Beyoncé, beauty and the all mighty dollar
Irma McClaurin, Ph.D., Culture and Education Editor
Just for the record, we are not in, nor has there ever been, a post-racial moment in America. And so, we must dive deep into historical memory of this country to understand why all the fuss about L’Oréal’s latest advertisement for cosmetics featuring Beyoncé.
Centuries ago, before Black was defined as beautiful, those individuals whose features (nose, hair, lips) and color suggested European ancestry hid the origins of their one Black parent and “passed.” These offspring were generally the result of a liaison between a white man and Black woman, and on occasion, between a Black man and a white woman. The latter unions were often the motivation for lynchings in an effort to protect “white womanhood.” And, most often, the former unions occurred under duress, power imbalances and were all too frequent a consequence of a white male slave owner taking control of what he deemed his property—the bodies of Black women.
This is a moment in American history in which Black enslaved bodies were considered commodities to be bartered, sold and destroyed, if the owner so desired. During this period, Black women were forced to have sexual relations with anyone whom the Master considered a good breeder, and the resulting children were considered the Master’s property to be bought and sold. So what does this have to do with Beyoncé and L’Oréal and the marketing of beauty products?…
…To Be or Not To Be Hybrid
Claiming hybridity and mixture has become very popular in America. It doesn’t help that we have adopted the nomenclature of “people of color,” which includes international people of every social class—some of whom have experienced oppression and some who are from the wealthiest social ranks of their society. So why the negative reaction of Black women to how L’Oréal has chosen to market Beyoncé as representing “every woman” –“African American, Indian, French”? One explanation could be that as powerful consumers of beauty products, the majority of Black women who spend almost $7.5 BILLION in this product area, would like to see themselves represented. Yet most of these consumers would bear little resemblance to the Black celebrities whose faces and bodies often are used to sell the products. I have nothing against Halle Berry or Beyoncé, but they do not look like every day Black women who buy cosmetics. I would love to buy a bronzer sold under the Halle image, but I just can’t get a color to match my skin—I have the same problem with band aids that are supposed to be “flesh colored.” They are, but it’s just not my flesh color—so I am forced to resort to the Snoopy ones.
…Most African Americans have the right to the same claim of hybridity because of the mixtures that occurred (involuntary mostly but some voluntarily) between Black women mostly with European men under slavery, and with Native Americans (often to escape enslavement). Most of us don’t have the means to trace our ancestry, and beginning in the 1960s through the advent of cultural nationalism, we transformed the one-drop/hypodescent concept that was used as a negative into a positive social ideology and political identity that embraced Blackness (“Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”)…
…Anthropologists and other scientists have presented enormous evidence that concepts of race are not rooted in biology, but are socially constructed categories, but they do have impact on our everyday lives. Politically, choosing categories such as hybrid, multi-racial, mixed, etc, may seem like much ado about nothing, but it can have economic, social and even political consequences. What’s a Beyoncé to do?
Read the entire article here.