The 66-year-old music manager told Ebony magazine that he was conditioned from a young age to believe that a lighter skin tone was superior to darker shades.
Sharing a vivid memory of his late mother he said: “When I was growing up, my mother used to say, ‘Don’t ever bring no nappy-head black girl to my house.’”
“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.”
In his new book Racism: From the Eyes of a Child, he gives fans a glimpse into what it was like growing up in America’s Deep South.
Having spent the first half of his college career at a mostly white institution, he transferred to the historically black campus of Fisk University in 1972, where he said he was reminded of the implications of light and dark skin.
“They had a colourism issue there,” Knowles said. “I was in the last class where they’d take out a brown paper bag and if you were darker than the bag, you could not get into Fisk.”
Knowles said that he developed “eroticised rage,” over those messages.
“One day I had a breakthrough,” Knowles said. “I used to date mainly white women or very high-complexion black women that looked white… I had been conditioned from childhood. Within eroticised rage, 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.”
His obsession with colour led him into the arms of Tina, the Creole former hairdresser he had mistaken for a white woman.
“I actually thought when I met Tina that she was white. Later, I found out that she wasn’t, and she was actually very much in-tune with her blackness,” he said.
In 2009 the couple split after 31 years of marriage when it was revealed that he had had an affair with actress Alexsandra Wright and fathered a baby boy, Nixon, by her.
Knowles, who is a professor at Texas Southern University School of Communication, says he challenges the students that take his Recording Industry course to consider the role of colourism in pop culture. “When it comes to black females, who are the people who get their music played on pop radio? Mariah Carey, Rihanna, the female rapper Nicki Minaj, my kids, and what do they all have in common?”
Interviewer Jessica Bennett answered his question by saying, “They’re all lighter skinned.”
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