I don’t think it’s any secret that Mathew Knowles is annoying. It’s clear that he doesn’t hold the position he once did in Beyoncé’s life as her manager and as a result, is doing what he can to maintain some level of relevancy in the world. And over the years he’s said some wild things. My personal favorite was his theory that the elevator fight between Solange, Jay Z and Beyoncé was a way to sell tickets for their On The Run tour.
Knowles has taken a few missteps over the years. But with his track record in the game and his own experiences in life, I think it would be unwise to write off everything he says as incorrect or dismiss it because we don’t care for the source. Sadly, this is what people are doing with his most recent comments about colorism in the music industry.
Yesterday, we reported that Knowles said that color bias played a role in Beyoncé’s success.
“In the music industry there’s still segregation. Programmers, especially at pop radio, have this imagery of what beauty looks like. … If you look back even at Whitney Houston, if you look at those photos, how they lightened her to make her look lighter-complexioned … Because there’s a perception and a colorism: the lighter that you are, the smarter and more economically (advantaged)… There’s a perception all around the world about color — even with black folks, there’s a perception. And I use Kelly Rowland as an example. She’s a great example. But you know, the great thing is, Kelly did exceptional outside of America, especially in Australia. Kelly sold over 4 million records. She just got off-script.”
We can argue about whether or not Kelly Rowland got off script but this rest of this comment is accurate. There is segregation in the music industry and the world at large. Internationally, across cultures, lighter skin is privileged.
But for one reason or another, a couple of women on CBS’ “The Talk,” took issue with Knowles’ comments. And while you might have expected the dissension to come from someone outside a community of color, it was rapper Eve who had the most to say about the topic, cosigned by Sharon Osbourne.
Eve: The world we live in, we see color. It is what it is. Maybe it did have something to do with it. But I’m sick of him talking about this. Maybe it started off like that but she has surpassed, she is beyond her skin tone. She is an artist. She’s well-respected in her own right. She is colorless. Let’s stop talking about this and pitting people against each other. Kelly Rowland is amazing, Beyoncé is amazing. All these women are amazing. There’s light skin, brown skin, dark skin, we’re all amazing.
Sharon Osbourne: Aretha Franklin, it didn’t hold her back did it?
I watched the first half of this exchange with my face screwed up. One, Sharon Osbourne should have sat this one out. Aretha Franklin, while darker than Beyoncé, is not as dark as Kelly Rowland. She falls somewhere in the middle. Furthermore, listing exceptions to the rule does not mean that colorism isn’t an issue. It’s like rattling off Black billionaires in response to the poverty rate for African Americans in this country. Exceptions aren’t enough reason to ignore the problem at hand.
And there is a problem. I think people are under the assumption that to acknowledge Beyoncé’s position of privilege in the industry would be to deny her talent in some way. And that’s not the case. It simply means that perhaps there were things she didn’t have to face due to her skin complexion. Carrie Ann Inaba mentioned that Beyoncé had several endorsement deals early on in her career that also could have contributed to her becoming a household name. She did the Got Milk campaign with Solange and Ms. Tina. She was a spokesperson for Pepsi for years. There was the controversial Loreal campaign, where people were upset with her for mentioning her French Creole background. She starred in Carmen: A Hip Hopera, Dreamgirls, Cadillac Records, Obsessed, Pink Panther, The Austin Powers movie. And all of this was towards the beginning of her career, long before we recognized her as the powerhouse that she is today. We were exposed to her consistently and frequently from the jump. I don’t know if Kelly was out here auditioning as well or wasn’t interested in endorsing products, but the fact is, we just didn’t see her in the same way we saw Beyoncé. And I’d bet good money that she simply wasn’t approached.
And Kelly Rowland hasn’t been the only darker complected woman to be overlooked in favor of Beyoncé. I’ll never forget the year she was tapped to sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” at the Grammy’s to honor Ava DuVernay’s Selma when Ledisi not only played the role of Mahalia Jackson in the film, she sang it there as well. Of course, Beyoncé is a bigger name than Ledisi. But this is a glaring instance of the industry and its preference for lighter skin. Because Beyoncé certainly isn’t known for singing Negro spirituals. And whether another artist asked Beyoncé to sing it or she volunteered, someone, somewhere should have spoken up for Ledisi. It should have been her moment. And there’s no doubt in my mind that it was more than popularity that kept it from being hers.
Eve saying that talent is colorless is like Black men saying White women are their preference. It’s like yeah…but there’s more to the story. The people who make it in this world don’t do so on merit alone. Our conditioning has been conditioned. And while there was a long time when White people didn’t perceive Beyoncé as threateningly Black, the moment she started throwing her Blackness in White America’s face, sinking a police car and featuring a sign saying “Stop Killing Us” in her “Formation” video, they let the world know that they were offended by her repping for her people and her color. Police officers threatened not to offer security for her concerts, White folks who likely never gave a damn about Beyoncé threatened to boycott her, and Tomi Lahren dedicated a segment on her disastrous talk show to discuss Beyoncé “promoting hate” through her homage to the Black Panther Party at the Super Bowl. If they didn’t know before, White people now know that Bey Bey is Black and they are offended by it. There is a color attached to her persona. Still, because she’s a woman of widely accepted and embraced beauty and preferred skin tone, and a woman of privilege through her finances and decades of excellence, her message of Black empowerment is still easier to swallow than it would be coming from a Black woman of less means and a darker hue.
Thankfully, Sarah Gilbert, a White woman, acknowledged that there was some truth to Mathew’s statement.
Sarah Gilbert: What I’m saying is I think there are some people that do get held back by their skin tone. And it’s something that’s worth acknowledging. Yes, of course, Aretha Franklin. Sometimes I think it’s how talented do you have to be to break through our stigmas in society. we don’t live in a perfect, colorblind time.
Interestingly, Sheryl Underwood, the darkest woman on the panel, held her tongue on this topic saying the reason she wasn’t answering the question was because she didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the BeyHive. Then she threw a strange shoutout their way.
It makes me wonder if she was feeling the same way Loni Love does, sitting at the table with the women of “The Real,” every day.
Loni Love acknowledged that because she’s the biggest and darkest woman on the panel she has to deliver her messages differently to ensure that they’re not interpreted as loud, angry or aggressive. It would be silly to deny that the closer one is to Whiteness, the less of a role this phenomenon plays in their lives.
And this is a fact that Mathew Knowles, a Black man who’s lived through Jim Crow, busing and integration, worked in the music industry, and navigated Corporate America as a dark-skinned Black man has the authority to speak on.
Instead of running from these conversations, calling out exceptions and dismissing them because of our dislike for the source, we need to be more open and honest. Dismissing Mathew Knowles’ comments doesn’t just affirm what many of us know to be true about Beyoncé’s talent, it diminishes the experience of darker skinned people across the globe who have been overlooked, disenfranchised or oppressed simply because someone else was lighter or Whiter. The sooner we begin to acknowledge that painful reality, the sooner we can begin to change the forces in our society that hold us all back.
You can watch the segment below.