Blue Ivy, the eldest daughter of superstar couple Beyonce and Jay-Z, made headlines this week, not for her eighth birthday, but for her appearance. This, of course, is not the first time that Blue Ivy has made headlines for her looks. Her likeness to father Jay-Z, who’s Afrocentric features remain subject to countless jokes, informs much of her public criticism.
As a black woman who went through the first decade of her life looking a lot like her father, I can attest to the cruelty cast against Blue Ivy, on a much smaller scale, of course. Also, like Blue Ivy, I have a conventionally beautiful mother. I recall after school events how my friends and their parents would always mention how beautiful my mom was in the same sentence that they would proclaim that I looked exactly like my father.
These words, much like the callous words cast against Blue Ivy in an anti-black media, performs a pattern which castigates daughters that do not duplicate their mother’s western-accepted beauty. Ironically, these cruel comments betray the very world that frames the conventionally beautiful black mother as elucidating her daughter’s upbraiding.
Criticisms cast against black female appearance is, of course, not anything new. In fact, the berated black woman has become customary for black female treatment in the white media. In 2014, New York Times journalist Alessandra Stanley mocked Viola Davis’s appearance in an article about Davis’s then-upcoming role as Annalise Keating on ABC drama How to Get Away with Murder.
Additionally, let us not forget the unspoken criticisms the white media cast against black female beauty that occurred in the 90s and early 2000s. Specifically, viewers around the world watched anti-black transitions on two major sitcoms. Aunt Vivian, from 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Claire from My Wife and Kids, betrayed a shift from sun-kissed actresses to a fairer-skinned choice. In tandem with Blue Ivy’s media treatment, these examples illuminate that the white media bears no prejudice in battering black female appearance, even when the ridiculed black female has yet to become a woman. Most significantly, these examples illustrate the covert blows the white media renders to black femininity.
I watched The Real hosts discuss this issue, and aside from new host Amanda Seales, the hosts took a predictable anti-black stance. Co-host Tamara Mowry criticized black people for not celebrating black female beauty in a world where others knock us down. While there can always be more celebration in our collective, the media illumination of black’s denigrating blacks is one of convenience, not truth.
The narrative that it is black people, not a white hegemonic country, that promotes a lack of appreciation for black female beauty actualizes a systemic anti-black agenda.
Here, my mind drifts to the doll test Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted in the 1940s. The media employed the experiment to illustrate what the world conceptualized as black female inferiority. However, the media coverage overlooked the black kids that eagerly chose the black doll. This oversight demonstrates that the white world highlights black behavior that delineates a victory to white hegemonic forces.
Just as there were black children who selected the black doll, there are plenty of black people who appreciate Blue Ivy’s beauty. These people and this sentiment embody what matters.
The shock afforded to racist perceptions consistent with a pervasive anti blackness and a projected demand for recognition is both performative and exhausting.
If black is beautiful, and it is, why does an anti-black perspective trump the pro-black sentiment?
The “sad dark girl narrative,” created by anti-black agents and too commonly misplaced as black female identity, is an epistemic aspect to America and African-adjacent identity.
America—specifically, white and non-black migrants, need the sad dark girl narrative to assume their place in a social hierarchy that places black women at the bottom.
This narrative is not going anywhere; however, it should not have any bearing on how the black woman sees herself or understands her beauty.
I want to be careful not to mistake an analogy for analysis in my conclusion, so I will resign with observation rather than an opinion.
A color-centered beauty industry stealthy crowns the black woman THE most beautiful. Women seeking conventional American beauty, rooted in the innate hues of black heritage, seek black attributes as a means to their end.
Futhermore, Blue Ivy’s media treatment, and the consistent public denigration afforded to the black women, function to create a shadow of a doubt to she who owns beauty in essence, not in imitation.
For Blue, Aunt Vivian, Claire and all the other black queens with black and brown hues…she who epitomizes the power of blackness…