Monday, November 29, 2021

Beyonce; On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’.

February 9, 2016 by  
Filed under Ent., Music, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( I was born and raised in New Awlins and never miss the opportunity to remind folks of that. So when Beyoncé’s video for “Formation” dropped on Saturday, I, like the majority of my homegirls, was hype.

I wasn’t excited because I’m a certified Beyoncé stan, because the video is visually stunning, or because this seemed to be the Blackest iteration of Beyoncé yet. I was hype because she seemed to be reppin’ New Awlins hard, and not in a tepid “I heart N.O.” kind of way, but more in line with our playfully defiant brand of Blackness. That she unleashed the video during Mardi Gras weekend? It just couldn’t get any better!

Until it got worse.

The video came out on Saturday afternoon. By Saturday evening, folks were already engaged in rigorous debate on social media. On Sunday, the interwebs had become a volatile, difficult space for anyone who had anything to say about Bey or her “Formation.”

I logged off in an attempt to avoid the fires, but by Monday (February 8), I had participated in e-mail, text and WhatsApp exchanges and two separate-but-related phone conversations with girlfriends—all about Beyoncé.

In one of those conversations, a girlfriend said something to me that forced me to check myself. We were talking about all of the issues and angles that folks were engaging online—from capitalism to appropriation to resistance to the triggering of Hurricane Katrina survivors. I noted that no one was engaging Beyoncé’s spoken and unspoken statements about identity and skin-color politics. 2016-beyonceformationMy friend said, “We are so two-faced when it comes to colorism.”

And we are.

While Bey let all the folks who’ve been talking crazy about Blue Ivy’s hair have it with, “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros,” I can’t help but wonder why the two little girls in the video playing with Blue are significantly darker than her and dressed like old women afraid of the sun while Blue shines, hand on hip, in a sundress.

I cheer Bey on as she sings, “I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” But I cringe when I hear her chant, “You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma” about her Alabama-born dad and her mom from Louisiana. This is the same reason I cringed at the L’Oreal ad that identified Beyonce  as African-American, Native American and French and why I don’t appreciate her largely unknown song “Creole.”

Having grown up black-Black (read: dark-skinned) in colorstruck New Awlins, hearing someone, particularly a woman, make a distinction between Creole and “Negro” is deeply triggering. This isn’t just for me but for many New Orleanians.

For generations, Creoles—people descended from a cultural/racial mixture of African, French, Spanish and/or Native American people—have distinguished themselves racially from “regular Negroes.” In New Orleans, phenotype—namely “pretty color and good hair”—translates to (relative) power.

In this context, people who are light skinned, with non-kinky hair and the ability to claim a Creole heritage have had access to educational, occupational, social and political opportunities that darker skinned, kinkier-haired, non-Creole folks have been denied. In many ways, among those of us who are not Creole and whose skin is dark brown, the claiming of a Creole identity is read as rejection. And I’m not just talking about history books or critical race theory. I’m talking about on-the-ground, real-life experiences.

In 2004 I interviewed three generations of women from New Orleans who identified as Creole. I heard from a 90-something grandmother who struggled to acknowledge that Creole included African ancestry; her daughter who is no darker than Beyoncé but nicknamed “Inka Boo” by her family; and her granddaughter whose brown-skinned son was often told to step out of family photographs so as to not “throw the picture off.” These women’s testimonies only confirmed what I had always known: that much of the investment in Creole identity is predicated on a vehement rejection of Blackness.

I’ve had my own painful personal experiences with this. For example, two years prior to conducting this research, I was excluded from the wedding of a Creole-identifying colleague whom I considered a friend. Thinking she had made a mistake, I asked her, “Girl, where is my invitation?” And she responded, very matter-of-factly, “Oh girl, my mama and ‘nem would pass out if you came to my wedding.”

So while it may seem innocent that Beyoncé describes herself as a mixture of Creole and “Negro,” this particular celebration of her self invokes a historical narrative that forces some of us to look at her sideways. Even in the midst of her Blackest Blackity Black Blackness, we find remnants of anti-Blackness. And yet, we still rock with her.

Finish story here;


2 Responses to “Beyonce; On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’.”
  1. Kim says:

    So Beyoncé acknowledging her mixed heritage/cultural roots is a bad thing? Because it makes some of the “Black Black” ? uncomfortable? My dad is Afro American my mom is Puerto Rican of mixed African/White/Taino ethnicities (similar to creole) and I like many others identify as Black and acknowledge our mixed ethnicities. Hell my boyfriend is Haitian and Guyanese, he looks like an Indian man but he lives in his blackness. And often times it’s our own “Black Black” people that have separated themselves from us and automatically assume “we don’t want to be black” or “we think we’re better than them”. Being Black is not one size fits all, we are a very COLORFUL people of many different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. And it should be acknowledged and celebrated. Acknowledging one’s mixture doesn’t make one any less black nor does it mean they are trying to dilute their blackness.

  2. vera says:

    Don’t put your childhood trauma and insecurities on Beyonce…that girl can’t celebrate her heritage without offending the black-blacks? Lmao! (I mean really, who identifies themselves like that?) I’mma tell you like I tell the white folks…pro Creole is not anti black-black. LMAO! What’s more funny is that when Beyonce was a kid, she didn’t have many friends BECAUSE she was light-skinned…the “black-black” girls that were in the neighborhood and at school didn’t think she was “black enough”…you know that “we don’t like her cuz she think she cute) thing that black girls (and women) like to do. Ain’t that some shit? Leave Beyonce alone. #I’MDONE