professor mentioned that diversity “used to be” a hot topic. “In the age of Beyoncé, you can hardly argue that anymore,” she said.
“Well, just erase the two black girls sitting right in your face,” I thought. One of us sat in her class with something like a high top and the other (ok, me) with a kinky shrunken ‘fro. I wanted to ask how many times she’d seen women that look like us in a L’Oréal commercial. Or better, how many times she’d seen women with hair and dark brown skin like mine in a Head & Shoulders ad.
How could my professor equate Beyonce’s wild success to a dark-skinned, black woman with nappy hair in her class, you ask? As talented and hard working as Beyoncé is, an analysis of her mainstream success cannot be adequately had without acknowledging the privilege that her fair complexion, middle class upbringing and now her wealth provide. Be clear. I love me some Queen Bey. Grew up listening to her music and mimicking her dance moves. While I felt inspired, I never once felt ‘represented’. I also never felt that since she’s everywhere, we can celebrate a wholly diverse media. Beyoncé and her signature blond hair–not unlike my professor’s–should hardly be considered an answer to complaints about the media’s lack of diversity. Dope woman, but white people accepting a celebrity who suits their standards of beauty doesn’t excite me anymore than their fetishization of Lupita Nyong’o or Viola Davis–the TWO dark-skinned women that Hollywood chooses to give a main stage. It all reads as a futile attempt to embrace diversity in theory.
People tend to use Beyoncé’s success as a balm that removes the sting from mainstream America’s anti-blackness and misogynoir. This faux diversity does her and other black women no substantial favors. Black women who endure this pedestaling end up more stifled than empowered. In Beyoncé’s case, white folks seem to think their wide acceptance of her should render her silent on issues affecting Black Americans. Hence, the race-baiting claims and the Anti-Beyoncé rally taking place on Tuesday in response to her “Formation” video and Black Panther-themed Super Bowl performance. Almost overnight, their balm became another irritant.
The negative effects of this pedestaling also materialize for black women who do not meet these standards. An example of how that plays out is when some black women do not acknowledge their privilege and worse, participate in the oppression of other black women. Those disadvantaged by this must manage erasure from within and outside of their race and gender. All of this breeds resentment and prolongs healing.
This is why I sat in class on pause when my professor name-dropped Beyoncé as a diversity emblem. Anecdoting racism with Eurocentric-based inclusion is like trying to clean your house with a dirty rag. Wipe the counters, floors and baseboards. Use as much Pine-Sol as you like.
It’s still dirty.
There are plenty of black women making wonderful moves. But I’m going need a few more kinks, coils, thick lips, thicker hips and counts of deep cocoa skin in the media before I get to dabbing over a diversity revolution. And even that must be coupled with black women and girls of various looks and backgrounds getting just as much acceptance in our classrooms, on our jobs and in our own neighborhoods. Let me know when that happens.
Until then, the fight continues.