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Beyoncé – Creole Ancestry, Racism and Colorism


As Beyoncé predicted, her formation is definitely causing a lot of conversation. Conversations among black people about gender, race, police brutality, BLM, class, heritage, sexism, capitalism, racism, colorism—just so many damn conversations that definitely need to be had. So lets talk, let us talk about black people and our many isms, especially the internalized ones. The ism I am particularly interested in addressing today is colorism and how it features in the creole identity.

Now even thoughBeyoncé’s Creole pride inspired this blog post on colorism, I would like to preface the rest of this post by letting ya’ll know that I realize colorism is not a uniquely Louisiana Creole invention. I am not blaming folks that identify as Creole for colorism. I know that Colorism exists in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and amongst non-white people just about everywhere on planet earth. Everywhere white people have wielded power and exerted influence, they have legitimized their right to be in control by convincing and even forcing others to believe in their superiority as a race.

Colorism like the very concept of ‘race’ is not a black creation. People with dark skin did not create racial categories to separate themselves from other people with paler skin. The division of human beings into racial categories is rooted in white supremacist ideas that that were devised, developed and disseminated by Europeans. So when we talk about race, we are really measuring the visible and imagined features of white European people versus those of everyone else. Colorism is undisputedly an extension of this very idea, the idea that on a graduated scale from superior whiteness to inferior blackness, black skin and the features of dark skinned people are undesirable whereas whiter skin and features are preferable. Based on this idea, people with more white European features- hair texture, hair color, eye color, skin tone, width of nose etc. are considered more attractive and indeed, superior to those with more stereotypically black African features.

Black people are a people with so many diverse cultures and geographical homes and because of our experiences as oppressed and racialized people— all our histories carry their own baggage. The history of Creole people in the U.S. is no exception.

So when Beyoncé uses formation as a vehicle to express pride in her Creole lineage as she has done before, or when she embraces the ‘yellow bone’ label as she has also done in the past, the very identity markers that she sings about with pride will undoubtedly make people that have been excluded, marginalized and oppressed by those same identity markers uncomfortable.

“Creoleness” is an ancestry that is rich, complex, diverse but undeniably problematic as articulated oh so poignantly by people like Dr. Yaba Blay. And if we are really dealing with our shit as black people, then we have to admit that the fact that Creole folks can claim a black identity when it swerves them and embrace their blackness when being Creole is not relevant makes many black folks uncomfortable. The fact that some Creole folks can and often passed for white in order to excel, an option that remains closed to many dark skinned black people continues to fester grudge, distrust and resentment.


Passing, Race and Colorism

I need us as black people to collectively confront colorism—and by us, I mean all black people from the Bayou’s of Louisiana, through Atlanta-USA, Kingston-Jamaica, Lagos-Nigeria to Harare-Zimbabwe. All of us need to stand up and remain standing till we address colorism. If you cannot see how colorism is obviously a product of white supremacist logic then we gats wake you up from your silly slumber. If you are ‘creole,’lightskinned, yellow, red bone, yellow bone, mulatto and all the other racial and cultural categories that have been created to reflect how appealing it is that you have trace amounts of something-other-than-blackness in you.

As I was researching perspectives on colorism and creole culture I came across this post where the writer expressed her frustrations with feeling as if she is expected to be ashamed of her Creole ancestry because of the troubling history of colorism in Creole identity. In the article, she pushes back on these expectations and demands respect for creole culture and people as she asks her readers not to categorize all ‘creoles’ as “careless, colorist, racist people who exist for no reason other than to find a way to not be black.”

Her sentiment is common amongst many people of mixed race backgrounds. I have heard people ask questions along the lines of “but I am German and French on my father’s side, why can’t I be proud of that history and that heritage? why do I have to pick and choose? Why can’t I talk about how proud I am of my entrepreneurial great uncle Donaldo Da Silva who happens to be white? Why am I only ‘allowed’ to be proud of my black side?” Similarly, I have heard light-skinned women of African ancestry complain about how hard it is to be a light skinned woman and how much hate light-skinned and mixed race women get from mostly other black women with darker complexions.

The truth is that I am not asking that you be ashamed of your heritage, your natural ability to pass for white or the fact that your closer-to-white-than-black features has people fetishizing you. You cannot help what you are born as, or born into. I realize that how black people self-identify is constantly policed in a way that it wouldn’t be if it were a white person and I am not trynna be the identity police. Having said that, I think we should always be careful to make sure we know exactly what we are celebrating.

In the case of the creole identity we would do good to move away from the tired and superficial ‘food, dance, dress and beautiful women’ model of multiculturalism where we focus on Mardi Gras, Jambalaya and jazz.  We must interrogate this identity and in doing so, it is not necessary to discount or ignore the various contributions of ‘creole’ people to arts, entertainment, science etc. We can appreciate the beauty of this identity while also acknowledging that colorism and by extension racism, is an inherent part of the very category of ‘creole’.

And yes I said inherent, as in ‘creoleness does not exist without racism.’ I know that people who identify as Creoles come in all hues and I have heard the argument that being creole is about ‘culture’, language, music, food etc. and NOT about color. Except that I don’t buy it and you shouldn’t either. The fact that there are dark skinned people who self-identify as creole does not erase the strong anti-black sentiments that permeate the entire Creole identity. As with many instances of racial self-identification, the spaces you are allowed to freely walk in and out of and the resources you are permitted to access are determined more by what others have labeled you as than how you really do see yourself. This is why many of those dark and creole people that are constantly referenced in these conversations can relate a story or two about the shame they were made to feel for looking black or the relationships that they were forbidden to have because of how relatively dark they were.

If you are interested in the fight against all forms of oppression, you must be vigilant about labels, boundaries and borders, especially those that created to ensure that certain people enjoy some benefits that other people are simultaneously denied or at the very expense of others. You see, Creole like the Mulatto, half-caste and other ‘mixed race’ identities is an an identity that was created to separate and oppress along both class and racial lines. It is precisely the kind of oppression that black feminist socialists like me are fighting to obliterate.

There’s no doubt that mulatto, creole and many other ‘not-all-black’ and ‘a-bit-closer-to-white’ identities come with their own set of cultures, values, norms and cultural heritage. They do, and in fact they must in order to maintain the boundaries they have drawn to mark themselves as a distinct, sophisticated and respectable group of people— as compared to the brute blacks.

I have learned that creoles as a people were also marginalized by white society, I know that creole culture was largely developed on the margins because creoles as non-white peoples also struggled to have their language, cultural heritage and racial category respected. But we know that not all suffering is oppression. Knowing that the suffering that was and that is endured by Creoles is in service of white supremacy and the continued oppression of blacks solidifies the claim that while Creoles might have suffered, as a relatively privileged class, their suffering does not necessarily constitute oppression.


How you feel about Beyoncé?


I’ll admit it, there’s something about Beyoncé’s flawless and Nicki Minaj’s feeling myself that makes me feel incredibly capable and oh so gahhdamn fine! And I know it ain’t just me. Both these songs feature two ambitious women who are remarkably successful in music genres where many black women have traversed and stumbled.

Regardless of your feelings about the genre or about these entertainers, the undeniable fact is that these women work very hard to pursue and secure their goals of being global entertainers. I am mesmerized by their drive, their ‘beauty’, their millions and most importantly their power.

I can’t help but notice the incredible influence that these women have over so many people as a result of their wealth and the seductive power of their celebrity. It is inspiring and frightening at the same damn time—and for the very same reasons.

In the interest of space and sanity, I will make this a several part post with a focus on Beyoncé. Partly due to the buzz around Queen B’s latest hit “formation” but also because I’ve needed to write about Beyoncé for a long time. The woman is intriguing and I just used the word “inspiring” to describe her.

But what is her allure? Queen B really just leaves you in awe and I guess find myself wondering how she manages ‘having it all.’ When Beyoncé is not serving us a dose of powerful goddess on some music video or on a stage somewhere, she exudes grace, looks so genuinely happy and we know how ‘successful’ she is.

I have personally witnessed the Queen in concert and she is truly hypnotic, like she draws you in and you can’t stop looking at her, you want to sing with her, dance with her, chill with her and fucking be her –& that’s how the madness starts lol

The woman seems to be living her dreams and has built an empire & I want to respect her hustle, I even want to thank her for giving me hits that put me in Siren/boss lady mode. BUT I cannot get past her contradictions, her capitalist loyalties and her severely under-thought understanding of feminism. Still I give her the benefit of the doubt, I can’t see intentions but I want to believe sister Yoncé is not intentionally leading us astray in her Givenchy dress.

I want to really unpack my thoughts on this Megastar and what she represents without shredding my sister apart in the process. This ain’t about calling out as much as it is about calling her in. And don’t think I am completely delusional lol. I realize that the chances of Beyoncé reading this are similar to my chances of winning the Powerball jackpot once a month for the rest of 2016. Thankfully that is not the point of this post.

I am writing this piece to ask this question-

can you adore Beyoncé and stand against sexism, racism, poverty, exploitation and the many injustices that people are subject to based on the lottery of their birth? As I type these words, I cannot confidently answer that question. Can you?

Leave a comment, I’d like to hear your thoughts.


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Till next time,

Peace, Love & Revolution


Is the First Black President Sexist?


And what are the implications of having a sexist President if this accusationis true?

Apart from being a phenomenal song, and despite – or perhaps because of – its problematic stance, ultimately I find Lady is an African feminist anthem thanks to its depiction of African women’s self determination. As a commentary on gender and the intersections of ethnicity, modernity, class and tradition, Lady tackles some of the key issues in African feminist thought and is a valuable contribution to gender politics in post-colonial Africa. Most of all, Fela’s lyrics, if unintentionally, reveal the narrow space between pan-Africanism and feminism in which African women determinedly find our revolution. To quote the Black president, “Lady na master”!