"My Skin' is a stance against the racial profiling of ALL ethnicities and the blind hatred that poisons our perception."
Ever since we first encountered Lizzo last year in a lake in Minneapolis she's continued to impress and surprise—whether making us attempt to twerk with bangers like "Batches and Cookies" or bounce off the walls before a night out with "Let Em Say." A girl whose singing voice is as strong as her flow and an artist who made her network TV debut on Letterman with a song called "Bus Passes & Happy Meals." Lizzo is slaying it.
In October last year she took part in StyleLikeU's ongoing and truly awesome project What's Underneath, where women sit on a stool and talk about their complicated and varied relationships with their body, all the while shedding one piece of clothing after another until there's nothing to hide behind. If you haven't had a look, check out all the videos—many with prominent musicians—here. This experience in turn, at least in part ended up being the basis for her song "My Skin" (check the video above): "The inspiration—triggered by a painting of dark-skinned women walking along a river in the vocal booth—comes from my interview with StyleLikeU's. You can wake up and change many things about your appearance, but the inevitability of waking up in your skin is what unifies us."
It showcases another facet of Lizzo: tender, thoughtful, and capable of both lyrical classicism and penning a timeless melody. But last week, in the wake of the shooting of Minneapolis' Jamar Clark and the subsequent protests—the lyrics took on a new resonance for singer. Lizzo explains below:
"This is a summoning of bodies: all shapes, sizes and shades to unite in their pride, and wear their skin like the gift it is.
"'My Skin' literally matters. It matters because it’s the largest organ on my body. Because it’s my exterior. It’s been stretched, sunburnt and covered in glitter. It’s the first thing you notice about me. My skin is dark brown, but if you asked someone they would say it’s black. My blackness is my largest assumed ‘accessory.’ Not my gender, religion or wealth. Because of it, I’ve experienced countless misconceptions from people—neck rolls and gratuitous gestures, overt southern dialects superimposed onto my own voice, perceived 'ghetto-ness.' I laugh it off because it’s seemingly harmless, but when we think about where this originates it’s actually poisonous.
"Being black in America is a unique experience. All people have a unique American experience, but I can’t speak for all people. I can only speak from my unique experience as a black woman. The 'African-American' myths that cloud non-black people's judgment are taken from the worst part of our struggle and paraded as fact. I could write this essay trying to debunk 'black-on-black crime' and fill it with pleading persuasive prose, but I’d rather just tell you what I know. I met a boy who told me hethought I was cute, but not anymore' because he thought I was 'lighter skinned in person.' That is what I know. That is a fact. If you are not a person of color please ask yourself if that has ever happened to you. No? Now imagine if it did. I’ve heard of rejection for being 'too fat' or 'too skinny,' too poor,' even 'too ugly,' but guess what? Bodies change, money comes and goes and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Skin does not change. It is our permanent marker in this life; a calling card to ethnic pride. I was appraised and judged based on the color of my skin, and trust me I am not the only one.
"Twelve days ago while laying in bed I heard several cop cars whizz down my street with deafening sirens. As a north Minneapolis resident living next to the precinct, it was something I had gotten used to. Shortly after I found out a young man was killed while in handcuffs. His name was Jamar Clark. I don’t think it’s fair to kill someone if they’re already in handcuffs, but I found out many Americans beg to differ. As the days passed, the crowd at the 4th Precinct has grown and grown. Activists from Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and many others that fight for human rights began to camp out and protest. People were hurting and crying; the pain of losing someone coupled with the pain of thousands of slain black men and woman hung like a heavy mist in my neighborhood. The leaders were benevolent and strong, yet another emotion began to creep in from outsiders and agitators: Fear.
"Where does this fear come from? Why do people justify the execution of a man in handcuffs by saying the officer 'feared for his/her life'? What is there to fear if a person is unarmed and detained? And then it hit me: his skin. His blackness was seen as a lethal weapon and used against him. Logically unsound yet so ingrained in American history is the vilification of its black citizens. In studies conducted by researchers in the field of child development, time and time again four to 10 year-olds favored lighter skinned dolls and believed that darker skinned dolls were “bad.” Stereotypical profiling begins at a young age. We are constantly bombarded with subliminal and outright prescriptive messages from the media, our parents and our environment. So in the same way people pet my hair and call my afro 'fun,' black men are seen as ‘dangerous’ and are avoided like it’s second nature. My sister’s best friend is a 6"2 black man with dreadlocks, he has never hurt a person a day in his life, but still has to vie for the minimum amount of respect that keeps pedestrians from clutching their purses and crossing the road when he walks by them. He’s suddenly ‘armed and dangerous,’ but all he has is his skin.
"We are reduced to our stereotypes. We ALL are. But black stereotypes have made us the pariah of the privileged. 'My Skin' is a stance against the racial profiling of ALL ethnicities and the blind hatred that poisons our perceptions. I performed in this music video being fully aware of the consequences. The amount of shame people place on others’ bodies has evolved beyond the quiet murmurs behind backs. 'Body shaming' and hateful, stereotypical slurs are flippantly exchanged on social media and youtube comments. This video will be seen, scrutinized, laughed at, hated, loved, but most importantly appreciated. My afro-hair, fat, muscle, bone and melanin are not a punchline—I was born in it, and I will proudly wake up in it everyday. This is a summoning of bodies: all shapes, sizes and shades to unite in their pride, and wear their skin like the gift it is."
Big GRRRL Small World LP on BGSW Records 12.11.