I’m an avid supporter of Fenty Beauty and its creator, Robin Rihanna Fenty. When I used the Trophy Wife highlighter for the first time during my senior year of high school — there was no going back. I’ve been known to go on Fenty Beauty shopping sprees, complete with freebies and remarks of admiration (and concern) from Sephora employees. I once bought the equivalent of a full face of makeup — all Fenty— at the Brooklyn Heights Sephora on a random Saturday. You could say that with my regular purchases of Fenty Lip Gloss (always in the shade Fenty Glow), I’ve done more than my fair share to help make Rihanna a billionaire. That’s right — in 2021, Rihanna officially became a billionaire. The majority of her earnings come from the unparalleled success of Fenty Beauty (and Skin) and SavageXFenty, and both have taken the world by storm since their inception in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Fenty Beauty’s continuous success came as no surprise to me. In a society where the odds seem to be stacked against us, seeing a fellow Black woman win was nothing short of inspiring. However, I started to wonder whether or not Fenty Beauty’s nationwide impact was a symptom of a bigger issue. In the age of Black Excellence and the rise of Rihanna’s SavageXFenty empire, I have to ask — is this just excess consumerism repackaged?
We say we want to fight against capitalism but we still buy from Black billionaires. I started noticing that some of my most class-conscious Black friends were taking Fenty glosses out of their Telfar bags during cookouts and birthday dinners. I also noticed that when we talked about eating the rich Rihanna was always the exception, and mentioning The Carters when talking about classism was almost sacrilegious. The realization that status matters a lot to us, whether we want it to or not, also didn’t go unnoticed.
We all see the flaws in the system and have conversations about how it needs to be dismantled, and yet we’re holding our contribution to it in our hands. Why do we as Black folks put so much stake in material things?
In The Burden of Excellence, Janelle Raymundo talks about how Black excellence is “largely based on its capitalist structure that values financial gain and relies on quantifiable measures of success.wp_postsBut there’s something else to consider — that we are fighting traditional capitalist structures by rebuilding our lost empires. Movements like Black Girl Magic and Black Boy Joy are forms of resistance against all the negative stereotypes we get thrown at us daily. Flaunting our Black excellence by wearing the best clothes, buying the best luxury handbags, and driving the best cars, we’re reclaiming the opportunities that many of our ancestors never got to have. However, Black folks rarely get the opportunity to want an anticapitalist society and want nice things, especially in a system that continuously works against us.
Growing up, I could never find foundation and concealer that was exactly the right shade. I had to mix and match products like a wizard crafting a potion. That sense of being the norm or the standard in the beauty industry is something the Black community has been robbed of. As long as these capitalist structures exist, it’s important to have a brand that captures the Black experience. If we’re going to have to take part in these systems, then shouldn’t Blackness should be represented? We deserve to have a seat at the table and a wall in a Sephora. Brands like Fenty Beauty are an act of revolution.
Fenty Beauty has inspired and empowered so many Black girls since its creation. However, using consumerism as a form of Black excellence can only take us so far. It can’t be all about who has less and who has more, who can afford Fenty Lip Gloss, and who can’t. I felt like I was left out of the club before getting a Telfar bag, and buying one didn’t solve all of my problems. I was looking for validation, for proof that I was good enough or excellent enough to be accepted by my friends, my co-workers, and my family. We can combat excess consumerism and feelings of inadequacy while still making sure we have all we need to survive and thrive.
In order to stop relying on consumerism to make us feel whole, we have to support one another and our communities. Mutual aid has always been present in society, but Covid has caused the term to enter the cultural zeitgeist even more. Capitalism has created a cult of individuality. It’s seen as taboo to ask your neighbors and friends for help with a bill or to share resources. Websites like GoFundMe have the power to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for people who have lost their homes, received an unexpected hospital bill, or have no way to pay for their education. People are already fighting against capitalism and consumerism by sharing with their community. Mutual aid is far from a new concept in the Black community — my family grew up hosting neighborhood block parties and sharing their resources. The concept of Black excellence doesn’t have to be based on the brands you wear — but it’s also okay to buy things that make you feel fly if it empowers you. The more that we look to each other for reassurance and support, the less we’ll need material items to validate us. Building a community that you can lean on is Black excellence in and of itself.
There will always be people suffering — the system itself relies on it. However, the success of Black businesspeople like Rihanna and Telfar Clemens isn’t the issue. It’s still always better to shop Black than to aspire to buy from other luxury brands that are rooted in white supremacy. It felt wonderful to know I was supporting a fellow Black queer creator when I bought my Telfy! The issue arises when not having the latest bag makes you feel like you feel like you’re losing your Black Girl Magic.
Black Girl Magic has always been a phrase that has either empowered or intimidated me. With the growing presence of social media, I’ve felt pressure to stay “on trendwp_postsand buy the latest item to make myself feel whole again. Black girls are taught to be on point and put together at all times — full face of makeup on, nails done, and hair perfect. The rise of consumerism has only worsened this feeling for me and for my friends. When will we allow Black girls to be imperfect and magical? We have to embrace our imperfections and accept that no one will ever be able to buy the perfect outfit or set of shoes, or stick of lip gloss in order to finally “gamewp_poststhe system.
I’m not the same girl who tried on Fenty makeup for the first time in 2018 anymore. Experiencing adulthood, Covid, and everything in between made me realize that there is no way to “winwp_poststhe game of capitalism. Instead, I believe that both things can exist at once. You can buy a new ethically sourced handbag that supports BIPOC business people while also questioning our relationship with fashion and consumerism as a whole. Makeup and handbags are designed to help you feel your most fabulous self, but shouldn’t make you feel like you’re missing out on some exclusive club. I’ve learned that I can create my own meaning of Black Excellence. Spending a Saturday looking for the perfect Fenty Lip Gloss is fine, as long as I continue to question the systems I’m part of while I’m perusing shades.