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This is an unorthodox presentation of Race, Color and Racism.
Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?:
Once in a while, there comes a book that questions people’s imaginations and accepted realities.
Kuir ë Garang’s new book, Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?: Dehumanizing and Intentional Ethics of Descriptions and Vilifying Philosophies of Naming, is a status quo defying book. It’s a book that presents the world through African lenses never before attempted. The book is humbling and calls for thick-skinned-ness in reading and understanding.
Now, if your answer to the question “Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?” is an immediate YES, then the author believes you’re innocently indoctrinated! You’re not alone though. Everyone else says so.
All of us were or are being educated in a Euro-standardized world so most of the things we learn are taken in without asking some ‘whys’ of the things we do. Whatever identity we have stems from the whims of the Europeans. And whatever social ills and definitions we have were coined by the Europeans. We tend to be powerless in the face of what they mean to us; not even questioning the essence of what their social implications could mean.
We don’t stop to think and ask ourselves: What exactly is ‘racism? How do you call someone who is proud of his or her Race? Does belief in god as conceptualized by the European missionaries undermine African humanity in the face of the world? Does the abandonment of African spirituality undermine the authentic Africanness? Why do Africans get upset when ‘Racist’ others insinuate that they (Africans) are chimps?
We don’t think much about these issues because Europeans have already done that for us. We’ve been named by Europe and we take the naming with grace. We’ve been grotesquely described by Europe and we smile the descriptions away. This has caused Africans to either reject their described selves, or the embracement of such grotesque descriptions.
Africa has lost its social ingenuity and embraced European social engineering. However, Africans still wonder why Europe doesn’t respect her? You can’t expect to be respected when you’ve disowned what you could have used to brag about? You can’t brag about someone else’s invention? You can’t expect to be respected for an identity you’ve disowned.
To be fair to the African Person and the person of African descent, the author uses Colored to describe Africans and people of African descent and Colorless to describe Europeans and people of Europeans descent. This is simple egalitarianism.
In, Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?, Kuir tries to defy this almost divinized state of affair in the world. When Africans and people of African descent utter the statement ‘Black is Beautiful!’ they don’t think well about both the meaning of the statement and the implication. Kuir argues that ‘Black is Beautiful’ is a stupefying expression that means nothing unless it’s well explained. However, those who believe ‘Black is Beautiful’ can be excused. What they actually mean to say is ‘I am beautiful’ or ‘Africans and people of African descent are beautiful?’ The poor African is qualifying her description not herself!
What they don’t realize, Kuir argues, is that ‘blackness’ isn’t who they are. It’s a color that has been used to describe them. However, because Africans have been led by Europe like children, they’ve adopted everything Europe decides for them. Africans therefore pride in the ‘color’ rather than Africanness. However, the innocence of the Africans, and the lack of African-originated social names has let Africans to embrace ‘blackness’ as their natural identity. Kuir reminds us that it’s you that is beautiful and not ‘black.’ Black is the color someone used to describe your skin. Africans can decide to name their skin in whatever color they choose. But Africans are too weak or afraid to question such euro-ingenuity. So embracing blackness isn’t to embrace yourself, it’s to embrace a vilifying description of you! Someone says this is who you should be and you say ‘yes sir!’
It’s not black that is beautiful, but you, not just your skin! Your skin should be what you say not what others say. However, the African is so confused by Europe that she thinks ‘black’ is her skin! Well, she/he doesn’t know what else to call it!
Some African-American religious leaders like Louise Farrakhan and Elijah Mohammed have gone to the extent of arguing that god is black; that god cannot create himself from darkness and comes out white (p.36).
To divinely authenticate blackness, Kuir argues, is to assume that blackness is one’s natural identity, not only a description. Pride is here being sought in the description rather than looking at the person as a whole and her skin itself. But the question is, if god is black, then is he ‘black’ like president Obama or is he black like Gabourey Sidibe? And when you say ‘Black is Beautiful? do you mean the ‘blackness’ like the ‘blackness’ of Solidad O’brien or Kuir ë Garang’s ‘Blackness’?
You can see that ‘Black is Beautiful? is a thoughtless statement that’s uttered because we hear it uttered! The author therefore separates ‘Blackness’ and Africanness; that is, he separates you from your describing color because that color isn’t you. Stop priding in your assumed color; pride in yourself. Say ‘I am beautiful’ not ‘Black is Beautiful!’ You shouldn’t be reduced to a color! You’re more than the simplicity of your color and the simple-mindedness of the describers!
This line of thought is also applied, in the book, to whiteness. Whiteness isn’t Europeaness. There is a distinction between Europeanness and whiteness. Priding in whiteness in the name of Europeanness is just like priding in a description.
Kuir also argues in the book that Africans who decry being called chimps are intellectually innocent. In the book, a number of things have been listed as reasons why an African should laugh at someone who calls an African a monkey or a chimp. The readers will realized that all human beings share in some form of monkeyness, however, as explained in the book, other races have more in common with chimps and monkeys than Africans. Some examples are straight hairs, lipless mouths, hairy bodies etc. It’s lack of imagination that makes Africans furious when called monkeys.
Kuir also redefines behaviours centered on Race. The author dismisses the standardized definition of ‘racism’ as being the ‘attitude of the powerful white men.’ This definition is, in itself, ‘Racist.’ It’s like saying that these men own almost everything even the RIGHT to discriminate! Racism is a universal attitude that shouldn’t be assumed owned by any section of the society. The author understands the historical reasons behind the definition; however, the reasons are innocently misleading and that they actually reinforce Racism in our society. He argues that ‘racism’ is a simple pride in one’s Race. Every Race has some form of pride in its own Race. Every Race has stories as to why they are better than other Races.
However, Kuir argues, how this ‘pride in one’s Race’ is used is all the difference. Some people pride in their Race but they don’t use such pride to put others down or to deny them life opportunities. Those who use their pride to put others down or deny them jobs, or even kill others because of their Race have radicalized their pride in their Race. The author uses ‘racism’ to mean a simple pride in one’s Race, and ‘Racism’ as a radicalized form of ‘racism.’
racism + Instigating Factors = Racism
The author boldly argues that racism isn’t necessarily bad; however, there are many factors that transform racism into Racism. Some of these instigating factors include hatred, inferiority, power and privilege, misconceptions etc. We are all basically racists but not all of us are Racists. A white man who denies an African a job with intention isn’t racist, he’s Racist. He’s used his pride in his Race plus instigating factors. He might not be Racists, because his attitude might have stemmed from lack of understanding of the African not bad intentions against the African. Racism is purposively and maliciously intended.
White Supremacists who are only proud of being ‘white’ without indulging in life-threatening acts or threats are only racists. That racist pride is healthy for them and benign for others. Those who intend to kill others (which the author argues stems from a sense of inadequacy, inferior feelings) have gone beyond the pride. They’ve radicalized their attitude from racism to Racism! Every colorless person (like all of us) is racist; only some are Racists. Many colorless people pride in their Race but they have no business hating others. They get along with others and even help other Races get ahead. These people still pride in being ‘white’; however, they are humble and decent people who don’t hate anyone. Radicalization of pride in one’s Race (racism) is the problem. Noting all the instigating factors would help in fighting Racism.
This is a book that will challenge the readers’ conventional understanding of many social issues related to Race and Color. It’s a book that will get us out of our monotonous Eurocentric world. It’s something new; something eye opening… something humbling and intended for ‘Colorless’ and ‘Colored’ readers.