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Let’s get this straight:  yes, it’s rare for someone who looks like Lupita Nyong’o to capture the Hollywood spotlight.  However, don’t dare fall into the trap of thinking that someone who looks like her … is actually rare.

Nyong’o is gorgeous.  But not because Hollywood said so, and dare I say, her brand of beauty is not unique to just her.  She didn’t look like the rest of the folks on the red carpet, but the kind of beauty she possesses is all around us.  So, why aren’t YOU recognizing it?

It’s been frustrating at times to watch Nyong’o get all this attention during the Hollywood awards season.  She is well deserving of every bit of praise for her talent and fashion sense, but the narrative often created about her looks is that she’s beautiful, despite her skin tone.  In other words, “wow, who knew a woman that black could be that beautiful?!”  And, we all bought in.  People constantly pointed out that she flies in the face of established norms about beauty, including black beauty: lighter is better and long, straight, flowing hair is preferred.

Our challenge is to realize, embrace, and be confident in beauty like Nyong’o’s before being told it’s OK.  Nyong’o was gorgeous before the Oscars, and she’ll be gorgeous long after people forget how to pronounce her name.  Why should it take anyone outside of our community to validate that for us?

It’s a common refrain:  we look outside of our communities and ourselves for validation of our beauty, our intelligence, our talent, our ability, our worth.  We too often measure ourselves by a standard that other people set for us.  As long as we do that, we will continue to sell ourselves short.  That’s why I’m uncomfortable giving Hollywood or the mainstream too much credit for acknowledging something that many of us have been aware of for quite some time: dark-skinned sistas and yes, our African sistas are gorgeous too.

History can’t be denied.  Present-day ideas about beauty can be traced back to the slave trade and negative associations with dark skin.  Even within the black community, colorism exists.  That’s not something we can get past overnight.  But we need perspective and awareness as we wait for someone else’s stamp of approval before celebrating who we are.

I don’t think we’re naive enough to view Nyong’o’s newfound celebrity as an outright, unabashed acceptance of dark-skinned women.  Chances are, we’re seeing the acceptance of ONE dark-skinned woman.  But, we can’t wait for the next one to come along and be accepted or the next one or the next one.  Acknowledgement and acceptance has to come from us.

Often, when a black person gains mainstream acceptance or success, he or she is put into a category by those outside of our community as being the exception, i.e. “He’s not like those other black folks.  He’s OK.”

My fear is that Lupita Nyong’o and her beauty will fall into that category: many will view her as an anomaly among women that dark.  No, she’s not.  For many of us who have adored women of all hues for a long time, Lupita Nyong’o is not the exception … she’s the rule.

The Darker The Berry…
20 photos

12 thoughts on “Whose Black is Beautiful? Don’t Let Mainstream America Be the Judge

  1. Marquees on said:

    We are gorgeous dark skin people. Not just women but men as well. I know this is not the popular word exception however I was also an exception – being a dark and lovely person. Men would not have given me a third look if I didn’t carry myself with such respect for myself and to
    see the beauty and class and I had within me because real beauty comes from within and shines to the view of everyone.

  2. TJ It felt good to see you on my TV this weekend! I follow you everywhere (except on Twitter…sorry)….always enlightening….and nice…

  3. Time will eventually tell….but what I’m wondering is if Lupita’s Oscar will afford her future movie, and TV roles; or if this is just a temporary fade?? I hope not…..I hope great roles will come her way

    • Lupita is a legitimately talented actor, if she doesn’t continue to receive work we already know what that’s about! Hollywood is Hollywood, there are incredible black actresses that have been in the game and unfortunately still don’t get the work that they deserve.

  4. Diane Freeman on said:

    Well said T.J. I agree with every word of your commentary. We are the last to acknowledge our beauty and greatness as a people, but are very quick to tear each other down because of our skin tone and just in general. As a dark-skinned African-American woman, I can’t tell you how many times you feel like you are the exception and not the rule, because of comments like, “you are so pretty, to be dark.”
    One day, we will get past the issue of RACE and skin tone in this country, and it will not matter what color you are, but until then, it is up to us to instill in our children their beauty and self-worth.

    • Diane…….your response to the article is spot on. Unfortunately, in too many cases it has been members of the black community that have found women with a darker hue lacking.

  5. iann11 on said:

    I wonder when are we going to evolve into people where we don’t have a need to talk about race. It seems like that’s all you hear now, light skinned this, dark skinned that, I could really explode about this issue. Why are we concerned about something we have no control over? Whatever your skin color is , live your life, for the love of God! This issue REALLY shows that we as human beings aren’t really advanced as we would like to think that we are. How come people can’t accept and celebrate who they are? Who gives a DAMN if you’re lighter than someone else, or if you’re darker than someone else????? Just live your God given life and reach for all of the joy that you can bring into your life. Skin color???? skin color???? really people??? really????

  6. Denise on said:

    Yes, TJ, sometimes we do accept what the mainstream gives us when it comes to beauty. But for those of us who are of a darker hue, we already know we are beautiful. We’re just waiting for the mainstream (and our own community) to catch up.

    Oh and Lupita is getting attention for all the fabulous clothes! She’s commanding the red carpet not only because of her physical beauty, but her amazing spirit.

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