In this op-ed, writer Imani Bashir argues that Beyoncé's "Brown Skin Girl" on The Lion King: The Gift is an intentional ode to dark-skin Black women and should not be co-opted by other, less marginalized, groups.
Upon the release of the new live-action version of Disney’s The Lion King, Beyoncé blessed the world with an accompanying album. The Lion King: The Gift beautifully combines R&B, hip-hop, Afrobeats, features up-and-coming African artists, and a cameo from Blue Ivy Carter. The album also comes with the most regal visuals to celebrate beauty, culture, and of course, Black-girl magic.
One of the most popular songs on The Gift is titled “Brown Skin Girl,” which opens with sweet-voiced Blue Ivy Carter singing the hook and is a celebration of dark-skinned women. The song sparked such a grand response for its empowering lyrics that it birthed its own hashtag #BrownSkinGirlChallenge. For many, the song was a no-brainer, direct message to a specific type of woman, with darker, deeper brown skin. For others, who joined the challenge by posting their photos, it seems they skipped over the specific cues in the lyrics and only listened to the hook to celebrate themselves.
As writer Clarkisha Kent states, “‘Brown Skin Girl’ is eliciting such a wild and visceral display of hubris and insecurity from light-skinned BW [black women] & NBWOC [non-black women of color] that you’d THINK that Beyoncé went out of her way to *insult* them in this song, when in actuality, all she did was uplift brown and dark-skinned BW.”
While many brown-identifying women who are not ethnically “Black” argued that they too should be able to celebrate themselves with the song and the hashtag, the lyrics did the work they failed to.
She added to her specific pigment description by saying “melanin too dark to throw her shade.” For those of us with basic knowledge of the parts of speech, we know that the word “too” is an adverb that emphasizes the adjective “dark” to create a stronger sense of the darkness being referred to.
To break it down: Mathematically, that “too” would more than likely be represented as a power symbol on top of a number to show that the number is to be multiplied to equal something of greater value. Extra. More. Additional. This degree of melanin is specifically devoted to women who are often berated for their Blackness, women who represent African ancestry and heritage and are mocked for it.
This song is for those Black woman.
“I love everything about you/ from your nappy curls to every single curve/ your body natural./ Same skin that was broken be the same skin takin' over,” Beyoncé sings.
Historically, Black women have continuously been ridiculed and objectified for the natural state of their bodies, from head to toe. Nappy was used as a derogatory word to describe the texture of Black hair that is naturally coarse, tightly coiled/curled, and considered unkempt; it was used to show inferiority and a symbol of ugliness.
Nowadays, Black people who choose to wear their hair naturally are often subject to being kicked out of school or fired from their place of employment. In April 2018, Black news anchor, Brittany Noble-Jones, was fired from her job as a Mississippi news anchor because she refused to straighten her hair after she was told that it was “unprofessional.” This year, New York City and California passed laws against natural hair discrimination.
One of the final reminders of who this song pays homage is the lyric, “Your skin is not only dark, it shines, and it tells a story.” The evidence is clear that this song is representative of the systemic existence of color privilege. This topic, that has been thoughtfully tackled by Black-millennial roundtable show The Grapevine TV, is an ongoing conversation that requires fewer people inserting themselves and more people willing to listen and understand the impact of color privilege's brutality.
Beyoncé, a fair-skinned Black woman, made a song that puts her in the background and centers dark-skinned women in the foreground. It is a celebratory ode to the kind of Blackness that is often dismissed, disrespected, and ridiculed. It is not specific to every hue, but for the Black women whose skin is full of melinated magic and hasn’t been given the floor or stage of acceptance. Maybe we should all accept the song as it is and who it was made for.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue