Music

Tinashe Addresses The Backlash To Her Colorism Comments And Makes A Pretty Good Point In The Process

Tinashe’s new philosophy may be “No Drama,” but it wasn’t that long ago she was embroiled in a little bit of controversy online for some statements made in an interview with The Guardian while expressing her frustration with her sophomore album delays. It’s been a while, but she finally addressed the backlash to her comments in an interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg yesterday to promote Joyride, which you can view above.

In the prior interview, the mixed-race singer talked about colorism in the Black community and how it affected her upbringing:

“There’s colorism involved in the black community, which is very apparent. It’s about trying to find a balance where I’m a mixed woman, and sometimes I feel like I don’t fully fit into the black community; they don’t fully accept me, even though I see myself as a black woman. That disconnect is confusing sometimes.”

However, due to the quote’s placement within the original story, and the breakouts that resulted in other blogs and publications, her statement was read as an indictment of her lack of traction in the music industry. Just before the quote in question, she interrogated the music industry’s tendency to sideline female Black performers as though there was a cap placed on the number that could be promoted at any one time. However, since the colorism comment immediately followed it, many fans took it to mean that she was blaming her musical difficulties on not being accepted due to her lighter skin.

In her interview with Ebro In The Morning, she says that the quote was taken out of context and that Twitter ran with it, as it so often does. “The initial conversation was just about my experience growing up in a mixed family,” she explains. “It kind of got misconstrued to being that was what I was blaming my career trajectory on. Leave it to the internet.” Her explanation prompts show co-host Rosenberg to contribute a joke that “sometimes we so woke, we gotta go to sleep.”

The discussion turns to Twitter’s tendency to possibly overanalyze any racial discussion, especially with regards to people’s personal experiences. Tinashe relates growing up in a mixed-race family (her father is Nigerian, her mother is of European descent, and both parents are college professors), learning her own identity, and being forced to “choose a side” by outsiders who want her to “check a box” when presenting her racial identity.

That perspective is something I can personally relate to. Although both my parents are to the best of my knowledge Black, I’m several shades lighter than either, to the point where people thought nothing of asking me, “What are you mixed with?” with an uncomfortable level of familiarity. When I was growing up, I never really saw how it should matter, and when I became old enough to recognize that, yes, people do treat you differently based on their perception of your ethnicity, I also realized it wouldn’t matter anyway, because for the most part, the world recognized me as Black.

Not to get too political or historical, but America has long held the stupid, unscientific “one-drop” belief that having any Black roots at all automatically made a person Black, and to this day, still treats the vast majority of its Black citizens as second-class. So I understand Tinashe’s frustration with the discrepancy between how she sees herself, how she’s treated at home, and how the world throws away her opinions and experiences with alarming casualness to stick her into one of two binary options that probably don’t fit the majority of the people who also get saddled with either label. The world has never been as simple as “black or white,” but people insist on defining you as one or the other anyway.

I also get why her comment, once taken out of context, would rub some people the wrong way. Yes, lighter skinned people do have a certain level of inherent privilege and I don’t think that any one of us would ever deny it. But at the end of the day, I’ll still get pulled over for driving the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood too late at night and Tinashe will still get pigeonholed by her label as just another R&B act, even if she also gets a slightly stronger push than some of her darker-skinned counterparts (but again, look at the rollout for labelmate SZA’s CTRL to see this isn’t a hard and fast rule).

There might be a couple of important lessons to take away, though. For one thing, maybe Rosenberg has a point about being too woke. It’s easy to see another whirlwind of outraged discussion on Twitter and get caught up, but seriously, half the time people are reacting to a misleading headline or an inaccurate, out-of-context quote. It’s like a big game of Telephone; you never know what the first person said if you’re hearing it from someone who heard it from someone else. Sometimes it’s okay not to form an opinion until you’ve actually read the original piece — or just ignore it altogether. You don’t have to have an opinion.

Finally, in all the screaming matches that we tend to get into online, it’s easy to forget that on the other end is a person, someone with a different set of life experiences, no more or less valid than yours. Trying to prove them wrong about their own life is like the epitome of being a dick online, and no one should want to be a dick online. Observing the Golden Rule isn’t that hard; just treat people as nicely as you would want them to treat you. If that means accepting that their outlook might be a little different than yours, so be it (of course, and always, the exception is Nazis. F*ck them.).

Tinashe’s colorism comments, if anything, point to one specific outcome that I think would be vastly preferable to all this internet outrage and real-life bullying: Just be nice. Accept people for who they are, especially for things they can’t help, like what color their skin is, and let people decide who they are for themselves. One last thing: Take a nap sometimes. Being too woke really is bad for you.

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