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What post-racial world?
A guy I know, a former journo and someone I’d always thought pretty bright, posted a status on his Facebook about blackness and beauty. “Black is black. Beautiful is beautiful,” he asserted, playing with the now-cliched statement “Black is beautiful,” coined during those heady days of Black Power in the 1960s. Black is beautiful, as a movement, repudiated the long-held Eurocentric view of beauty: that long, straight hair, a straight nose, thin lips, and light skin and eyes were the gold standard and anything else was inferior. The further one went from the white ideal, the closer one went to the black image, so it was a given that black people weren’t beautiful, were in fact by definition incapable of being beautiful. My friend’s status proclaimed that all that was over, that “beauty knows no colour.” It’s a nice idea. I like it. But it’s utterly not true in a political sense. Fifty years after “Black is beautiful,” we are still mired in the pursuit of racist ideals of beauty and pretending that it isn’t so isn’t going to change a thing. It is evident in fashion and beauty magazines, on runways, on the streets, in movies and in schoolyards that we still need to assert, loudly and proudly, that black is beautiful.
It is painfully obvious in the US, for instance. Look at any photo of US First Lady Michelle Obama and you’ll see a good-looking, fit, well-maintained and well-dressed woman. Well, most of us would see that. Others, not so much.
Michelle (can I call her that?) wore a sharp silver-sequinned frock over silver lamé trousers to a recent children’s show. She looked great—to me, anyway. Not to this commenter on the UK Daily Mail story: “Chewbacca wrapped in aluminium foil.” Or this one: “She looks like a burnt bag of Jiffy Pop popcorn.” (Chewbacca is a huge, dog-like, fur-covered alien in the Star Wars franchise; Jiffy Pop popcorn comes in a silver sack.) Only last May the journal Psychology Today posted on its blog the fantastical piece by Satoshi Kanazawa, “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The journal took down the page eventually—you’ll get a 404 error message if you look it up today—but somebody thought it was all right less than a year ago to publish a piece giving “scientific” evidence that black women were not only less attractive than other women, they were uglier than men! US comedian Chris Rock made a film about black women’s relationship to their hair. It is instructive to anybody who believes we are in a post-racial anything. Released in 2009, it showed how far black women would go and how much they would spend to have hair that was straight and long. I have often had my hair straightened, so I know personally the pain that a straightener can bring; and I also know the rain of compliments one gets with long, straight hair. Now that I’m back to my natural, knotty curls, the compliments are far fewer.
All of this is to say there is still a need for us to proclaim “Black is beautiful.” The world still needs reminding. To my friend who insisted that we will never see a post-racial world until people stop paying attention to race, I’ll say, sure; when all systemic racism is eliminated, I’ll stop paying attention to race. For instance, when the next Hunger Games movie comes out and nobody tweets how disappointed they are that black actors were cast in important supporting roles. “EWW rue is black? I’m not watching,” tweeted one, according to the feminist Web site Jezebel; another tweet read, “Why does rue have to be black; not gonna lie, kinda ruined the movie.” Heads up to you, my friend: those weren’t old white men in KKK robes. They were young folk on Twitter and everything, just like you. Is this the post-racial world you’re living in? The world in which it takes weeks of international outcry for there to be an investigation into the killing of a young black boy for walking while black? When commentator Geraldo Riviera can then go on TV to say that the hoodie, not racism, is what caused that boy’s death? I’m still waiting on a post-racial world. Until that day comes, I will keep reminding my children and all children, regardless of race, “Black is beautiful.”
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