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 have 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 realised the repulsive implications and the more I realised 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 colour devoid of human values. Well, this colour 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, are 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 had the black consciousness movement in apartheid South Africa, the Black Panther, Black Entertainment Television…etc.
Even when someone mocks blackness as a colour 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 colour 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 colour that they don’t see the difference between who they are and the colour that describes them.
Black is a description used by others to describe Africans and people of African descent. People have become their colour and their colour 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 a whole race 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 being of European descent, was an elevation of the European people while “Blackness” was a debasement of the African people.
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 people 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, most Africans praise the description. They pride in the description. And this description is by no means glorious! It’s an outside imposition; an imposition that was meant to mock; to place Africans in a position that is grotesque and undesired.
So, “Black is beautiful” is an elevation of a description of the African person, not an elevation. 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 colour is the worst that can be done to a human population. However, these mad descriptions were perpetrated during colonialism, slavery, segregation, apartheid, or now, by 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 am stuck with emptiness and intellectual loss. To reduce these proud people to a mere colour is terrible and socially detrimental.
I want people with respectable import, to see themselves as separate from their describing colour. We don’t look the same colour-wise so why should we be described by the same colour?
To reduce our human connection to a mere colour is a terrible offence. However, we have become so used to being mocked that we don’t even question it.
So, is black really beautiful? No! 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.
l Garang is a South Sudanese poet, author, publisher and artist living in Canada.