Matthew Knowles is reopening a conversation we’ve pretended to have for a while, but have never REALLY breached the surface on. Colorism. And how it’s shaped the American Black family and Black entertainment.

  1. prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Ever since think pieces became and thing and black lives started mattering, we’ve superficially touched on colorism a couple times, but never with any real depth or accountability. It starts as noble conversation where darker skinned girls try expressing their legitimate slights throughout life by other blacks or non-blacks. Then somewhere along the way passé blánc girls hijack the conversation with their own contrived pity sagas and the entire conversation becomes about making them feel more black. After the tears dry, they skip along and enjoy the privileges their pale skin affords them while they think other blacks don’t see.

The most common theme we hear is always “black men prefer light skin women”. This has also been illustrated through sociological tests such as “The Babydoll Test” where black children started choosing white dolls as “better” over black dolls.

What we often DON’T talk about is WHO conditions black boys to prefer the “white babydoll” over the one that looks like them. Matthew Knowles is ready to have that conversation in his new book, Racism: From the Eyes of a Child, which discusses race relations from the perspective of a young man growing up in the deep South, and with the Texas Southern professor having borne witness to some of the most blatantly racist and, quite frankly, violent moments in recent American history. In the book he discusses how this racism led him to pursue women who looked white.


Excerpts from his Interview with Ebony Magazine:

How have you and your family experienced colorism?

When I was growing up, my mother used to say, “Don’t ever bring no nappy-head Black girl to my house.” In the deep South in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the shade of your Blackness was considered important. So I, unfortunately, grew up hearing that message.

I have a chapter in the book that talks about eroticized rage. I talk about going to therapy and sharing–one day I had a breakthrough–that I used to date mainly White women or very high-complexion Black women that looked White. I actually thought when I met Tina, my former wife, that she was White. Later I found out that she wasn’t, and she was actually very much in-tune with her Blackness.

I had been conditioned from childhood. With eroticized rage, 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. There are a lot of Black men of my era that are not aware of this thing.

I’m sure you noticed similar patterns of colorism once you joined the music industry.

Oh, of course!  I challenge my students at Texas Southern to think about this.  When it comes to Black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids [Beyonce and Solange], and what do they all have in common?

They’re all lighter skinned.

Do you think that’s an accident?

Of course not!

So you get it!

Three things have ALWAYS bothered me about the Colorism conversation.

  1. It’s always blamed on men.
  2. Always reduced to dating.
  3. Passé Blánc ambivalence.

You see the thing is that I live in New Orleans. A city where the black population is built on placage. And even though women would love to pretend that black men were born “hating their black skin”, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

Plaçage was the social practice of unofficial, heterosexual, interracial unions in New Orleans and other French and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. It lasted approximately from the late seventeenth century through the nineteenth century. Under the system, white men and women of color set up common-law households as a means to circumvent legal prohibitions on interracial marriage.

The “creoles” here have built a custom off of “paper bag tests”, “Octoroon balls”, and “Banana peel” parties. But now that social media is a thing we’re supposed to pretend it was never purposeful and that any white girl with brown hair is part of the diaspora. We’re supposed to ignore what our eyes tell us even though those that could pass for white usually moved away.

But dark skin women like Matthew’s mom will rarely take responsibility for contributing to this racist and exclusionary practice. The Black feminists love getting on social media and telling black men who marry white women that they must “hate their black mother”, yet without acknowledging that black mother was conditioned to hate herself and passed that hatred down to her children.

When I shared Matthew’s words the other day on The VitaminQ Facebook page, many women said Tina Knowles was never light enough to pass for white. Missing the entire point and arguing semantics as usual.

The point is, this Louisiana creole looked white to a black man from Alabama in the 70’s.

And the fact that she looks “black” to so many means that the true objective of colorism {To erase blackness} is working. I like Tina Knowles, and she does seem in touch with her blackness, but calling her the image of blackness is disrespectful and oblivious to the point of the conversation. The point is that her skin tone, light eyes, and fine hair made her more desirable to a black man trying to appease his mother and climb the social rungs of society. And it worked.

His daughters are now currently the “ideal” black women in the black community. Beyonce represents the Millennial dream and Solange the more “conscious” counterpart. These very fair women can adjust their look to look more ethnic or ambiguous, while satisfying both black and white audiences. But when we look at the Knowles sisters, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Chris Brown, Bruno Mars, DJ Khaled, and Mariah Carey it’s obvious that off-black is much more accepted in mainstream entertainment. And if their skin tone is the one preferred, then it’s also safe to assume that they are sought after, and even over-hyped, in the media to condition the entire black community to prefer white skin over dark. This is like a cyber version of the color struck mother telling her son not to bring home a dark skin girl.

In contrast, I’ve been told by mulattos that they experience racism worse because white people don’t like mixed blacks. But I don’t entertain that bullshyt. Light skin kids will give you a sob story, and I’m sure some of them are true, but I’ve seen where light skin kids ride the privilege of having a “non-threatening” look, and the few “what are you” looks they get pale in comparison to black kids ignored and passed over because they don’t please the white eye.

I commend Matthew Knowles for having a frank and honest discussion on “light skin privilege” even if others aren’t ready to do the same. 

Do you think Matthew’s interview shed light on where many men and women get their colorism issues from? At this point, aren’t we all participating in it since we seem to prefer ambiguous race ethnics as suitable black representation in the media?

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Vitamin Q (VQ) is a writer, blogger personality, and a social commentator. He irreverently analyzes how social issues affect individuals in modern society by using sarcasm, humor, and intellect, creating his own unique blend of Southern SHADE, purely for the purpose of helping like minds cope. “I say it so you don’t have to!”
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