A BEAUTY AMBIGUOUS: Music celebrity Beyoncé Knowles epitomises America's racial melting pot. The singer's light skin and straight hair mean that many of her fans are unsure whether she is black, white or of so-called mixed race. Questions about her heritage and nationality are played out online, where there are thousands of monthly searches about her ethnicity. 2,000 Internet users per month ask, “Is Beyoncé black?”
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WHAT ETHNICITY IS BEYONCE? Is she black? The answer may seem obvious to some, but thousands of fans around the world are not sure — and they are turning to Google in search of the truth. By Ben Arogundade.
BEYONCE’S ETHNICITY AND NATIONALITY
The singing star and wife of rapper Jay-Z is not the only recording artist whose multi-ethnicity is the subject of hot curiosity from fans. 1,300 online fans per month also ask Google, “Is Rihanna black?”, while a staggering 5,400 ask, “Is Mariah Carey black?”
So, what exactly is Beyoncé’s ethnicity and racial background? She was born in Houston, Texas on September 4, 1981. Her father Mathew — a music business executive — is of African American descent, while her mother Tina — a costume designer and hair stylist — is of so-called Créole heritage (a French term for a person of Afro-European ancestry). More specifically, she is a Louisiana Créole — a mix of African, Native American and French. (The region was a French colony from 1682 to 1763, and from 1800 to 1803).
Given these facts, Beyoncé, like most African Americans, self-identifies as “black”. This has much to do with the old traditions of the country’s one-drop rule — a system of post-slavery laws, now abolished, which pronounced all citizens with any degree of African heritage as legally “black”, regardless of their appearance.
Today, Beyoncé’s complex ethnic and racial heritage epitomises America’s collective biology, formulated over centuries by the endless couplings of contrasting immigrants and settlers. Ultimately, she is more American than African American.
Beyoncé herself has been keen to define her success in more singular, non-racial terms. “I have kind of broken barriers, and I don’t think people think about my race,” she told Piers Morgan in a televised interview on June 27, 2011. “I think they look at me as an entertainer and a musician, and I am very happy that that is changing, because that is how I look at people…it’s not about colour and race.”
Beyoncé's ability to appeal aesthetically to all audiences has been a key factor, both within her success and that of a generation of African American performers. “Beyoncé has become a crossover sex symbol a la Halle Berry, a black girl who's not so overwhelmingly Nubian that white people don't appreciate her beauty,” noted the writer Touré in Rolling Stone.
Beyoncé fans are as obsessed with her shape-shifting hair and beauty choices as they are with her music. “What color is Beyoncé's hair?” is one of Google's most popular searches for the music celebrity. But while the singer and actress's success may be viewed non-racially by some, many of these beauty preferences certainly have not been. She has come under fire from haters and traditionalists within the black and African American communities for having blonde hair and light skin. A recent article in British newspaper the Daily Mail carried the heading, “Why Beyoncé Is Betraying All Black And Asian Women”. The piece went on to criticise the singing star for veering away from traditional black hair and beauty values, and therefore setting a bad example for young women of colour everywhere.
Much attention has been paid to Beyoncé’s light skin tone — “Beyonce skin-lightening” is also a popular Google search term — with some accusing her of using skin bleach in order to erase her blackness, despite having no evidence of such claims. As a mob of bloggers, journalists, commentators and haters gather around this issue, one wonders if Beyoncé will become the new Michael Jackson — hounded over allegations of lightening her skin.
Beyoncé’s success hints at a world in which racial classifications matter less, and certainly her transracial beauty aesthetic, and those of other recording artists, may be seen as being at the forefront of this flourishing movement.
*BEYONCE KNOWLES' ETHNICITY ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Beyonce white?” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google the question, “Is Beyonce black?” each month.
*All figures for “Beyonce Knowles' Ethnicity According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
BEYONCE KNOWLES VOGUE COVERS: 1]. Singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles on the May 2013 cover of UK Vogue. 2]. Beyoncé Knowles on the March 2013 cover of American Vogue. 3]. Beyoncé fronts the April 2009 cover of US Vogue. 4]. Beyoncé in classic black and white makes the cover of the July/August 2011 edition of L'Uomo Vogue.
FAMILY BUSINESS: Beyoncé Knowles parents, above, are of mixed ethnicity and nationality. Her mother Tina is of African, Native American and French ancestry, while her father Mathew is African American.
NEXT: DISCOVER MORE ABOUT BEYONCE KNOWLES
HER HAIR IS BLONDE and straight, and her skin is light, but yet tanned. Is she black, white, bi-racial or Other? And what nationality is she? African American, Native American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican? These are just some of the wide variety of questions people around the world ponder as they gaze at the cross-racial enigma that is Beyoncé Knowles’ beauty.
This curiosity is played out on the Internet, where thousands of fans ask questions about the singer's race, ethnicity and nationality. For example, according to Google’s stats, 2,000 Internet users per month ask, “Is Beyoncé black?” Another 200 per month ask, “Is Beyoncé full black?”