You’d have to be living under a rock to not realize that a lot of White people really don’t like Serena Williams very much. That rock would have to bash you in the head if you don’t realize that many of them feel the same way about the rest of us.
It’s not often that Black women get the chance to gather and celebrate our beautiful selves. Hell, these days we don’t even get the chance to celebrate our hard earned, worked-our-butts-off, odds-defying, awe-inspiring, brilliance. Even when we demonstrate all that awesomeness over and over and over again.
Just ask Serena. The sweat hadn’t dried on her forehead before White media attacked her latest win. Black folks can’t get a moment’s rest before we have to shield ourselves from them.
You Know They Planned This, Right?
How they see us is no accident.
We conveniently forget that slavery was a choice White people collectively made (whether they owned slaves or not). They chose to create racism to justify the most brutal form of slavery known to mankind. They chose to distribute power and resources based on race in order to keep Black people as a permanent slave class.
Any group of people who are willing to abuse other people like that for their own selfish gain—for generations—become masters at emotional, psychological and physical abuse. Telling the world that Black women (people) are ignorant, ugly and so far outside the realm of beauty, intelligence & acceptability that to think otherwise is laughable, was a key part of the mental, emotional & spiritual abuse required to make slavery and colonization function.
Here’s How This Works
There is a scene in the film The Book of Negroes that demonstrates this really well.
The main character, Aminata Diallo is shown sitting on her bed peacefully stroking what looks like an 8-month pregnant belly. Her hair is in a full on Afro—the kind you get when you pick out an 8-inch 4C fro.
Her owner sees her and demands to know who the father is (he’d raped her earlier and wasn’t sure if the child were his or someone else’s).
She refuses to answer and he grabs her by the arm yelling for all the rest of the slaves to gather around. He orders someone to grab his knives as he drags Aminata across the yard and forces her head down on a chopping block. He grabs her Afro, violently ramming his fingers through her hair and forces her to repeat these words:
“It’s not hair. It’s just wool.”
Aminata, completely freaked out, repeats the words as she tries to avoid the razor sharpness of the knife against her head. He gropes her body before he manically and methodically shaves her scalp. During the lengthy ordeal Aminata desperately tries to stay still and protect her belly, enduring a form of torture that is painful to watch.
When he’s done he tells her neither the baby in her belly nor the “wool” on her head belong to her. The message was clear: just like he could nearly kill her while “shearing” her animal like “wool” he could what he wanted to her body and her baby too.
All while the rest of the slave community watched helplessly.
Dehumanizing her hair by calling it wool was part of the message that as an “animal” she was his property and he could do what he wanted to her.
Why This Matters
This is why cultural appropriation continues to be one of the hallmarks of White supremacy today (Hey Amandla – we see you & love you!). It is born from the notion that Black bodies are the property of White people and so they determine when our cultural & physical expressions are appropriate.
So big butts are ok when they buy them. Big lips are ok when they inject them. Brown skin is ok when they spray it on. Black music is ok when they carbon copy it.
But when we do it? Nah. Ain’t nobody checking for us.
We have to remember this because if we don’t, we risk believing that those abusive lies they tell about us are correct. We have to remind ourselves that hating Black people and Black features are not normal behaviors. It’s not normal for an entire race of kids to grow up thinking they need light skin and straight hair to be beautiful.
Because kids who fail the doll test believe that the white doll is the prettier, smarter, kinder, nicer doll. They also see the black doll—and by extension themselves—as the uglier, dumber, meaner doll. And when that’s the doll that represents you and your people, your defeat is guaranteed.
We only think this way because we are taught to. And we’re only taught to so that White people can continue to benefit from the racial hierarchy their grandparents created and passed down like precious family heirlooms.
As I said before White people created racial slavery as an economic system:
…where dark brown skinned people, big butts, rounds noses, and full lips, became the default physical characteristics of the completely disempowered slave class. One where White pale skin, thin noses, thin lips and straight hair were the default characteristics of the ruling slave owning class. This wasn’t an accident. It was the whole point of race-based slavery in the first place…
Create Our Own Standards & Damn the Rest
Prior to the enslavement of African people, we weren’t searching the bushes for berries to make our hair grow straight. Our little girls weren’t hunting for plants or animals fat to bleach their skin. Our little boys didn’t hunt for the roots or vegetables that would make Black people look less Black. Wasn’t nobody searching for the perfect remedy to shrink our butts or our lips.
Before White people invented racism, Black women weren’t comparing ourselves to non Black women and finding ourselves lacking.
And neither were Black men. *sips tea*
Since the beliefs that made slavery work are still part of the way White people see us and (more importantly) how we see ourselves, it is imperative that we intentionally create opportunities to see our beauty; celebrate our brilliance; enjoy our sexy; laud our talent and see ourselves as the reflection of God.
We need an Afro—African Centered—State Of Mind: One that allows us to create a standards that see us and our own culture as our norm. We need a lens that centers on who we are, our particular history and our place in this world. We need our own standard of beauty. And damn the rest.
Because if we’re being honest,
…there really is no way for Black women who look Black or who wear ethnically Black hairstyles to ever truly be beautiful under the existing paradigm of “classic” White beauty norms.
And that is because “classic” White beauty norms were intentionally designed to exclude us…
Serena’s body will never be “perky” enough to be White-female-athlete-pretty.
First Lady Michelle Obama’s gorgeous features will never by “lady” enough to be White-woman-pretty.
Sasha and Malia never got to be “little girly” enough to ever be White-girl-pretty or White-girl-innocent.
We will never be educated enough to be White-employee-smart and will continue to be second-guessed at work.
We’ll never be White-money-wealthy enough to get a bank loan not loaded with extra interest rates due to our race.
Our names will never be White-name-sounding enough for us to get a call back that sees our true value.
Our wigs/weaves/perms will never be straight or “natural” enough to ever look like anything but a copy of something not designed for us…
They Ain’t Checkin For Us Bewbew…
White folks generally ain’t checking for Blackness unless its something they can take and make their own. That’s how White supremacy works. They don’t see us until they want to take something from us (hi Kylie! Hey boo!).
So long as we hold Whiteness as the standard, the thing to which we should try to emulate, we will always come up losing. That game is rigged, we can’t win it and for our own sake we have to stop wanting to.
They’ll never appreciate Serena. They’ll never see her as even having the capacity to ever be truly beautiful or winning on her own merit. It’s not in them to do so and that’s their loss.
But we collectively lose when we don’t have a standard of beauty that can crown her as one of the world’s most beautiful women and outstanding athletes.
We lose when we can only succeed by trying to look and act like them.
We lose when we can only gain an income by swallowing every measure of pride we have to work with people who never see us as fully capable and who don’t want to work with us.
We lose when our kids are forced to be educated in a school system that was designed to meet the needs of White people who were taught to hate them.
Our community loses when Black girls and boys consume nonstop media that tells them they need to not look Black, talk Black or be too Black in order to get ahead.
We all lose when our babies think they need to bleach the melanin from their skin and avoid the sun in order to be beautiful.
We need a new game. And we’re the only ones who can create a set of rules that can work for us.
Looking for more thoughts from an Afro State of Mind? Check out my book Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl now available on Amazon.com in paper back or available here for e-book download! Are you on Twitter? Let’s hang out! More into Facebook? Well be sure to “like” the Afro State of Mind page. Prefer Instagram? Then follow me here or head to youtube catch up on my latest youtube videos!