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by Melchi Anyinsah-Bondzie

Black beauty, white acceptance

I’m tired. Whenever I put time aside to write about this my head hurts, my pores leak and my breath shortens to a point where you’d think I had ran a marathon…That’s how I tired I am when it comes to this subject. However, there has never been such a more relevant time to discuss this and sure, I’m probably only one of a million to speak about this, but like all people – I have an opinion and I’m ready to talk.

I remember being a young boy looking towards the sky asking the higher powers that be why I had to be born as a person of colour, more so an African. My parents moved us from a place where we were many to a place where we were one black family out of two. My mixed race mother was asked so many questions about the way she looked and how she looked after her very black child; “why is he so much darker than you?” “Do you bathe him every day or do you wait until he smells a bit?” “You could pass as a white person, you’re pretty.” My mother was born to a Ukrainian mother and a Ghanaian father, being partially raised in a very white country came with its obvious difficulties, and then moving to Ghana became another difficulty as people (including those in her own family) would scream out ‘Obrouni’ at her, a term used to describe a white person.

It’s not easy when you can’t really get into your beauty when people scrutinise you for either a) being of colour but being too light or b) being too dark. History will tell you that there’s nothing wrong with being too light, but when you’re black and light skinned – you’re somehow not seen as black enough, even to go as far as being told you’re ‘white passing’. To add insult to forced injury, it’s even worse when you have something that is seen as a mark of beauty in one place, only to be told it’s ugly, have it taken from you and have that person who took it be praised for it. So today we are going to talk about the ever growing problem of trends and natural beauty that black people have pioneered which only seem to be accepted or celebrated when done by a white person.

Often you’ll find that the body of a black person is always under attack, it’s under attack from the white gaze from both ends of the spectrum – it’s oversexualised whilst demonised, can we say Saartjie Baartman? All too often you’ll hear that a black woman with a naturally big backside has too much of this and too much of that, but white women who have enhanced themselves to look exactly like that are “bad bitches” and have all this sex appeal. Annoying? Incredibly so. I mean when you look at certain celebrities and their evolution over the years, their bodies are looking more and more like black women, and then magazines will lap it up with heinous headlines like “like to get the perfect ass like Kim K” or “get fuller and plumper lips like Angelina”… Girl, can’t we get fuller lips like Lupita or like Meagan Good?

Black beauty, white acceptance Subscript

In the words of the great black drag queen RuPaul herself, “I have one thing to say…” Kylie Jenner. Let’s get into Miss Jenner, now I am not one to be a hypocrite and I will let you all know (although I might get beaten up for saying so) I do watch KUWTK and I do quite enjoy it, and to be honest it has everything to do with what I’m going to say. I really feel like I have watched Kylie turn from a shy little white girl into ‘some sort’ of black woman and I say ‘some sort’ because, well – no. Kylie is pumped. Her lips, tits and her booty are definitely not what her mama gave her and yes, I won’t deny that she probably wanted all that to feel better about herself but what I want to really talk about is her lips.

Whilst I’m on the topic of Jenner and the rest of the Kardashian family, have you noticed that these changes didn’t happen until they all started messing with black guys? Call me paranoid, or maybe just angry but it’s become ever apparent that black men are also part of this problem. In my personal experience, I have come across many a black man (gay and straight) who prefer to date white – before I continue, I would like to let you know that I have no issue with interracial relationships but I have noticed an unsettling trend. There are a select group of black men who actively seek a white partner, they want a woman with the body of a black woman but without the ‘agro’ of dating one. There is also a fixation on having mixed-race or light skinned children. According to many; the hair is better, the skin is lighter and there’s a high chance of the child having light eyes too. You do have to sit and ask yourself why? Personally I think this is an issue that stems back hundreds of years: the strive desire to be accepted by our white counterparts, the fact that we have been told that we are ugly, sub-human, wild and unkempt. I think the fixation is a way of maybe saving ourselves and our children from racial prejudice and the possibility of fair treatment, which on one hand I understand – but how can you want to stand for something when you’re trying to get rid of the very thing that makes you, you?

Once people noticed that Jenner had fuller lips all of a sudden, a very disturbing amount of people decided to record themselves undertaking the ‘Kylie Jenner Challenge’ in which people would suck on the inside of some plastic bottle or jar for a couple of minutes. The result being that when the lips are popped out – they’d look humongous. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I felt it was mockery. It was a mockery to both Jenner (HAHA) and to those with fuller lips. I think I’ll call this whole lip thing, ‘the lip complex’ for a very long time fuller lips on black person was deemed to be ugly, I remember being called ‘bubba lips’ in primary school… Let’s take it back to the beginning of the year, MAC posted a photo to its Instagram of a close up picture of a black model’s lips to which hundreds upon hundreds of comments tended to lean onto the racist side of life. It seemed that there were a fair few people who had no problem saying that the model’s lips were ugly but they would gladly make their lips fuller because it looks nicer on a white person, it’s just another case of black being cool until it comes to being a black person.

MAC issued a statement, but really what is that going to do? We can post statements, apologies and announcements until we’re blue in the face, but really a mind-set like that – well you already know.

Being a black face in a white world is a lot most times. In the beauty and fashion world, it can be exceedingly noticeable. Beauty campaigns don’t tend to use black women, and when they do – they are usually lightened to the point of being unrecognisable; runway shows tend to be as bright as a Daz commercial and you’ll find that when darker girls are used, they use them for some sort of animalistic themed collections. Furthermore, whilst yes – there are stores that are solely dedicated to selling products that are made for black people, you will never find these products in a high street store and on the off-chance that you do, it’s probably tucked away in one corner and fills up a couple of shelves. SheaMoisture recently launched a campaign that highlights this issue. Richelieu Denis, the company’s CEO recently said “We’ve never understood why great products weren’t easily accessible to everyone, and why every beauty that we saw at home, at work or in the streets was not represented in the product solutions in the aisles.”

One would say that if you live in a place that’s indigenously white, they are going to cater to that majority which on one hand I would say was a fair statement – you buy what appeals to you, that’s just marketing in the simplest form. But really, when you know that there’s a high concentration of a particular demographic, it would be nice to know that we are properly represented and catered for. I’d love to end this with a solution, it’s not too much to ask, but when you’re questioning a system that’s as old as time, you’re going to have issues.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, well actually no – it’s the highest form of laziness. Why bother doing your own thing when you can take from others, give them nothing and benefit tenfold.

Illustrations by Sonny-Jack Richmond.