Back to Top

Before making Elvis famous, record producer Sam Phillips famously said, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”

Moreover, it goes without saying that when non-white people adopt elements of black culture, they're often far more successful than black people themselves. 

Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Tessa Thompson, and Yara Shahidi who are black and look black, but are mixed race, have all highlighted how they benefit from colorism and anti-blackness because they don't look too black.

When Grande first launched her music career, the comparisons to Mariah Carey, a mixed-race woman, were rampant. 

That was largely due to Grande's voice, but also her R&B singing style — R&B another genre pioneered by black Americans. 

I don't believe musical genres should be confined to race, but Grande's music is largely influenced by hip-hop and R&B, meaning that in order to build a fanbase, she needs to court listeners (ahem, black folk) with those musical preferences. It's not impossible to do this respectfully (look at soul singer Adele).

Grande also adopts African-American vernacular, but most young people do because black Americans often dictate American popular culture.

I am not sure how to feel about all this.

I am not even piling on Grande, who is quick to shut down any perceptions about her ethnicity being anything but Italian. Most people presume Grande is Latinx, not necessarily black, when mistaking her race, but I am here to tell you as the resident Afro-Latinx, most Latinos are part black, sis. 

Thus, for years, Latinx women have been sounding the alarm: Grande is doing brown face. Look at her tan. Look at how she speaks. Look at her music. 

The verdict? I don't have one for you. I don't know what her intentions are to be frank. All I know is that when I saw the "Breathin" video, in certain scenes she looked so cartoonishly black, I laughed out loud at my desk. Whether Grande is an evil mustache-twirling genius or not, she is still benefiting from the perception that she isn't white.

 While it may not seem like a big deal to you, any person of color knows that this only a) highlights how unfair it is to actually be black and talented without any of the success of white impersonators b) trivializes the very real institutional and systematic oppression actual black people experience. 

Most of us don't get to pick and choose which parts of blackness we get to have — only white folks seem to have that luxury. 

Watch "Breathin" and decide for yourself.