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Kuir ë Garang

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Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful? The identity of the African Person
by Kuir ë Garang   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, April 20, 2013
Posted: Saturday, April 20, 2013

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The statement ‘Black Is Beautiful’ is always proudly flaunted by Africans and people of African descent. This simple sentence has been so much vested with power of pride so much so that the possibility that such a statement could mean something negative, and racially counterproductive, is never contemplated.

So when I ask people questions such as “Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?” the immediate answer I get is YES. However, this statement and its ‘yes’ answer have always bothered me. I’ve tried as much as I can to understand the meaning and the idea behind the statement. The more I tried to understand to get used to it, the more I realized the repulsive implications and the more I realized that the people who utter the statement don’t actually think much about it.

People utter it as a question of conventional conformity and tradition enforced from without. Asked what the statement means, these people either don’t know the meaning of what they utter or they scratch their heads, lost and confused.

‘Black Is Beautiful?’ means nothing if not well explained contextually; and in most cases, it’s never explained.  It even undermines the same people it’s supposed to elevate, racially speaking.  This statement, for those fond of it, actually reduces a whole race to a mere color devoid of human values.  Well, this color is vested with values! This is something I find strange and troubling.

However, those who use the statement would want to convince us that ‘Black Is’ Beautiful’ is meant to convey the fact that people of African descent, or Africans, are beautiful. Or more appropriately, the meaning intended is that the skin pigmentation of Africans and people of African descent is beautiful. This sounds about right because the assumption here is that ‘black’ is used as a metaphor or symbolism for the African Person. An identity of people as symbolism is even more troubling. The identity should be plain and ungrudging.

I don’t have any problem with the ‘black symbolism’ as long as ‘black’ is used as a metaphor. However, ‘black’ is not only used as a metaphor. It’s been used to forge a proud identity from the very essence of Africanness. We have black consciousness movement in apartheid South African, the Black Panther, Black Entertainment Television…etc.

Even when someone mocks blackness as a color in itself (not as applied to people), Africans and people of African descent feel offended. I don’t know when I’m allowed to see a difference between blackness of the color black per se and blackness of the Africans and people of African descent? When people say a black cat is a sign of black luck, Africans and people of African descent feel offended. I get confused. We are talking about a black cat and this cat is literally black not figuratively black. These people don’t see blackness only as a figurative description; they’ve owned blackness and see it as who they are literally.

‘Black’ has come to mean African and African meaning Black. People have become so lost in the ontic of their color that they don’t see the difference between who they are and the color that describes them.

Black is a description used by others to describe Africans and people of African descent. People have become their color and their color has become them. Black is no longer seen as a figurative, derogatory and childish description. That one can separate ‘blackness’ and Africanness makes some people wonder.

This wonder results from the loss of internal ingenuity in the African Person. Everything for and about the African Person comes and is enforced by outsiders.  Names and derogatory debasement of the whole humanity of the people have been accepted with remarkable resignation. The fact that blackness was used as an anti-thetical positioning of the African Person on the opposite side of Europeaness has been either forgotten or accepted out of powerlessness. A proud entity has been forged, by the African Person, out of that damning biblical blackness.

‘Whiteness,’ which now means Europeaness, was an elevation of the European Person while Blackness was a debasement of the African Person. The description itself is not bad for each and every race has a knack for self-elevation. What is bad is an attempt by the African Person to either own blackness or to see Africanness and blackness as one and the same.

Instead of African people saying ‘I am Beautiful’ as an elevation of a sense of self and beauty, the African Person is so lost to the point that she praises her description. She prides in her description. And this description is by no means glorious! It’s an outside imposition; an imposition that was meant to mock her; to place her in a position that’s grotesque and undesired.

So, ‘Black Is Beautiful’ is an elevation of a description of the African person, not an elevation of the African Person. Blackness doesn’t capture human traditions, values, cultures, intellectual development and the essence of Africanness. Reducing or equating a whole race of people to a mere color is the worst that can be done to a human population. However, these mad descriptions were understandable during colonialism, slavery, segregation, apartheid, or now, with radically racist people.

The words African, Sudanese, Senegalese, Jamaican, African-American, Haitian, Bahamian, Trinidadian and so forth, have so much respect attached to them in terms of traditions and human values. They represent, not describe people. These words are full of meaning. I hear Jamaica and my mind goes straight to vibrant people with traditions and values. I hear ‘African-Americans’ and I see ingenious people with values and traditions. I hear ‘Black People’ and I’m stuck with emptiness and intellectual loss. To reduce these proud people to a mere color is terrible; socially detrimental.

I want people with respectable import, to see themselves as separate from their describing color. When we say ‘Black is Beautiful,’ is it the blackness of Barack Obama or blackness of Kuir ë Garang, or that of Soledad O’Brien? We don’t look the same color-wise so why should we be described by the same color? What is common among the three of us is not blackness; it’s the African blood in all of us. To reduce our human connection to a mere color is a terrible offence. However, we’ve become so used to being mocked and described that to question such things sounds like some martial hermeneutic.

So, “Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?” No! But you are beautiful! Never say ‘Black is Beautiful!’ Just say ‘I am Beautiful!’ Beauty is a quality of individuals not a quality of a Race. And beauty should not be sought in descriptions, but in the people per se.  


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Reviewed by jt
Beauty, I think is defined as the property which accords desirability to an object notwithstanding lack of utility. As a color or shade, black is as desirable as any other colour, be it for living(Take pets, for example) or nonliving things(In fact, in many cases, black is the most popular color!). It so happened that the people to whom we got attracted were (rather still are) fair skinned. We are in effect considering fair skin as something to be sought after because that happens to be the skin of people we want to follow.
It is rather easy to see why we want to follow those fair skinned, everything good is associated with them, be it health, wealth or happiness due to the improvements in lifestyle, environment, technological advances,
How come everything good is associated with them though historically it was not so, is another interesting question, the answer to which may be contained in the answer to the question, "why industrial revolution took place in the west"
Reviewed by Kuir Garang
Thank you Ronald for your thoughtful views.

I recently published a book with the same title: Is' Black' Really Beautiful? In the book I tried to separate people from the color that has been used to describe them. I've applied this line of thought to both Africans and Europeans. For example, whiteness is a 'description' of the Europeans not the essence of who they are; and 'blackness' isn't Africanness. It's a description of the Africans; a description from without.

I understand that when people say 'Black is Beautiful'they mean to say 'I am beautiful' or 'Africans are Beautiful' or 'African-Americans are beautiful.'

What unnerves me is when people of African descent and Africans go to the extent of owning 'blackness'; seeing who they are and the color itself as one and the same. When they say 'black is beautiful' they not only say 'we are beautiful' they are also saying the color black is beautiful. So when someone says that a 'black cat' is a sign of bad luck, Africans and people of African descent feel offended. But why? The blackness of the cat and their blackness aren't the same. One is literal and one is metaphorical or symbolic. Their anger stems from the fact that they've completely owned blackness and they become defensive of the 'color' itself. Owning blackness comes with the risk of owning all the bad baggage that comes with it.

I've argued in the book that 'blackness' is only a description and it's not who they are.Instead of glorifying blackness; which isn't all the time beautiful,and which wasn't intended to glorify them, they should glorify who they are. How about Jamaicans are beautiful? Haitians are beautiful? African-Americans are beautiful? Ghanians are beautiful?

It's okay to describe people color-wise, as long as one considers their humanity and values when describing them; however, it's a perilous disservice to reduce the HUMANITY of the people to a mere color; a color that's isn't actually representative or glorifying.

Cheers and have a good weekend.

Reviewed by Ronald Hull
A very well thought out and constructive article. After working with the Afro American community in higher education over thirty years, there seems to be discrimination and great concern about the color of one's skin that is not prevalent in those of us of European descent who look more at ethnic origin for our discrimination.

The guy in the black hat somehow is mean or evil, and the guy in the white hat is the hero. Black cats are feared because they may cause us bad luck. All sorts of connotations of badness surrounds the people of the African continent, the dark continent.

It's all a matter of trying to gain self-esteem. To say, “Black is beautiful,” is really no different from Christina Aguilara singing, “You are beautiful, no matter what they say.” In my experience, people from the African continent that I have met have the highest self-esteem. Those here in the United States with a very mixed heritage, still have the stigma of slavery hanging over them and for some reason, often lack the self-esteem they need to move forward.

Just a few thoughts on your well-written article.

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