Author’s Note: I understand and acknowledge that I, as a White woman, have a lot of privilege in being able to write this article and express my feelings about this subject without fear of being persecuted or harassed. I acknowledge that I carry my own biases and hypocritical behaviors that I am working to dismantle through education and conversation. I also strongly encourage readers to seek out other writing on this subject done by women of color. Please reach out in the comments with questions, concerns or corrections regarding this article.
My list of problematic favorites is long: Taylor Swift, Kylie Jenner, rap artists who have amazing flow and rhythms, but use lyrics that make me nauseous…just to name a few. Each has committed their own sin against inclusion and understanding of various marginalized groups, but the most recent additon, and, in my humble opinion, the committer of the most egregious actions of the moment are coming from none other than the chart-topping, donut-licking, pop music queen Ariana Grande.
Yep, I said it: Ariana Grande is doing us very, very wrong.
Don’t believe me? Let’s investigate.
Take a look at this image. What do you see?
Now, look at these images:
Notice something weird? Hint: it’s her magical transformation from a White woman into a woman of color.
Ariana Grande has systematically appropriated aspects of Black culture and profited off them for years now but has made it especially apparent in the last two years. Her skin has become darker and darker, to the point where people genuinely think she’s Latina or biracial (spoiler alert: she’s White). This is part of what’s called blackfishing, a modern-day version of blackface whereby a White person appropriates the appearance of or aspects of the appearances of Black people for profit or personal benefit. Check that first image again. Grande is literally darker than Nicki Minaj, an actual Black woman. And that’s not the light playing tricks on you.
As if this isn’t enough, Grande has also adopted a noticeable “blaccent,” often using slang and linguistic choices belonging to African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Her latest album, Thank U, Next, is chock full of “issa,” “imma,” “skrrt,” and various forms of “yuh” and “yeeh” in her lyrics and background tracking. All of these phrases are common in contemporary AAVE and in popular music by Black artists. Her linguistic appropriation carries over into her live interviews as well.
To top the whole thing off, Grande also appropriates style choices rooted in Latina and Black history. She wears large hoop earrings in her “7 Rings” music video, which have strong roots in Latina culture and have frequently been “ghettoized” when women of color sport them. Another choice she makes is increasing the size of her lips. While Grande denies rumors of plastic surgery, she frequently overlines her lips to make them look bigger. The difference here, though, is that Grande can wipe off her lip liner (or dissolve her lip filler, if that is the case). Black women, who have suffered centuries of degradation and hyper-sexualization of their bodies, including their lips, don’t have that luxury.
What really grinds my gears is how it seems to go unnoticed. I understand that Ariana Grande has been through some serious crap recently. But it’s no excuse to not call someone out on their behavior and choices that deeply affect other people, especially people who are systemically marginalized for their culture.
So, hopefully you’re now asking yourself, what can you do?
Inform yourself. Listen to Black women, to Latina women, to indigenous women, to Muslim women, to queer women, to disabled women. Support them. Check your privilege. Read articles and books. Listen to podcasts. Vote for them in elections. Stand up for those in your community who are silenced. Challenge those who continue to degrade and harm women of color, whether it was intentional or not.
This is just a starting list. There’s plenty of space to grow.