For Black History Month, I wanted to find a way to combine history, education, and homage, in a B. Bad way. Therefore, each week I will be discussing areas of miseducation, that many Black people were taught, as a result of indoctrination. However, it won't be just me though, I want to pull you all into the conversation as well, so that we can learn and grow together.
When looking at any topic of miseducation, we first must learn why and how it exists. For the Black community in particular, it dates all the way back to slavery. When they brought us (against our will of course) to this country, white people tried their absolute best to strip us of our African culture and heritage, to force their European ways upon us. This indoctrination - which is defined as the process of teaching a group to accept beliefs uncritically - permeated Black people in a multitude of areas, but specifically for this post, what we deem as beautiful.
(Please tell me y'all remember this scene)
Fast forward to the age of images, and there was the clear and intentional correlation of Blackness being associated with all things bad, and on the opposite end, all things good being associated with whiteness. If you're unaware of this, it can unconsciously teach you to decipher what's bad/ugly from what's good/beautiful. During the era of Jim Crow, we were inundated with caricatured images of Blackness, like pickaninnies who were drawn to have bulging eyes, "unkept" hair, red lips and wide mouths (remember being teased for your plump lips?). Which again permeated our brains, unconsciously teaching us that we are ugly. Especially given that Blackness was seen as unnatural, and inhuman.
In stark contrast though, white people and white women in particular, were romanticized. Made to look and be, angelic, beautiful and pure. Deeming white skin, blue eyes and blonde hair as the ideal standard of beauty. With that, the further you were from it, the less beautiful you were seen to be. Of course, this is still by a european standard, and thus through a european gaze.
As proof of the psychological impacts this made, a study by Black psychologist Kenneth Bancroft Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark, was conducted in the 1940's. The focus of the study, was to use dolls to asses children’s ideas, attitudes and opinions about race. The study showed that both Black and white children, overwhelmingly preferred the white doll over the Black doll, as they felt the white doll was "good and pretty." While in parallel paths, they believed the Black doll was "ugly and bad." [As a bonus fact, these findings were used in Brown vs. Board of Education.]
While Black Abolitionist, John S. Rock first mentioned the phrase "Black is beautiful," during an 1858 speech. The statement didn't take off until the 1960's where it became a movement. Channeling the spirit of nah, the Black is Beautiful movement took the white supremacist gaze head on, by dismantling the idea of Black beauty among ourselves. Which in turn challenged and disrupted the "accepted" view that, white beauty was the only standard of beauty. During this movement, Black women and men began to wear their hair in its natural state, while also embracing their African heritage and culture.
With shows like Soul Train, this was nearly the first time, that Black people could see, not only uncaricaturized images of themselves, but celebrated images. From the host, Don Cornelius, to the musical guests, to the dancers in the crowd, to the advertisements (shoutout to Afro Sheen). This, was one of the first tastes of F.U.B.U. media.
Fast-forward to the present day, and we are in a similar movement and awakening. With hashtags like #MelaninPoppin and #BlackGirlMagic, we are again celebrating the beauty that is Blackness. However, that doesn't mean that we don't have a ways to go. This week I posed the question "when did you first feel beautiful as a Black woman," and many of the women, including myself, were stumped. Noting that they only felt beautiful as Black women within the past five years. Growing up hearing "you're pretty for a dark skinned girl," or "you're so pretty, what are you mixed with," takes us back to that unconscious acceptance that whiteness, or the closest to it, is the standard of beauty.
It is imperative for us to decolonize our minds, and to understand that Black is indeed beautiful, and that you are beautiful. From your deep cocoa skin, to your kinky hair, to your lushes lips, you are beautiful. It is also extremely important for us, to then pass that ideology down to the next generation, so that there is never a doubt in their minds that their Blackness is beautiful, powerful, and boundless.