Colorism Contributed to Beyoncé's Success, Says Her Father

Mathew Knowles also admitted he dated his former wife, Tina, because he thought she was white.

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Mathew Knowles, father of music industry superstars Beyoncé and Solange, believes his daughters' light skin complexions have contributed to their success.


Knowles spoke to Ebony magazine about his new book, "Racism: From the Eyes of a Child," which offers his thoughts on colorism in the music industry as well as in his personal life, including his "eroticized rage."

Colorism is a legacy of slavery in the U.S., which lingers within American culture and has resulted in a significance of skin tone within the Black community. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker coined the term colorism in 1982, which she defined as "prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color."

Lighter-skinned enslaved African Americans were more likely to work as house slaves and were given preferential treatment by white plantation owners and the overseers, while African Americans with darker complexions worked in the fields and were believed to be inferior to those with lighter skin.

Knowles believes colorism is still rampant in the music industry.

Solange and Beyoncé

"When it comes to Black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio?" he said to Ebony. "Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids [Beyoncé and Solange], and what do they all have in common?"

The chart-topping artists he mentioned are lighter-skinned Black women.

Growing up in the Deep South, just outside Birmingham, Ala., instilled in Knowles a preference for white or light-skinned women, he said.

"My mother used to say, 'Don't ever bring no nappy-head Black girl to my house,'" he said. "In the Deep South in the '50s, '60s and '70s, the shade of your Blackness was considered important. So I, unfortunately, grew up hearing that message."

Knowles said during a therapy session, he had a "breakthrough" and realized his preference to date white women or "very high-complexion" Black women was "eroticized rage."

He explained that "there was actual rage in me as a Black man, and I saw the white female as a way, subconsciously, of getting even or getting back. There are a lot of Black men of my era that are not aware of this thing."

Tina Knowles with Matthew Knowles

Knowles also said that he thought his former wife, Tina, mother of Beyoncé and Solange, was white when he first met her. The couple divorced in 2011 after 31 years of marriage.

"Later I found out that she wasn't, and she was actually very much in-tune with her Blackness," he said.

Lori L. Tharps, associate professor of journalism at Temple University and author of "Same Family Different Colors," said in a column for Time magazine that race still matters in the U.S., but "color matters, too."

"In the 21st century, as America becomes less white and the multiracial community — formed by interracial unions and immigration — continues to expand, color will be even more significant than race in both public and private interactions," she writes.

"Why? Because a person's skin color is an irrefutable visual fact that is impossible to hide, whereas race is a constructed, quasi-scientific classification that is often only visible on a government form."

Knowles, who currently teaches at Texas Southern University, is the former manager of the R&B trio of Destiny's Child. Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland were original members, with Michelle Williams later joining.

In October 2010, Knowles was still Beyoncé's manager. After Live Nation Entertainment advised Beyoncé that her father might be stealing money from her "I Am…" tour, she ordered an audit through law firm Reed Smith LLP. In March 2011, Beyoncé announced that she was officially severing professional ties with her father.

Knowles claimed that Live Nation made false claims about him to his daughter and filed a lawsuit. In October 2011, the court ruled in favor of Live Nation.

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