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Black Beauty, Media Racism, and My Great Compromise

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Lately, many media celebrities have gotten in trouble because of anti-Semitic or racist rants, jokes, or slurs. Many whites think the days of racism are over and so they think they can make racial jokes. They consider these jokes harmless, but many blacks still remember grandmothers blinded by lynchers and uncles and grandfathers hanged by racist bigots. It’s still not over for us.

The sad fact is America is still racist and that includes many liberals in the media including disc jockeys, editors, actors, and TV hosts. They just don’t seem to “get” us, and this often has to do with the darkness of our skin and the quality of our hair.

Racism often appears as a subtle cruelty toward black women’s beauty. This cruelty often seems to focus on dark skin and kinky, nappy hair. Other times the racists imply there is something vaguely immoral about us. They seem to imply that we are out-of-control gluttons who aren’t moral enough to know when to stop eating. In addition to assuming we are morally dirty, they also imply we are physically dirty in some way.

Dark-skinned prejudices

Okay okay, hip-hop lyrics and certain black comedians have contributed to a media atmosphere where people feel free to joke about certain black traits. But we have to focus on the brainwashing about beauty out there. Because of the power of the American media, and because of historical and imperialistic causes, everyone in the world thinks true beauty must come close to some Nordic Ideal. I recently heard that cosmetic surgery is on the rise. Up 70% among Asians (changing their eyelids) and Hispanics (changing their noses.) Folks, ethnic heritages are not beauty flaws.

Hip-hop videos have contributed to making certain black women sexy (and making others unsexy.) Movies too. We know a white character in a movie is hip and “edgy” if he’s got a gorgeous black girlfriend on his arm. Now it’s neat to have a nice bit of junk in the trunk, but when I was younger, the white kids mocked my ample buttocks calling it my “mumba butt.” In the old days, black lips were considered too big. Now many white actresses are getting lip injections. However, dark-skinned women still haven’t arrived at full beauty equality yet. Even on black-owned television stations and black-produced movies, light-skinnedness reigns. For instance, many black rap artists and actors are often teamed with light-skinned black women or Hispanic love interests.

Black Hair issues

Ah nappiness! White folks still have problems with black folks’ hair. Recently a famous white DJ, Don Imus, called some black women athletes “nappy-headed hos.” For those who don’t know, “Nappy” means kinky and tightly-curled hair. Whether this man is prejudice is not for me to decide. Much humor nowadays is cruel and he might simply have been trying to be cool. Saying nasty cruel racist “funny” things about other people is very popular nowadays, and Americans still seem to think afros and natural black hair that has not been straightened is somehow incredibly humorous. Ah, the funny clown in the afro! Indeed, I remember one talk show where the elderly white host kept asking to “touch the hair” of her black female guests.

Cleanliness

Racism towards black women also shows up in the way we are often deemed physically dirty, as if black women do not wash) and morally corrupt (as if we do not know how to be moral like fine-upstanding skinny white women.) I even stopped watching a weekend television show because many of their jokes about black shows seemed downright racist. For instance, although there are a lot of reality shows with skanky white folks having skanky sex , whenever this particular program talked about skanky black folks having sex, they got downright clinical and seemed on the verge of calling the Center for Disease control. They never did this with the white shows, yet on one of their shows, they did a skit about industrial cleaners coming to clean up the black show’s set and to remove disease.

Morality

I recently saw a news show on television in which the reporter stated that obesity was rampant in America, especially among black women. He pretty much hinted that black women were gluttonous and would die sooner than “their white counterparts.” White counterparts? I won’t argue that many black women are overweight. But that doesn’t mean we are morally-corrupt people who have no sense of self-control. Personally, much of my overeating occurs when I feel overwhelmed with powerlessness, isolation, self-loathing, and a feeling that I am being silenced because I live in a world where the powers that be are racist. But there are also genetic issues. The American diet evolved from a European diet and I suspect black genetics are not compatible with much of the diet. In addition, because of evolutionary climactic reasons the African body may have been trained to hold onto fat as a way to protect our ancestors in time of starvation.

Benefit of the Doubt

Black folks are used to giving white racists the benefit of the doubt. We humor people a lot. We are an understanding lot. I remember a time when I visited a white doctor and he called me morbidly obese (I was two hundred pounds and had just had my son.) I was very hurt and I went to my three-hundred pound white friend who had recommended him. Amazingly, he had never called her morbidly-obese.

In another instance, an editor from Kansas deigned to lecture me on how to write a proper essay. She knew I was black. I had to decide if she was as rude and as patronizing to all her writers or only to the black ones.

Recently I read a blog written by a black person in which the statement was made that certain black contestants on American Idol are just plain ugly.

Frankly, that blogger should examine his definition of ugly. I know this generation has been trained to mix lustfulness with admiration but shouldn’t this black blogger be more knowledgeable about how standards of beauty have been created and recreated by society? In some countries, a rounder woman would be deemed quite pretty, thank you! In some countries, a round face does not necessarily connote an ugly face

We black folks are always making excuses for white people. We always tend to divide our racists into ignorant ones and malicious. But what are we to do with the hurt feelings caused by people in power, people we would expect to be somewhat more enlightened? I mean: shouldn’t black men be less prejudiced in the way they depict black women? Shouldn’t liberals be less prejudiced than conservatives? Shouldn’t those in the media such as editors and DJ’s be more aware of the hurtfulness of their comments?

Of course, if I get so upset at the racism I see and experience, if I drown my self-loathing in chocolate ice cream in order to comfort myself because some racist white editor or racist white doctor or racist black producer has upset me, I only contribute to the stereotype by fattening myself up for the kill. Life is complicated. But we have to be strong, and we have to speak up. Hopefully, even the small things we do will change society.

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About scifiwritir

  • G. Chell

    “I recently heard that cosmetic surgery is on the rise. Up 70% among Asians (changing their eyelids) and Hispanics (changing their noses.)”

    Comment: Speaking queen’s English does not a royalty make. Similarly having cosmetic surgery to pointen your nose, does not a white make!!

    “Now many white actresses are getting lip injections.”

    Comment: Tanning and lip injections and a dark skinned South Asian shaving his head does not a black make!!

    “Indeed, I remember one talk show where the elderly white host kept asking to “touch the hair” of her black female guests.”

    Comment: I went to school with a muscular black guy who was complaining that this attractive and racist white girl wanted to touch his hair. I asked him to tell her to make a deal. She touches his hair in return for him squeezing her sharp pointed nose for five minutes, because to him pointed noses are exotic. Needless to say, she did not want her nose broken and gave up.

    “and morally corrupt (as if we do not know how to be moral like fine-upstanding skinny white women.)”

    eg. Anna Nicole Smith and her morally upright relatives who appear on the Dr. Phil Show?

    “I remember a time when I visited a white doctor and he called me morbidly obese (I was two hundred pounds and had just had my son.) I was very hurt and I went to my three-hundred pound white friend who had recommended him. Amazingly, he had never called her morbidly-obese.”

    Comment: White women in the midwest and south are on average fatter than black women. However, there is a myth of southern white beauty but it is pretty much confined to a few. The ones I run into in Atlanta are fat.

  • http://cosmeticsmanifesto.blogspot.com/ Cinnomin

    I think it is ironic that most of the black women on that team seem to have relaxed hair. I definatly believe that mainstream media have affected the way we percieve beauty within and outside the back community, but i look around and natural hairstyles, natural hair salons, and cosmetics made to cater to a variety of skin tones are on the rise. I personally love the versatility of my natural hair, and so does my white stylist.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    “In another instance, an editor from Kansas deigned to lecture me on how to write a proper essay. She knew I was black. I had to decide if she was as rude and as patronizing to all her writers or only to the black ones.”

    I happen to have seen the email in question, and know for a fact that it is similar to many, many emails sent by that editor — and other editors on the same team — to other writers, and is in no way based on race or anything else beyond what the article in question needed. Rude? Patronizing? I don’t think so, and I’m 100% sure that wasn’t the intent.

    It should be noted that all of the suggested changes would have made the article in question better, especially given the (somewhat unusual) international audience, and most of them were made. None of the suggested changes were of the sort a beginning or inexperienced writer would be prone to making, though some of them reflect hard-earned realities of the audience of this site specifically. I really didn’t see the email as rude or patronizing, though I’m sorry you read it that way.

    I hope you correctly decided that you were not singled out because of your race, but obviously that’s ultimately in your hands.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    I do love this article. It’s actually harder than it should be for someone *outside* of a particular group to understand how events affect people *inside* a particular group, and race or gender groups seem to be prime examples of this. So thanks for taking the time and effort to give some examples of racism in America.

    I don’t understand why people think various features normally associated with various races are ugly, but I’ve definitely seen examples of this myself. My great-grandmother used to say things like “I can’t imagine how anybody could think that girl is pretty, which such big lips,” about women I thought were gorgeous. Most men I know my age — I’m in my 30s — seem to look beyond the color of skin, though I know some who still balk at some of the things you mention, like size and body shape.

    I am *really* sad to think that people are going for surgery to “correct” things like eyelids and noses. Tragic!

    I wonder how much of that is strictly racial, and how much bleeds over into gender issues as well. Are Asian or Hispanic *men* seeking surgery, or is it primarily women?

  • J.J. Hunsecker

    “We know a white character in a movie is hip and “edgy” if he’s got a gorgeous black girlfriend on his arm.”

    What movie is that?

    “In another instance, an editor from Kansas deigned to lecture me on how to write a proper essay. She knew I was black. I had to decide if she was as rude and as patronizing to all her writers or only to the black ones.”

    What does it matter what state she is from, or is that just your code for “she’s white”? Your attitude that a white editor can’t critique your work comes off as racist. You must be new to writing because editors “lecture” writers all the time. Unless you have proof that you were being singled out solely because you were black, your victimization rings hollow. Provide an example.

    “Whether this man is prejudice is not for me to decide.”

    It should be “prejudiced” no matter what color you are or what state I live in.

  • Constance

    Great article. I recently stopped relaxing my hair. None of my white friends have said anything but my family hates it and they keep begging me to relax my daughter’s hair.

    There is definitely something wrong with that.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Sister McDonnell- Not to put too fine a point on it, but you obviously WANT to find racism, racism everywhere, for whatever reason. You are SO far reaching with a lot of your examples. Your doctor told you that you’re fat, so he must be a RACIST! An editor criticized your writing? RACIST! Jumpin’ Jebus on a pogo stick.

    Hey, you don’t reckon they might have been saying those things because you were fat or your article wasn’t very good? Nah. Sure sounds from this article like “racism” is your great excuse to explain any criticism or resistance you meet on your way.

    It’s the Thinker and the Prover working overtime. You think that whitey’s all full of hatred and disdain, and you find lots of things to prove it – even if the proofs have nothing to do with race.

  • Gregory Banks

    As someone both black and disabled, I know doubly well how cruel and insensitive people can be toward those who are deemed different than the “norm”. I have seen things improve over my 41 years, but then people like Don Imus and Micheal Richards come along and throw us all the way back to square one.

    Will it ever end?

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Oh come on Gregory, there’s NO comparison between Imus’ passing bad joke about the Rutgers ball team and Michael Richards completely going off in a hate fest with the N word, and invoking lynchings against his black hecklers. That’s just COMPLETELY different from Imus.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Also Brother Banks, that last line of your comment was just SILLY. Does a little verbal tirade even as bad as Richards REALLY negate 40 years of social progress “back to square one”? Come on, now.

    I don’t see how that really takes anything away from the broader pattern of improved equality for black folks. The firing of Don Imus does, however, clearly indicate a serious setback in the state of free speech and open public discourse.

  • STM

    Sorry Carole, I’m sure it must be tough sometimes shaking off that dreadful hangover from the past … but a lot of what you are writing seems to me to be based on assumption, rather than fact. On all my visits to America, I’ve never encountered a single white person who thought black women were gluttonous, ugly, dirty, unwashed or morally corrupt.

    I went to a party in Brooklyn one night where I’d say the ratio of party-goers was split evenly between blacks and whites, and they included quite a few mixed-race couples. Perhaps I was the only one who even noticed that. It was a riotous affair, and a good time for all, and later, I ended up talking about cricket for a couple of hours with some folks from the West Indies.

    None of this might be how you see it, but I’d bet your views are not the views of the majority of white people these days in America.

    Rather, the feeling I got – and sometimes it’s good to be an outsider looking in because you don’t have any preconceived notions and can make judgements with both eyes open – was, as I’ve expressed on BC before, that black people were very much part of the fabric of American life.

    As American as apple pie, was the notion, and the oft-expressed view (and not in a patronising way): that America would be a poorer place without its African-American community.

    Undoubtedly there are many racists in America, as there are anywhere, but I’d bet there are a lot more who aren’t.

    As for the stupid race jokes, the truth is you can’t guard against stupidity in people of any race, creed or colour.

  • Visiting White Guy

    Carole, et al, please get over the paranoia and self-doubt and allow the change that all of America has been trying to accomplish for the last 50 years a chance to work without second guessing and over examination. As I read your article I was wondering if I am the only person who would interpret it as an essay showcasing your low self-esteem. Additionally, I got the drift that it also illustrated a total disdain for white people.

    As you might have guessed, I’m white. My family in America goes back to the 1600s, my ancestors owned slaves, but I didn’t nor has anyone else for the last 142 years. My ancestors did what was the norm in those days as did many others who were trying to survive and build a nation. I take pride in the fact that they were farmers, merchants, doctors, and other noble professions. That was then. Today, in case you haven’t noticed, there is no more slavery, no lynchings, no “legal” discrimination, and everybody is pretty much free to do and choose as they wish. I just retired from 40+ years in the corporate environment where I had the privilege of working with many fine folks from all ethnic groups. In some cases social engineering was a bust and a person promoted into a particular position to satisfy a quota was just not ready and they failed. Most accepted that it was their performance and did not blame it on racism. If more of the self anointed targets of racism would look at themselves first before placing blame for their shortcomings on others we would be much farther ahead in our quest to be a truly color blind society. I have many friends of all ethnic persuasions who interact with me in a non-threatening and balanced fashion. We have fun and share life’s joys together.

    In America there are two groups of blacks. The first group is what I call the “invisibles”. They are the ones who get up every day, go to work where they do a great job, come home and tend to a family of parents, children, spouses, or all of the above. They pay their bills, don’t commit crimes and try very hard to do the right things to survive and get along. These are people I would be honored to know. On the other side are the “visibles”. These individuals pride themselves in blaming others for their shortcomings, scam the system that was established to help the less needy, and otherwise hold in contempt white America for their problems. They like to be seen as champions for their “people” or as total non-conformists for anything good. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are examples of “visibles”. Their survival is based totally on showcasing your misery. They do nothing positive for blacks and should be rejected as representatives.

    One last story before I leave. I am a massive American Idol fan and was surprised by the statement about people implying that some black Idol contestants were ugly. I was watching a show tonight called Idol Extra which is on Fox on Thursday after the Idol eliminations. They normally interview the contestant who is leaving as well showing other Idol related stuff. Tonight they had Mandisa from last year’s season. Remember her? Well, she hasn’t lost much weight but has entered a modeling career, written a book, and is about to release a CD. In case you missed it I said she was modeling and it is my assumption that the target audience would be full figured ladies. How enterprising is that? She was absolutely charming and really beautiful in the modeling shots they showed. She proclaimed that she maximized the opportunity that she was given and was truly blessed to have been afforded it.

    Everybody in America can achieve anything the want as long as they are willing to work hard and stay focused. Nothing is free and it’s nobody’s fault but your own if you don’t succeed.

  • Nancy

    Y’gotta cherish everybody for their own good features – including physical ones, altho that’s shallow. IMO some of the most beautiful women in the world have nappy hair & classic African features, like Whoopi Goldberg. She’s gorgeous. Women with some meat on their bones are also stunning: anybody going to tell me Queen Latifah isn’t a total sexy knockout? I wish I looked like her! Altho I gotta admit that IMO Iman will always be, black, white, or plaid, THE most gorgeous woman who ever lived; it’s like she combines the best of both races in her beauty. There’s room for all at the beauty table. It’s a pity some people can’t see the loveliness of their own race or themselves, & feel they have to conform to someone else’s standards of putative attractiveness. In the end, tho, the ONLY real beauty is within, not what’s on the outside.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Here’s my pick for HOTTEST CHICK GOING in the media universe today. But then maybe I’m just obsessing a bit too much on her new joint “Ghetto Love.” I guess she’d qualify as “nappy headed.” Is “nappy headed” supposed to be a BAD thing?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=Vichus%20Smith Vichus Smith

    America is in tatters racially, and I don’t think it should just be put on the laps of white people. Tell me, Is “nappy” derived from white American culture? How many women get called “hoes” in an emo rock song these days?

    Don Imus isn’t exactly the poster boy for love and peace, but is he really the problem? Is he firing up hate groups and rallying them for a race war? Come on. This whole Imus situation is yet another way to avoid having a discussion about race relations in America, and to Disnify entertainment, and pretend that all white and black Americans are singing koombayah.

    The funniest thing about this whole deal is that most people who are “outraged” by Imus never heard of the guy, don’t care about the guy and didn’t know that he was on MSNBC. I don’t listen to the guy, either.

    Don Imus may have reduced female college basketball players to “nappy headed hoes,” but there are quite a few rappers who are filling corporate pockets by reducing all women, black or otherwise, to sexual vessels with nothing more to offer.

    When Don Imus is rehired somewhere (which is most likely), you’ll never even remember that you wished him ill.

  • daryl d

    Carole:

    You have your shortcomings and people dislike you because judging from your essay, you are pretty much disgraceful to yourself. Stop using the race card.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    Easy there Daryl. Sister McDonnell may have issues – but don’t we all? She might be a bit overly sensitive on some issues, but she seems really nice.

  • kate

    This is a call to all black women. Keep your natural hair and love it. Afterall it was made that way for a reason.

    The Rutger girls all had staightened hair styles and were called nappy headed h#&

  • dan

    I’m very late, but I’d just like to say that these RACIST APOLOGISTS (Al Barger, Daryl D, Vichus Smith, Visiting White Guy, STM, JJ Hunsecker) disgust me more than people like Imus who’ve made such crude generalizations. When will we stop forgiving people for their ignorance? Your arguments will fall of deaf ears if you are not at least willing to consider that an idea that is different than yours still has some merit.

    Incidentally, I think if you checked the ISP’s of a couple of the responders, you’d see that some of them are actually the same person, responding more than once, trying desperately to back up whatever bull they are slinging..

  • Cindy

    While some Asians do eyelid surgery to appear more Caucasian alot don’t do it for that reason. I’m Asian so I would know. 1 major reason among Asian girls is eyemake up will look better and easier to apply. And by the way, wanting bigger eyes does not necessarily mean wanting to be more white…from what I notice nearly all girls of different races want bigger eyes…why do you think white girls put on eyeliner and mascara? to have bigger eyes. Bigger eyes are child-like and look less tired. If I decide to get double eyelids SO WHAT it’s my choice, everyone wants to change something abt their looks. A white person getting a tan or big booty doesn’t mean she wants to be black. My theory is that people just want to look different or stand out, not necessarily to look a different race. Alot of Asian girls may have surgery, but if you research many of them want to keep their Asian-ness and not look like a total barbie. n don’t even think abt talking abt Asians dying their hair..we do it because unlike whities we pretty much have black hair and we just want to have bit of variety. If blacks want to straighten their hair let them do it. I have straight hair but sometimes I want to curl it…without having other people assume I want to be some other race.

  • Amiyna

    This is a “great” article! It uplift me in soon many ways. Here why recently I had my 50th Birthday. I have been wearing my natural hair for years and “Love it”. Well here in Atlanta they have a salon here(JeJu) where you can relax and get body scrubs of your choice.Well, for my birthday my husband decided he was going to do this for me since I been very ill for the last three years. I am a large well builded black woman, and I dont look my years. Well, let me tell you these white women look with surprise that I would walk in to the salon just like them with all my buns showing and

  • Amiyna

    women out there who dont see themselves as beautiful without perms,straigthen combs etc;however it did help me to understand that is what white women feed off of when we make comment about each other and not support each other. I think I was more hurt by the fact as one black sister to two other black sisters being out numbered in this place there was no unity for black beauty, no matter what shape or style it was being presented in. I love my locs and god just gather the best for the ones who know self love from the inside out. I’ll be back at JEJU being good to me. All Big and Beautiful.Join Me!

  • echo

    Your examples are hollow. Your whole life as a black female and that’s the best examples you have… not very convincing. A doctor told u a medically defined term for your own well-being. A editor edited your work… you should be thankful for their honesty and attempt to improve you.. Genetics, please.. stop eating fast food and ur sure to lose the weight. America has been called an obese country… America is majority white.. are white people racist against themselves.. ?? The way you look for racism in every little event is racist on your part… and it’s your racism that will continue to encourage the cultural divide. Peace.

  • jocee

    your writing does seem a little un-professional. I’d say the professor was only criticizing you, not because you’re black, but the fact that your writing is actually pretty low-leveled.