On Sunday, December 2nd, 2018, Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé performed a duet at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 concert in Johannesburg, South Africa. Beyoncé performed in a gorgeous pink ruffle gown by Ashi Studio and Sheeran wore jeans, sneakers, and a black tee. The stark contrast between their appearances ignited a debate on social media about gender and what we expect from our male and female performers. However, it goes further than male privilege; this is about race, too.
We’ve seen this kind of gendered juxtaposition in dress before (case in point: Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, and Kevin James promoting Hotel Transylvania 2), which is why we’re not surprised that many people jumped in to discuss the gender politics at play.
But we can’t talk about Beyoncé and Sheeran’s concert wardrobe without discussing race. Activist, sexuality educator, and NYC sex-ed teacher Ericka Hart shared this statement on Instagram to remind us that it’s not just Sheeran’s male privilege that emboldens him to dress this way, it’s his white male privilege.
“A black femme could NEVER do anything on a stage (from teaching a class to singing at a concert hall) dressed [like Sheeran] and still have a career the next day,” she continued. “We literally have to dress the part in hopes that they will believe we are the part.”
We agree with Hart although we acknowledge, to a lesser extent, that personal style should be accounted for in this narrative. Regardless, there are double standards at play in how performers of color have to present themselves vs. how their white counterparts can step out on stage. And that double standard is something that should be questioned.