I hate to overload you with Beyoncé news, but just after I critiqued the Daily Mail op-ed accusing her of looking too white, news broke that Beyoncé donned blackface and pseudo African garb for French glossy L'Officiel. Why did Bey make this enormous misstep? According to reports, she participated in the African-themed photo shoot to pay tribute to Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
I have no idea what Beyoncé's politics are or if she's at all socially conscious, but blackface is terribly offensive—no matter if the person wearing it is white, black or from another racial group. Harry Connick Jr. knew as much when he hosted an Australian variety show in 2009 and a group called the Jackson Jive, some of whom were people of color, performed in blackface.
"I just want to say, on behalf of my country, I know it was done humorously, but we've spent so much time trying to not make black people look like buffoons, that when we see something like that we take it really to heart," Connick told the group.
It's too bad Beyoncé couldn't have followed suit, making it clear that blackface in France may not have the same connotations it does in the U.S., but, nonetheless, as an American, she would have to take a stand against it. Blackface simply can't be separated from its ugly history. It was used to literally paint African Americans as cartoonish and sub-human. To boot, in recent years blackface has oddly experienced a resurgence in a fashion industry where dark-skinned models remain anomalies. Instead of painting the skin of fair-skinned models and entertainers darker, why not use people with actual dark skin for these photo shoots? Using blackface in this context reduces dark skin to an accessory, effectively stripping those "born that way" of agency and humanity.
Blackface's ugly history is not the only reason I object to Beyoncé's photo shoot. I also take issue with it because those behind the shoot obviously have an extremely limited view of sub-Saharan Africa. Not all such Africans have very dark skin. In fact, many of the Nigerians I've met have had yellowish brown skin. (My father's Nigerian, by the way, and I've visited the country as well.) So, why does the stereotype persist that all sub-Saharan Africans are coal-black in hue if not to play into preconceived notions about what Africa is and who Africans are? In truth, Africa is a continent of diversity. Nigeria alone, Africa's most populous country, is home to dozens of ethnic groups and languages. Perhaps the team at L'Officiel should've considered that before deciding the only way to present Beyoncé as an authentic Nigerian woman was to blacken her skin.