The Internet went crazy when, in a revealing interview with Ebony magazine, Beyoncé's daddy, Mathew Knowles, admitted he was attracted to his wife, Tina Knowles, because she was so light-skinned he thought she was White. While this may turn the stomachs of many a Black woman, it should not be surprising. Why? Because racism. Because White supremacy. Because colorism, people. Did you think that all things related to Queen B were somehow protected from the same 400 years of oppressive brainwashing that made people of color believe they were inferior because of the abundant levels of protective melanin in their skin? Sorry, Beyoncé’s powers don’t work like that.
The fact is, colorism—the preference for lighter skin over darker skin—has infected just about every single man, woman, and child on the planet. Some folks have been lucky enough to find the antidote and live happily and free in whatever shade the good Lord made them in, but too many people are still suffering from the disease of color bias.
I wrote the book, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families to address the issue of colorism across cultures here in the United States, particularly in the nuclear family. I wanted to highlight how colorism often starts in the home and then spreads from there. In my research for the book, I spoke to far too many men and women—of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American heritage—who told me how it was their mother or father who taught them to hate the shade of their skin, or to feel ashamed or proud of their particular dose of melanin. It was heartbreaking to hear many of their stories, and yet by the time I finished writing Same Family, Different Colors, I was convinced that colorism could be extinguished in the home. Parents who refused to engage in colorist conversations and those who were able to normalize skin tone differences were successful in raising healthy children who neither fetishized nor fretted over their skin color.
As a writer who has been knee-deep in colorism conversations for the last few years, particularly in the family unit, I’ve wondered about the Knowles clan. I had some questions and actually wished that I could have interviewed them for my book. The fact that Mathew Knowles has brought this topic out into the open makes me think I wasn’t wrong to wonder. Even Beyoncé has flirted with the topic of colorism in some of her music—whether intentionally or not, I’ll never know. But I often wondered if Beyoncé and Solange ever compared skin tones or hair textures behind closed doors? Did Daddy Knowles favor Bey over her little sister because of the subtle shade differences in their skin? What was Mama Tina’s role in raising color-conscious daughters? Now knowing how much Mathew Knowles appreciated light skin, one has to wonder what messages he passed down to his children.
At the end of the day, Mathew Knowles’s admission of his color preferences really shouldn’t surprise anyone. On the other hand, he should be commended for bringing this often-taboo topic out into the open so that the conversation can continue and hopefully lead to the end of colorist thinking and behavior. Because I’m a bit of a cynic, I think Mr. Knowles knows that colorism is a topic that commands headlines and he’s trying to drum up attention for his new book. So if attention is what he wanted, that’s what he’s gotten. I don’t know if anyone is rushing out to buy his book, but hopefully they are talking about colorism, because change always begins with a conversation.
About the Author
Lori L. Tharps is an associate professor of journalism at Temple University and the coauthor of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Glamour and Essence magazines. She lives in Philadelphia with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @ and visit her website.