Here’s what happened. Beyonce went and saw Fela! the musical her boyfriend Jay-Z co-produced about Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. Beyonce was so inspired by the music that she cites it as an influence on her upcoming album. And what’s an Afrobeat-inspired tracklist without a coordinating Afrocentric fashion spread in a French high fashion magazine?
So Miss Knowles donned the finest kente cloth, turbans and leopard print garments the Champs Elysees has to offer for L’Officiel Paris. In light of the music on her new album, the magazine wanted to see Knowles to return to her African roots. And someone involved with the creative process decided that the best way to express that connection was to paint her face a darker brown than it already is. Apparently, darker skin signifies increased African-ness. Knowles agreed.
While there’s nothing wrong with getting in touch with where you come from, what we have a problem with is that the magazine tried so ardently to turn Knowles into an African queen when she’s really an American princess. Being black and being African are two things that might seem similar but are, in fact, very different. African Americans might be inextricably linked to Africa’s rich and varied history, but it doesn’t make us Africans. After all, you can’t go back to Africa if you’ve never been there in the first place.
Also, putting a black person in blackface does not make blackface one iota less offensive than it would be if a white person did it (we’re talking to you, Claudia Schiffer). It still relegates all black people (and in this case, the entire continent of Africa) to one color and one image, as the good people at Jezebel point out, when in reality the continent is more ethnically diverse than anywhere else on earth. To suggest that Beyonce — or any other black person — needs to look more African in order to better reflect their obvious and indelible connection with Africa is offensively stupid. And not just because there’s more than one way to look like an African.
We’re ranting. The video is below. We invite you to think of it what you will.