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Book Review: Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?: Dehumanizing and Intentional Ethics of Descriptions and Vilifying Philosophies of Naming by Kuir ë Garang

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When I was asked to review Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?: Dehumanizing and Intentional Ethics of Descriptions and Vilifying Philosophies of Naming by Kuir ë Garang, I was excited to read an unorthodox version of race and racism. The subject is touchy to many and talked about on a realistic level by very few. From my own experiences, I have seen my best friend discriminated against because of the color of her skin by people close to me and my own son looked at differently once someone ‘white’ finds he is bi-racial.

All of a sudden skin color makes such a difference, when in fact our bodies all contain the same parts and operate the same way. We may use different products in our hair to achieve a desired result but if you cut your finger, we bleed the same exact way. Why so many people have to associate themselves with a color whether it be ‘blackness’ or ‘whiteness’ has always been silly to me.

I feel the gist of this book is meant to bring the reader another viewpoint of how someone of a particular race has predetermined definition as to what they should be or should not be. How Europeans have ‘named’ or implied that white is a symbol of pure where black is a symbol of evil and how a person will relate their race to the color itself when it has nothing to do with each other. I found this quoted portion to point out exactly what that means and how I processed this excerpt in my mind:

“When a Colored African kid constantly wears black t-shirts, or declares color black as her favourite color, but also, she thinks she’s being proud of not only her favourite color, but also, herself in herself by herself. This is even made clearer when 2010 Miss South Africa, Bokang Montjane, and 2011 Miss South Africa representative at Miss Universe in Brazil, answered a question as to what animal, if she was one, she’d have liked to be and why. She sadly said that she’d love to be a ‘panther’ because it was sexy and black like her; a proud black woman. What exactly did she mean? What’s the relationship between her blackness and the blackness of the panther? Nothing, absolutely nothing! It is only the sound of the word blackness. But she, like everyone else, is buying into the idea innocently. This is a sorry state of affairs that is real, contemporary but disempowering, emasculating, sissifying.”

In the preface of Is Black’ Really Beautiful? it seemed as if the read would refer to a particular experience and then go into what would be considered supporting research related to that experience. I found that this book was very complex and wasn’t what I had expected. In my opinion, the vocabulary used was extreme and some words were over-used. I do not feel that using ‘big’ words really emphasizes the point the author is trying to make. I would have enjoyed this book much more if it were written in more laymen’s terms. Personally, running to a dictionary several times throughout a paragraph is not only distracting but it removes the joy and makes it very hard to want to continue.

Set aside the fact of the writing style of Kuir, I found this quoted portion below to be a perfect example of how many people will take to their “color”-ness to place themselves in a position of authority or superiority over someone of another color or race. (I did have to re-read this several times to fully process the point, but to me makes perfect sense, if that even makes sense.)

“To make matters worse, the sense of self, loss and confusion are engendered by the fact that the supposed inferiors are able to do things the superior can’t do. The superior self can’t come to terms with the fact that he’s either equal to the inferior, or the inferior, in some cases, is even superior to the superior.”

I have come to the conclusion that in Is ’Black’ Really Beautiful?, many people can really identify with what Kuir is saying, even if they don’t ever admit it out loud — how easy it is to teach (or preach) your children that you must defend your “blackness” because many throughout the world view black to be a negative color. This automatically means to some that they must associate ‘black’ people with the color black. It all makes perfect sense, if you can make sense of it all while you are reading.

I feel like more emphasis should have been placed on the experiences of the author and more relatable scenarios rather than the majority of the book being so complex. It was a lot for my mind to comprehend. There were lots of citing and lots of quotes that reminded me of a term paper. Some pages were more difficult than others and then, all of a sudden, there were more down-to-earth thoughts of the author.

Nonetheless, Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?: Dehumanizing and Intentional Ethics of Descriptions and Vilifying Philosophies of Naming by Kuir ë Garang represents something that all people should consider: How ridiculous it really is to associate yourself with any color, literally. It is amazing how many people, (all happen to be humans – imagine that!) can affect the thoughts and actions and direct a certain race to meet or exceed the expectations that some random ding dong sets. We take this info and feed it to our children. Every single chapter is thought-provoking and it is real and factual. No matter if you like the subject, it is real and it is happening — every day, everywhere.

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About Jennifer Hass

  • Gabrial Canada

    It is an odd idea to forcibly associate people of color with a color. I think there is a very similar analogue within indigenous communities associating with red. I think tying ourselves to somekind of literal chromatic scale is like grabbing a color chart at a paint store to draw a definition of beauty and that is flawed. But I do think black is and can be beautiful. I think we shouldn’t feel as though black people shouldn’t be allowed to associate black as a favorite color it just shouldn’t be considered culturaly universal or normative.