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Black in America: Lupita and the Fetishism of Dark Skin

 

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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

The Story

I have thought long and hard about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it regarding Lupita Nyong’o’s wave of celebrity and viral admirations for her beauty. At first I smiled when she won her Oscar and appeared gorgeous and graceful on the red carpet. I felt touched and honored to hear her address what it means to be a dark skinned woman Black woman facing American standards of beauty. Then the social media channels began pouring Lupita mania. I saw aggressive declarations about her beauty and emotional postings about her being named One of People magazine’s most beautiful people. But something inside me didn’t cheer, it didn’t smile, it didn’t celebrate these things. Instead I felt suspicious and partly disgusted. It took a while for me to find the words to articulate why I felt this way…but I’ve found the words to express what I was feeling.

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Lupita Nyong’o is a Mexican born, Kenyan descendant who studied drama at the prestigious Yale University. Nyong’o lived in obscurity until 3 weeks before her Master’s degree commencement when she was cast in 12 Years a Slave.

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Nyong’o’s performance won her an Academy Award for her performance. And there begins the spectacle of Lupita. Luptia was acknowledged at teh Academy Awards, the Essence Awards, and through countless nominations. The media clung to Lupita and she was flawless. For me, it reminded me of what I felt when Barack Obama was on the campaign trail for the presidency and, subsequently, won. He did not have to look like me (because he doesn’t) and he didn’t have the same story as me (because he doesn’t) but it was the euphoric feeling of pride that he had accomplished all that he had accomplished without denying or refusing to acknowledge his Blackness. That is what I think Black women must feel watching Lupita and hearing her Essence speech about beauty, but there is so much more happening.

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Lupita’s speech was brave and admirable simply in the fact that she chose to say it and how eloquently she articulated it; however, America is not to be revolutionized to easily. Immediately following the clip of Lupita’s speech in the clip the news caster goes into a section of speaking about how Lupita’s speech was not jsut about race but about beauty in general. Actually, while I cannot speak for Lupita, I would say that Lupita’s speech was ONLY about race. The moments in which it is not about race is where White people want to partake of that moment and want to justify allowing her to say it.

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The mainstream which caters to the perspectives of the dominant group (White preferably rich and male) to make them accepting of things, decided to pollute Lupita’s revolutionary and courageous statement by saying that it was about “beauty in us all.” It clearly was not. The statement she made was specifically about dark skin in American standards of beauty. That kind of translation of Lupita’s message serves to neutralize the radical nature of her speech. It is the propaganda that the media perpetuates.

The problem is that while the media encourages us to praise Lupita’s beauty, we have not stopped to address the reason that her beauty is so special — as the son of a beautiful chocolate woman, I have seen beautiful dark skinned women all my life. Lupita is not the first. So what’s so wonderful and special here about this woman’s looks? Why is it wonderful that America is gasping at her breathtaking looks? The answer lies leaning our head just slightly to the left to get the other perspective.

It isn’t wonderful that Lupita, a dark skinned Black woman was allowed to grace the cover of People Magazine and was listed as one of People Magazine’s Most Beautiful People. That’s not the conversation worthy part. The part we should be talking about is why is she the 3rd Black woman to be on the cover of the magazine in the 25 years that the magazine has been doing their “Most Beautiful” issue?? It isn’t special that Lupita, a dark skinned Black woman is now a brand ambassador for Lancome. It’s that the company is 79 years old and Lupita is the first Black brand ambassador. WTF??y

The media would like to place Lupita on a pedastal and focus only on her dark skin and its “beauty” and the Black community eats up the coverage and becomes enamored with themselves so that all they see is that they are finally seeing something they had never seen before. The media is subliminally telling us that America has no problem with our race or dark skin and the Black community is believing that we are making progress. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The anchor Deborah Roberts manages to inject the truth in her recap of Lupita’s coverage when she states that this is “an open secret among Black women.” THAT is the problem. That it is an “open secret.” A secret that is well known by Black people, Black women specifically, that there is not love for dark skin in America (which is reflective of the fact that there is no love for Black people in America). Certainly there is an intrigue and fascination maybe even a fetish or lust for dark skin, but none of those things is the same as love and acceptance.

The Point

It was disturbing the way the media clung to Nyong’o featuring her on the covers of magazines and giving her a place in People Magazines most beautiful people list. What disturbed was the dishonesty of it. She was being used as propaganda to assert that America has come a long way in their representations of beauty and their acceptance of dark skin. But have they? Only with some passable exception have dark skinned Black people ever allowed to be considered beautiful. There has never been a mass mainstream acceptance of dark skin; it was about exoticism, fetish, and consumption. And here we are in 2014 and the notoriety of Lupita’s beauty is evidence that dark skin has still not been accepted in America.

So, it is not significant that Lupita is finding access into theses areas of mainstream favor that have previously been unavailable to Black women, especially dark skinned ones. It is significant that here we are in 2014 in what some posit to be a post-racial America and Black people are still celebrating mainstream firsts. Is that post racial or racially dismissive? There is a difference.

 

I’m not sayin: I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

 

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