Another day, another opportunity for the internet to be the worst. On June 20, singer Halsey revealed that she’ll be on the cover of the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone. Debuting the cover of “The Hot Issue” on her Instagram, the “Eastside” songstress is photographed in a white tank top, rocking not only her natural hair, but some badass stubble on her armpits. The singer a.k.a Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, looks seriously gorgeous.
In the accompanying interview, Halsey gets personal, talking about the scrutiny she’s faced over her identity. “The funniest thing is that the biggest battle that I’ve had to overcome in my career was not being bisexual, was not being biracial, was not being bipolar,” she told the mag. “It was everybody thinking that I was exploiting those things.”
And, it seems like people are continuing to try and prove her point. While fans were quick to applaud the singer for rocking her underarm fuzz, several people made mention of Halsey’s skin tone in the comments of her announcement.
“Why does Halsey look black [sic] here? Who changed her looks and skin colour? She usually doe[s] not look like this!” one fan commented, per ET Canada. Another added, “I was shocked honestly to see a brown Halsey.” (Which seriously? Shocked?) and a third commenter was even more blunt: “When I saw her on ‘SNL” she was white and blonde. This doesn’t look like the same person.”
The comments seem to be pretty heavily implying that many people think Halsey is “Blackfishing” or trying to appear Black. And this isn’t the first time. In August 2018, the singer was accused of wearing an afro-style wig and appropriating Black culture after she posted a photo of her natural hair. The singer, who frequently wears wigs, shot back.
i can’t believe I spent a whole damn year growing out my curls under those wigs for y’all to say my natural hair looks like a wig… some fucked up shit lmao.
— h (@halsey) August 11, 2018
If we’re being honest, Halsey legitimately just looks like she has a tan. Something that could be influenced by a) rocking a darker hair colour b) wearing white c) the fact that she’s a biracial woman or d) all of the above. But, for some reason, the internet consistently seems to forget that she’s biracial—and that’s kind of a problem.
We can understand why it happens
Listen, we’re not completely oblivious. The fact that people continue to be surprised that Halsey is, in fact, a biracial woman is in part because she’s white-passing, something the singer herself acknowledges. Passing occurs when a member of a certain group presents themselves as belonging to another group. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally and can be apply to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or even religion. In Halsey’s case, she comes across as racially white because she doesn’t have clearly identifiable traits or characteristics that are often associated with Black people.
This racial ambiguity is something that Halsey herself has touched on, highlighting the ways race—and people’s seeming obsession with and confusion about it—manifests itself in *super* minute ways.
In an August 2017 cover and interview with Playboy, the singer said that as a white-passing woman who has been intimate with white men, she’s often faced confusion over something kind of surprising: the colour of her nipples. “I look white, but I still have white boys in my life asking me why my nipples are brown,” she told the mag.
Which is surprising for a few reasons. First, these guys should probably just STFU and pay attention to the task at hand. But also… Who actually cares what colour her nipples are and what that may or may not say about her race?
And for the record, while that may seem like a small and pretty innocent question, it’s not. It’s an unfair and completely inappropriate questioning of her identity. And while we should acknowledge that Halsey’s ability to pass as a white woman may have given her certain advantages, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to act like her seeming whiteness negates her Blackness.
But, it’s still a problem
Because, like *many* things in life, race isn’t just black and white—literally. As much as we’ve grown up being told that racial identity can be placed squarely into a series of neat and tidy boxes, this isn’t at all how race works. It isn’t binary.
By being constantly “OMG what?” surprised by the info that Halsey is biracial, we’re sending the message that there’s one way to look—and, more precisely, be—biracial; one that the singer, and a ton of other biracial people, don’t fit into. And FYI, skin tone isn’t stagnant. Non-white people tan, too!
Being white-passing doesn’t mean Halsey isn’t a Black woman, who experiences the world through that lens. But for some reason, everyone who isn’t Halsey thinks it does.
And TBH, it must be exhausting
In the same interview for Playboy, the Badlands singer opened up about the difficulty in living between identities, telling the magazine, “I look like a white girl, but I don’t feel like one. I’m a black [sic] woman. So it’s been weird navigating that. When I was growing up, I didn’t know if I was supposed to love TLC or Britney.”
Inherent in Halsey’s dilemma between TLC and Britney Spears is the idea that she *has* to choose one, and that her choice is a marker of her racial identity. But what’s even more frustrating is that Halsey *has* chosen her identity: As a Black woman. But, when she’s spoken out or tweeted about issues affecting people of colour—like an April 2018 tweet about limited haircare products at hotels—she’s consistently told to stay in her white lane.
And that’s exhausting AF. That’s something I know about firsthand. Growing up as a biracial woman—I have a white mom and a West Indian dad—I’ve constantly felt like I’m floating between two racial and cultural identities. Those census boxes we were talking about? There’s nothing available for “random person of colour”—which is, TBH, how I’d identify myself.
Having to seemingly decide between being brown and white is tiring; I feel like I’m constantly flip flopping between the two identities, and am never really “enough” for either one. I don’t speak or understand Hindi, but grew up loving Bollywood movies and taking Indian dance lessons. Yet, my skin is just brown enough that I don’t pass as 100% white.
And, like Halsey, I’m consistently racialized by others; seen as the brown, Indian friend to my white peers, but “so white” to my family. And it’s pretty shitty. It consistently leaves you feeling as if there’s no actual place for you to exist. And BTW, this isn’t unique. It’s something that children of immigrants often experience as well—caught between the country they live in and one they’ve never known but are expected to be linked to.
So, let’s just zip it. Because when it comes to questioning Halsey—or any biracial person—about their identity, we’re:
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