The Standards of Beauty When She’s “Just Black”

I’m walking through a busy train station and a man stops me to tell me that he thinks I’m beautiful. Now I’m not one of those women who don’t know how to take a compliment, so I smiled and said “Thank you,” but before I can continue walking he asks me, “what are you?” I’m a bit confused by this question so I’m looking at him like what do you mean? He responses “are you mixed with something?” Tired of these types of questions I said, “I’m just black.” Meaning that I am Black American. 

Nothing to see here….just being black. Whatever that means.

If I had a buck for every time a man asked me “What are you?” as if I’m some foreign creature after giving me a compliment…I’d probably be able to pay off my student loans and believe me, that’s a lot of money. But every single time a man…mainly a black man gives me a compliment on my hair, my skin, my eyes, or my figure…it’s immediately followed by “what are you?” My response is always “I’m just black.” They never believe me for some reason so they start throwing out nationalities as if my answer of being “just black” is going to change. “You Jamaican?” “No.” “You Haitian?” “No.” “You African?” “No…I’m just black.” It’s as if I have to be something other than just black…meaning Black American in order for their compliments to be validated. Why can’t all the things that make me beautiful be okay on a just black woman? What does “just black” look like anyway for it to be unbelievable that I am? It’s bad enough that black women have to put up with European beauty standards as is, but why do I get a disappointed “oh” when they finally accept that I’m just black. It made me realize that the beauty standards in the black community, amongst the black community, within the black community are just as bad as European expectations and it’s usually rooted in biases that comes with one’s nationality.


Perplexed by this and curious, I brought the topic up to a male friend and he was confused at first because his idea of “just black” was the same as mine. I’m not mixed with anything nor am I a first generation of any other cultural background therefore, I identify as “black,” but when I told him the scenario, the multiple scenarios of me being asked “what are you,” he had some sort of an “ah ha” moment because as a Jamaican man he realized what I meant by being a “just black” woman. According to him, as a West Indian man, there is a stereotype or a stigma attached to women who are just black. For whatever reason, he claimed that most men of other cultural backgrounds usually prefer to date within their culture because there is a negative view when it comes to the upbringing and the mannerisms of “just black” women. He painted the picture of a just black woman as a LL Cool J type of ghetto around the way girl as if she’s loud, unappealing and difficult….clearly I’m far from all of that so I was a bit bewildered, but I can’t say that I’m surprised. African American women have been at the bottom of the totem pole for as long as we’ve existed despite all of our accomplishments and magic. Within our own culture, we are often victims of shadism, we deal with backlash because of our nationalities, etc. In conclusion, he said that maybe I looked approachable, unlike most black women.

This brought me to my next question. I looked “approachable unlike most black women,” what do most black women look like and how do you make a clear distinction of someone’s nationality just by looking at them? I wondered how am I supposed to look? The point is, as a unit…as people of color…as the essence of blackness, we have to do better. We have to do better in-house and change the way we view each other because we are a powerful people and it doesn’t matter if you are Jamaican, Haitian, African or just black. The standards of your blackness doesn’t change just because your nationality is different and of course because black is beautiful.

The video above is one of Tiffany “New York” Pollard expressing her issues with colorism after being offended by a remark made by someone on the same show as her. She said something that’s stood out to be since seeing this clip months ago. She said:

If you are going to stand in it [blackness], stand in it in ALL shades.

That statement alone summed up exactly how I feel when a “BLACK” person, regardless of nationality fixes their lips to speak down on another black sub-nationality. Yes, take pride in being African, take pride in being West Indian, but you are also black so take pride in standing in that as well.

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