Black Is, Black Ain't

Black Is, Black Ain't

Can our beauty stop being looked at through a white lens?

Published May 16, 2011

In a perfect world, "because I'm Black, bastard/fool/fill-in-the-insult" would be a sufficient answer for many questions.


But the world is not perfect, so too often when we're asked to explain the daily necessity of body lotion, the appeal of hair grease, why straight hair doesn't automatically equate with a longing for Whiteness, and other Black in-the-knows, we either have to sigh and shrug it off or take a lot of time to explain something that should warrant little chit chat.


Unless you're Rihanna. So when a dissatisfied fan tweeted that she wondered why Rihanna's hair looked "nappy," the singer tweeted back, "Because I'm Black, b---h!" I'm no great fan of Rihanna's not-infrequent Twitter outbursts (especially when they involve Ciara), but for this one I wanted to stand up and applaud her. It was rude and insulting...and perfect.


The fan went on to do a lot of fanciful backtracking, claiming that nappy hair had nothing to do with being Black and that all she was saying was that Ri had picked up a particularly plastic-looking pack of weave hair. There are countless words to write about the state of nappiness and the very usage of the word: Is it an insult? Is it an adjective that is neither positive or negative, but merely a description? Is it a fighting word? Is it something to take pride in, a reason to be, as bell hooks told us in the title of her children's book, "happy to be nappy"?


Nappy debates aside, here's why "because I'm Black" was the most appropriate answer, and one that we all should take to saying: Because the world, or at least the world in these 50 states, sets white beauty practices and white beauty as the norm. Marcia Brady brushed her hair 50 times a night and so should we was the implication; magazines declare that you should be naughty and skip a day between washing your hair (leading many a Black woman to get sideways glances from co-workers who don't understand that nothing about her hair requires daily washing); and lip plumpers and hair volumizers are marketed to us as if the entire world is dealing with limp tresses and miniscule puckers.


Sometimes it is, to quote many a T-shirt and college student's button, a Black thing. Which is what lifts Rihanna's comeback out of the realm of bitchy celebrity snark and into something unintentionally revolutionary. Maybe if we, and every other race of people, start to accept that our beauty, beauty vocabulary ("nappy" being just one example) and beauty practices are not derivative of any other group's, we can stop having so many of these discussions. And Twitter and blogs and other spots both online and off won't have to be where we shut down the need to debate our looks.



(Photo: Franck Prevel/Getty Images)

Written by Ayana Byrd


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