A colleague* sent me a still from Beyoncé’s Black Is King film where black men don the blonde wigs donned by the traditional judiciary. The image is a disturbing one for a plethora of reasons. On one hand, the cognitively dissonant image represents the antithetical relationship the black collective has with the law. On the other hand, the image disturbingly parallels the commodified cognitive dissonance that is Beyoncé. Specifically, the image underscores the irony that Beyoncé proclaims black as king but refuses to part with her blonde hair.
Growing up, and even as a thirty-something year old woman, I have encountered numerous conversations where folk equate haughtiness with long hair or a specific hair texture. The irony of these statements is that wigs and weaves that seek to mimic this aesthetic loudly afford they “offending” party a symbolic profit in silence. Specifically, to don long hair is to convey this attribute as valuable and desirable. Similarly, Beyoncé’s blonde hair upholds a conventional western value—long blonde hair. Thus, although she says black is king, her actions say otherwise.
This paradox betrays an imperative lesson in words spoken and stances taken in action but not articulated through words. Particularly, Black is King articulates one thing but shows another. The images that stick with viewers are the ones where black women glow in the lighting, images that appear to re-present black femininity favorably under a white gaze. Because Beyonce has long been a fixture in black female beauty, her appearance functions without question but within the socially engineered ideology which holds the African in America to American aesthetics. Beyonce’s aesthetic, namely her blonde hair, declares blonde as king. Specifically, this visual illuminates that this performance is merely entertainment for an unwavering hegemonic throne. Thus, the child she holds throughout the film, is a metaphor the next generation of black youth who say black is king while upholding, or even framing, this aesthetic with a golden frame personified by blonde hair.
What’s interesting about the title and functionality of Black is King is that this proclamation never manifests overtly for those of the majority. I am specifically thinking of shows like Highway to Heaven, Little House on the Prairie, Seventh Heaven,and This is Us which portrays white men as deitized entities. These shows do not have to overtly proclaim the white man as king; they simply convey an image that implants this ideology into the mindset of its viewers. I reference these examples to underscore that conspicuous pandering to black people functions to appease the surface while not disrupting what lies beneath, because what lies beneath maintains its status as an undercurrent in the overt proclamation of black value. Specifically, white hegemony maintains its place on America’s hemline, informing any surface-level action to conceal this truth with its inevitable damnation.
This cognitively dissonant portrayal also corresponds to the contemporary black lives matter moment. Particularly, this moment strives to make black lives matter within an American context and encompasses an overt praxis that does not negotiate or seek to negate the white undercurrent.
Just as the contemporary moment displays universal reform as holding hands with the specific needs of the black collective, Beyonce’s portrayal suggests that it is possible to uphold blackness when wearing an oppressor’s crown. To crown black as king, the curls, baldies, Bantu knots, and braids shamed in white supremacist spaces must be regarded for the jewels they are, and for the story they speak of a past we make present in our existence. Hair is not just hair; Hair is the heir to which indivuals access their cultural inheritance.
Moreover, Beyonce posits that blonde hair can matter in the same space where black is king, and while this is true for instances like the black people who occupy the Solomon Islands, black is king only when black people are re-presented for the gold that runs through their veins, not that sits on their scalp.
- Post inspired from a convo with @biyaywsatt