Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” from the latest film production of The Lion King is officially the anthem of the summer, and you absolutely do not need to have brown skin to blast the song on repeat; in its debut week, the album nearly took the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart, making it her third album to make it to the Billboard top 10 this year. The interwebs, however, has a strong opinion over whether you should be hashtagging your posts for the #brownskingirlchallenge.
Some contend that the song was written with a relatively broad range of fans in mind — perhaps anyone who would self-identify as a black or brown girl. Others feel that “Brown Skin Girl” specifically celebrates people who most need a song like this one, those whose skin tone exposes them to the most oppressive forces of society.
“Enjoy it,” wrote Mikki Kendall in a piece for NBC News. But, she added, “It doesn’t need to be about you. After all, we’ve been singing along to songs not meant to be about us all this time.” Kendall suggested that the song was written to honor the women of the globe “who could never pass a paper bag test,” acknowledging the colorism that exists within and without communities of color; Beyoncé mentions Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, and Naomi Campbell in her verses, all beauties who are on the darker end of the spectrum than she is herself . She also writes the song with Blue Ivy in mind, singing “Them men, them gon’ fall in love with you and all of your glory / Your skin is not only dark, it shines and it tells your story / Keep dancin’, they can’t control you / They watchin’, they all adore you / If ever you are in doubt, remember what mama told you.”
Regardless, many lighter-skinned fans saw the #brownskingirlchallenge as an opportunity (or even a license) to celebrate their own skin. Imani Bashir, pushing against an “all browns matter” take on the track, wrote for Teen Vogue, “It is a celebratory ode to the kind of Blackness that is often dismissed, disrespected, and ridiculed. It is not specific to every hue, but for the Black women whose skin is full of melanated magic and hasn’t been given the floor or stage of acceptance.” In other words, the song isn’t going out of its way to be exclusionary; rather, it’s lifting up our beautiful sisters who so often have been cast as less-than.
Bey hasn’t officially put the kibosh on the brown skin dialogue at this point, but the lyrics seem to speak for themselves. Ultimately, the song is part of a greater whole; Beyoncé described The Lion King: The Gift as a “love letter” to Africa.