Why People Are Debating Kendrick Lamar's Lyrics About Black Women

March 31st 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

Kendrick Lamar's new video for "Humble" took over social media when it was released on Thursday.

Although it's not the focus of the song overall, at one point Lamar raps about preferring black women with natural hair and features rather than "Photoshop." Here are the lyrics:

I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like Afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretchmarks
Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks, ayy

While Lamar raps these lyrics, the video features a split screen of the same model. On one side she has curly hair and no makeup, and on the other side of the split, she's wearing a full face of make up and her hair is straight. 

Some people on Twitter celebrated Lamar's support for natural beauty. 

However, other people complained that Lamar stating his preference for "natural" women is another way of policing black women's bodies.

Kendrick's critics are arguing that even though he's telling women to reject modern beauty standards imposed by Photoshop and Instagram, he's not really liberating them to be who they want to be. He's just imposing a "natural" beauty standard of his own. 

There was also criticism from some Twitter users that the model he used in the video was a light-skinned black woman, rather than a dark skinned black woman.

Although it's unclear what Lamar's motives were in choosing the model, colorism — the preference and over representation of lighter black skinned woman compared to darker skinned women — is a source of debate in the black community. The roots of colorism are tied to colonialism and slavery, when black people with more proximity to whiteness were often given more status compared to other black people.

Margaret Hunter, a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Mills College, wrote an article about colorism for a journal called the Sociology Compass in 2007.

She described how colorism is still a problem today. 

"Lighter-skinned people of color enjoy substantial privileges that are still unattainable to their darker-skinned brothers and sisters," she wrote. "In fact, light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity."

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