Rethinking Transracialism: Ariana Grande and Racial Ambiguity

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2019-06-03 17:34Z by Steven

Rethinking Transracialism: Ariana Grande and Racial Ambiguity

Cult Plastic: Dance And Culture In The Plastic Age

Anh Vo

Ariana Grande from the 2018 Billboard Woman of the Year Cover Shoot

This article revisits, revises, and expands on the arguments I make in Blackface and Pop Princesses: A Brief Genealogy. Previously, I wrote three brief paragraphs on Ariana Grande, trying to position her donning of black and brown visuality (i.e. blackface/brownface) alongside similar practices of other pop princesses such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Miley Cyrus. However, I no longer think blackface as a phenomenon can quite account for how Grande is manipulating the racial ambiguity of her image. Even though she certainly inherits the history of pop princesses borrowing the cultural signification of blackness/brownness to shed their young and innocent facades and sell their more sexually dangerous personas, Grande also departs from this “tradition” radically. She does not borrow; she becomes black, becomes brown, becomes something not quite black or brown, yet not quite white either. She becomes transracial.

At stake here is not the matter of people simply being confused about Grande’s racial identity. Confusion is almost always inevitable when it comes to race, because the colonial fantasy of racial purity, and even of race itself, always falls apart as it tries to categorize the unruliness of the body to create a hierarchy of humanity (with whiteness at its apex). What so disturbing, then, is the fact that Grande successfully mobilizes, amplifies, and capitalizes on this (trans)racial confusion, and gets away with crossing into non-whiteness the way Rachel Dolezal cannot. My goals in writing this essay are two-fold: (1) to articulate Ariana Grande’s image transformation not as an act of racial passing, but as a gradual racial transitioning from whiteness into ambiguity (2) to redirect the discourse on transracialism away from the monopoly of Dolezal, who, together with her transracial “identity” of blackness, has been too easily brushed off as a joke, a lie, or at best an individual anomaly…

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