george riley reflects on the euro-centric beauty obsession in her new track ‘trixxx’

December 8, 2020

I wrote ‘TRIXXX’ probably about a month into using Instagram; about colorism and about desire and who we think is worthy of it. Despite there being clear winners, the system makes everyone feel inadequate, and because of this I think it gives everyone something to cry about. Suffering in some way or another has become cultural capital. And people genuinely believe they’ve been dealt a bad deal as if standing in a glass house blinded to the hardship that occurs outside it.

This really is what the song is about. Ego, abstracting away privilege. Instagram does this so well. It invites anyone and everyone to profile, to build personal brands and to commodify them. To represent oneself as unique and individual, whilst simultaneously saying you are not unique, there are billions of others and you’re in competition with all of them. Despite it being quite obvious to me anyway that these winners are based on the usual colonial culprits; class, and caste.

I started using insta just over two years ago to begin promoting my music due for release. I was shocked but not surprised to find that A&R’s were contacting me despite not actually having any music released yet. Their judgements had to be based solely on appearance. It’s not that uplifting women of mixed heritage or light-skin is inherently negative on its own, but the negation of dark skinned women in the same vein sends a very strong message: one of erasure.

Top down racist algorithms reinforce this but we do too as an audience. Through our likes and follows we determine who is worthy of care and who isn’t. And so, we ask ourselves to be beautiful and then, failing that, ask our leaders to be; subconsciously assuming that there is some virtue attributed to those that meet colonial beauty standards. It’s cool to be a social justice expert these days. It’s cool to be woke, but will the masses only listen if you have light skin? When dark skin sex workers are shadow-banned for their content, but Kim K can freely promote her brand, are we willing to accept this as business as usual? 

We all know this unspoken golden rule. We all see what proximity to whiteness can earn in our culture – more money, adoration, accolades, perceived worth. But when mixed raced people are treated as the comfortable substitute for Black people, their narratives applied universally to the entire Black experience, who are we leaving out? 

I can say with confidence that my experience of race although real is of no comparison to that of dark skinned women. I identify as Black because my lived experience has been that of a Black woman growing up in a white space, but I absolutely must also acknowledge my mixed heritage because it influenced the way I survived the white spaces I inhabited growing up. I can choose to identify as mixed race if I want to, I can choose to do this at any point and most importantly white people can make this choice for me if it makes them feel more comfortable. That choice whether acknowledged or not is a luxury. It’s a choice that provides access. 

Janine Francois tweeted recently, “How was your day on the digital plantation?”, and I laughed out loud because it really do be feeling like that. For white passing people of Black heritage, that might be a choice between Black, mixed heritage and white. And yet it is pretty normal practice on social media, and in well, the world to gallop toward representations of the Black experience from those who arguably haven’t experienced it. And yet that these are those who profit the most. 

In this era of the activist it can be hard to tell whether people are consciously aware of who they stamp over to tell their sob stories. And on my part I’d much sooner describe this song as an expression of frustration rather than a protest of any kind. Especially if Bob Marley’s legacy is anything to go by; adored by all, none of which pay any mind to the content of his music. ‘One Love’, in one of the most loveless, psychotic chapters of human history. 

But, I do think gathering, dancing, discussing, creating, expressing, organising, celebrating, loving and caring for one another; actually interrogating who we choose to care for; seeing one another, empathising across experience, I think these are all radical acts and are best done offline whenever that might be possible.

With that being said there is really great work being done online; it just often fails to receive the airtime it deserves. I want to introduce some people that I admire whose voices should be heard and amplified.

Azekel Axelle Nasah is a Black, queer, non-binary poet and activist. They recently received funding to create an organisation called the Black Trans Foundation and their work is centred around liberation for the most marginalised. As is usually the way those that are most ostracised are forced to take up the labour of dismantling the oppressive systems for us all. These people are sacred; they must be protected, uplifted and financially compensated for doing this difficult work. Their first initiative, the Black Trans Free Therapy Fund is aimed at providing ten black trans people with four months of free therapy, providing an essential support system for our black trans family. Engage, uplift, donate!

Janine Francois is an academic, cultural producer, curator and self-described black futurist thinker. Her practice involves working with marginalised artists of intersecting identities and interrogating how this work is influenced and received by oppressive institutions. Some of their most recent work includes this ground-breaking piece, ‘50 demands for institutional change’ which you can find on their website. Engage, uplift, compensate! You can also hire Janine for consultancy work.

Free Black University, founded by Melz Owuso, in their own words, ‘believes that education is at the heart of transforming society as we know it. We are all taught a curriculum, and institutionalised in to a knowledge system, that tacitly holds – Black Lives do not matter. We exist to transform this and to hold a space for the creation of radical knowledge that pertains to our collective freedom and healing.’ Desperately could have done with this at school, university and beyond. Engage, uplift, donate!

Mandy Harris Williams is an artist, cultural thinker, writer and musician. One aspect of their work speaks to the systemic undervaluation of dark skin Black women in our society and the impacts of this online. #BrownUpYourFeed became a cultural phenomenon, highlighting the pervasive nature of algorithmic anti-Blackness. Engage, uplift, compensate! You can also find them on Patreon.