I walked into a hair shop with a few friends. I perused the aisles as I waited for one of them, a borderline hair aficionado, to purchase some hair. A few brochures for wigs and weaves caught my eye; I thought perhaps they might sell some products online. Each page had a picture of a woman wearing the hairstyle being advertised, along with a concise explanation. As I casually flipped through the pamphlets, it slowly dawned on me: EVERY. SINGLE. FACE. WAS. WHITE.
A cursory glance around the room revealed manikins bearing Caucasian features, with very few exceptions. The walls and shelves offered a plethora of straight, blond wigs/hair. The store employees were modeling styles that mimicked the hairdos of white women.
This store, which clearly was marketed towards and targeted Black women, was utterly filled to the brink with the markings of Eurocentric beauty ideals. African-Americans are the single largest racial minority group in the country. So, why then is such a significant segment of the population being casually and subliminally persuaded that they are not desirable? We are basically on the receiving end of the collective “side eye” of a nation. Sure, there are the token Black super models and celebrities. But they absolutely do not represent the racial demographics of our citizenry. When will America truly admit that Black is beautiful?
This is not merely an issue present in the economic or entertainment sectors. This sickness has infiltrated the day to day conversations of our people. Internalized racism and Eurocentric paradigms are ubiquitous. They’re menacing diseases of the mind, prevalent in an alarmingly high proportion of the African-American community. I’ve sat by and listened as friends of mine argued about who was darker, and jokingly insulted a guy’s fiancé for having more melanin in her skin than anyone at the table. As if that was something of which to be ashamed.
The terms “good hair” vs. “nappy hair” are used on a daily basis with no thought of their implications. People casually refer to some hair types as nappy, utilizing the colloquial pejorative qualities of the word. How do you think it affects little girls who understand the implicit denigration connected to that term, to be told by their mothers that they need to straighten their “nappy hair” in order to be pretty?
Unfortunately, black men with very tight curls often pursue women with straighter hair because of their society-induced preference for less kinky hair. Men have tried to come on to me by saying, “Damn girl, you got that good hair. The kind of hair I want my kids to have…”. They usually follow that obtuse statement with a sleazy smirk and expect me not to think about the fact that they just subtly insulted their mothers and sisters, who in many cases have the type of hair they apparently don’t want their kids to have.
I witnessed an altercation in my dorm between two African-American students, where innocent joking turned into a very heated argument. As tensions rose, the students attempted to insult each other by pointing out the features the other possessed that were most indicative of Blackness. The guy highlighted the kinkiness of the girl’s hair, which she replied to with a snide remark about him having a nose “as wide as a gorilla’s”. However, tight curly hair and wider noses are just as attractive as straight hair and thin noses. Why have we allowed society to tell us that the features bestowed on us by our strong, beautiful ancestors should bring us shame?
I look at celebrities like Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae and wonder why they aren’t lifted up as icons of beauty the way women like Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston are. Look at the curve of Gabrielle Union’s lips, the arch of Kelly Rowland’s brow. Look at Lupita Nyong’o’s beautiful dark skin and Solange Knowles’ gorgeous ‘fro. Each and every one of these exquisite women are pinnacles of beauty. Yet, they receive a fraction of the admiration that society gives to more average looking white women.
It’s inexcusable that in 2016, when a transgendered woman can grace the cover of Vanity Fair, and an openly gay man can be confirmed as the newest Secretary of the Army (an institution brimming with homophobia and testosterone-fueled posturing), we’re still grappling with an issue like this. In spite of movements like BlackLivesMatter and the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, Twitter campaigns such as #BlackExcellence and #BlackGirlMagic, and events like BET’s Black Girls Rock; we still don’t all seem to be cognizant of our innate value.
To be fully transparent, I see this lack of self-love in myself. As embarrassing as it is, I see it when I find myself looking for lighting that highlights the brightness of my skin when taking a selfie. I recognize it when the racial makeup of wherever I’m spending my day crosses my mind (even as I try to quickly quash the thought) as I decide how to do my hair in the morning. This pressure to look as “white” as possible impacts even me, a light-skinned girl who benefits from light-skinned preference in the Black community. I can’t imagine what it does to those with darker skin.
The fact that white people are still being lifted up as more attractive is absolutely wrong.
Little Black children, whether their skin’s of a dark or a light hue, shouldn’t be taught, explicitly or implicitly, that they are in any way less beautiful than the white kids with whom they go to school. It’s sad that this is still an issue almost two decades into this millennium. However, yet another viral video surfaced just this week on Facebook depicting women discussing why they feel pressured to lighten their skin with creams and chemicals.
Nonetheless, huge progress is being made. All over social media, and even in some parts of the entertainment industry, Black people’s voices are being lifted up and their virtues are being praised. A huge movement of racial consciousness has exploded throughout America, but we can’t stop now. These final stages of the Civil Rights Movement have become about personal responsibility and social obligations. It is no longer about the leaders, the MLK’s and Malcom X’s of the world, the day has come where each and every one of us must make a conscious effort to forward the cause of our community. Going forward, now more than ever, we must endeavor to be aware of how the way we talk about skin color is affecting ourselves and those around us. Language is powerful. I know, I for one, don’t want my kids growing up in a world where they don’t know how truly beautiful they are.