Controversy was sparked when TDE superstar Kendrick Lamar confirmed that he was engaged to his long time girlfriend Whitney Alford. Activist Rashida Strober called him “ANOTHER FAKE CONSCIOUS MUTHER F-KER” and a “coon” because Alford is light complexion. He raps and talks about his love for darker-skinned women in his music (check “Complexion”), and has been vocal about challenging beauty standards by deliberately including women with darker complexions in his music videos. Strober and many others feel that Kendrick is a hypocrite for his political conscious art not matching his life.
This debate is mostly a fair one, in the sense that it sheds light on the often salient hypocritical conceptions Black men (more so than Black women) have on the politics of Black Love. We rarely (if ever) see Black female musicians sing about their love for Black men (or dark-skinned Black men) while dating non-Black men. But we do often see Black male artists make music about their love for Black women (and darker-skinned Black women), but still dating non-Black women or fairer complected sisters.
However, this controversy has brought out hypocrisies on all sides of the gender and shade spectrum of the Black community, whether it’s people spewing vitriolic comments towards Kendrick, or his supporters issuing just as hateful, often sexist rebuttals. It raises a key question about political ideology in the Black community:
What do we want from Black Love?
Most Black people (at least ones I’m privy to) believe in the radical power of Black love, whether they are with another Black person or not, but especially if they are. However, we don’t always agree on what Black Love means.
Does radical Black politics and love mean Blacks must marry each other or does it means they should marry another Black person darker than them? If it’s the former, why does shade matter? If it’s the latter, where does that leave any Black person? If Kendrick is being condemned for being with a lighter woman, should we praise her for being with a darker man? Would we want Kendrick to rectify his “hypocrisy” by dating a darker woman, or could he resolve it by no longer rapping about his love for darker woman, and not including darker-skinned women in anymore of his videos? Why do we dismiss his works like “Complexion”, praising the beauty of all shades of Blackness? Do we use the concept of Black Love only when it is beneficial to our sex and/or complexion?
None of these questions have an easy answer, because Blackness has never been, nor will it ever be a one-sized-fits-all thing. But regardless, I think we should be very hesitant to be critical of people for loving who they love, regardless of shade or race, regardless of how we feel about it.
Kendrick’s fiancée is clearly Black to me (and if she is, then the issue is about colorism, which is a whole other debate), but I concede that some people see her as “racially ambiguous”. But it is problematic to impose our conceptions and experiences with Blackness on to other Black people, because not only do we not fully know their experience, our issue with them may be more about insecurity or preserving a level of personal power than promoting unity and collective self-love. I’ll give you a personal example:
I think Zoe Saldana is one of the most gorgeous Black women I ever seen. It seems to me as if in every movie she’s in now, her love interest is a white man. In her personal life, she seems to exclusively date white men (at least based off my perception). As a Black man, I can’t sit here and act like I don’t feel disheartened by these things. That feeling has nothing to do with me hating white guys, or feeling like she hate’s herself or Black men, it’s about knowing the political power of Black Love, subscribing to that idea, and wanting to see it reflected. Seeing a beautiful Black woman married to a Black man makes me happy.
But if I’m honest, that feeling also has nothing to do with her and has even less to do with her significant others, it’s about Me. I’m projection my insecurities of not having access to her or at least not being able to project myself into the fantasy that she would date a guy like me. If I’m not in touch with that realization, I may come to snap judgements about why she dates white guys. It doesn’t change my opinions on Black Love, but it’s problematic for me to impose them on to her without knowing her.
For a more everyday example, during college, I encountered several very dark-skinned Black men and women who dated the most stereotypical “opposite” white people (very pale skin, blond hair, blue eyes). Both are attracted to Black people too, but to them, it seems like people from other races were the ones approaching them. One of my dark-skinned classmates was told or made to feel that she was unattractive by Black men her whole life, because she was “too dark”. She said the reason she fell in love with her boyfriend at the time (who was white) is because he repeatedly, non-stop told her how beautiful her skin is. The very thing that other men used to dismiss her beauty was his lens to it.
Why would I expect a woman not to love a man who made her feel beautiful? How could I possibly say that she is “anti-Black men”, even though I’m an inch away from 100% sure she would have been with a Black man if she was told by us that she was beautiful? Should I have told her that she should’ve been stronger and patience and wait for a Black guy to make her feel that way? Should I have explained to her that dating a white guy was her internalizing self-hate? Huh??
At times we interject hidden personal feelings into conceptual arguments. It allows them dissipate from our conscious, and take form into some type of pseudo-objectivity, even though we aren’t being objective. There are Black dudes who will condemn Black women for dating non-Black guys, but have nothing to say when other Black men date non-Black women, and sometimes they will praise them for it. At the same time, their are Black women who’ll condemn Kendrick or Kanye, but will assert that they should be able to date anyone with any shade from any race they want. We try often try to force our conceptions on to people, regardless of their experiences or our own hypocrisy.
Whether you take issue with Kendrick’s choice in a partner or not reveals something about your own ideas and experiences about Black Love and all the issues within it. Whether you are ok with it or resent it, Kendrick’s relationship is stirring a conversation in the Black community that needs to be had. If we are going to subscribe to the idea of Black Love, we have to be clear about we want out of it.