Lulu White wasn’t buying into the tragic octoroon narrative - where the “one drop” rule made her “distressing” one-eighth Black bloodline a tainted legacy.
Rather she crafted a new identity to trap white men into funding her early-20th-century fortune.
White men would beat down the door of Mahogany Hall, aka the Octoroon Club, Lulu White’s infamous Storyville (New Orleans’ red-light district) bordello.
To attract more loyal patrons, White did what any entrepreneur would - she rebranded.
Her brand transcended typical racial prejudice by adopting a Caribbean origin story.
Although White was an Alabama-born Black woman, in 1900 New Orleans the exoticism of West Indian migrants (many of whom were white or free Blacks) helped grant her access to higher class status.
She used the same strategy with her girls.
The notorious madame bragged about her exclusively mixed-race women in advertisements, capitalizing again on the appeal of the exotic, and refused to compromise on the premium price she commanded for each.
She controlled her market, her story, and her destiny thanks to society’s preoccupation with race.
White’s Storyville opulence still influences the sexually liberated Big Easy imagery of today’s artists, including Beyoncé, whose “Formation” music video included Black beauties enjoying lyrics like “I see it, I want it. I grind ‘til I own it” while poised in a reimagined Storyville parlor.
Madame White would be so proud.