THE POLITICS OF BEAUTY

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The game of beauty is one that is dependent upon the minds of those who perceive it, and it is influenced by cultural politics. What is intrinsic beauty? Some have said that beauty is found in “regularity” of form; i.e., that everything fits together symmetrically. This may be true in some cases, but probably not in ALL cases. For example, in America, the standard of beauty is that which closely approximates “whiteness.” It’s no secret that many Black people and white people attribute beauty to those elements that are found predominantly in white culture.

Actually, what is beautiful is created by a mind game, by the saturation of popular culture with images that are given the stamp of approval. This is why, among Black people, light skin, long wavy hair, and light-colored eyes are valued. To be sure, there is no intrinsic factor that separates a very, very dark woman with beautiful skin, healthy, natural hair and clear eyes from her white counterpart, but the images that we see in the media send the message that white trumps Black at every turn.

This is a very sad state of affairs, especially since there are many very beautiful Black women who devalue themselves because they are comparing themselves to a standard that is patently foreign. And why is this the case? It probably has something to do with a modified version of the “Stockholm Syndrome.” As people who were captured and brought enslaved to America, the unspoken sentiment is that the captors must be more powerful, or better than, the people who were captured. In this regard, many Blacks have come to love and identify with those who mistreated them. There is a saying in the Black community that even the white man’s ice is colder from the perspective of some Black people.

It took many years for Black people to learn to hate themselves. The dominant culture is saturated with images that send messages that reinforce the notion that Black skin is inferior. This is probably why so many Black people, even in Africa, purchase skin lighteners which they sometimes use to their detriment. And this is why a study done years ago and repeated recently revealed that some Black children, when given the option of selecting dolls that were either white or black, invariably considered the white doll as prettier than the black one. This is also why so many African American men consider it a prize if they can land a white girlfriend or wife, or a very light-skinned Black one. The color line in the Black community is not a well kept secret, and it has deleterious consequences for the health of the Black community. After all, if you do not value yourself, you will certainly not value others who look like you. This is probably one of the underlying factors behind Black-on-Black crime; many Blacks have been taught to hate themselves, and in that regard, for some of them Black Lives just don’t matter!

There is good and bad in every race and ethnic group. The important thing to remember is that the mental perception of what is valuable and, hence, beautiful is a learned concept. No doubt, Africans, before they came in contact with Europeans, did not consider themselves ugly. When observing the variation among tribal groups on the African continent, it becomes apparent that they are some of the most adorned people on the planet, and that which is considered beautiful varies widely from tribe to tribe.

Today, in America, it will be important for Black people to begin to really value their own beauty. This does not mean that other groups should be denigrated; it just means that there is comfort that can be derived from just being yourself. After all, being yourself is the path of least resistance and can save precious community resources. Just think how it would economically impact the Black community if the era of the $300 weave and the quest for light skin and “good hair” went the way of the dinosaurs! Black would then be truly Beautiful! A luta continua.

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