Lupita: Black Beauty's Intimate Revolution

So many black women have an intimate relationship with rejection when it comes to their own beauty. That relationship has a legacy that walks with them today.
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"I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful, I got teased and taunted about my night shaded skin and my one prayer to God... was that I would wake up lighter skinned." Lupita, in flawless white, shared her struggles with her skin color and beauty during her acceptance speech after winning an award at Essence magazine's 7th annual 'Black Women in Hollywood' awards luncheon. Post-Oscar, Lupita Nyong'o, the new Hollywood It girl continues to be a focus for all things fashion, fresh and fierce. We've seen a plethora of articles about Lupita's beauty -- it's affirmation for chocolate girls, it's expanding the all too narrow definitions of black beauty and has created excitement over her beauty, her being on front covers, fashion's red carpet and Facebook pages the world over. I join everyone else seeking and finding endless fly shots of Ms Lupita in a myriad of poses each one more gorgeous than the next, none seeking to change her deep chocolate complexion but honoring that shade with shine and swag. Like so many others I post captions to those images and watch all the reposts and shares.

We've also seen a plethora of articles that sound the alarm of suspicion about the white gaze on this chocolate beauty, and the suspicion of an acceptance for a blackness that has long navigated the territory of rejection within white and black society. There is value to that suspicion, to the critique that her body, her beauty is being obsessed over in a way that speaks to the deep roots of a history of ogling, prodding and poking black women's bodies. There is that, and that is an important focus and much had conversation.

And there is another conversation. Between and about black women and men. Lupita's beauty opens up wounds as well as wonder for black folk. Her beauty is a trigger for so many of us -- black women and men. Today, Lupita's beauty is globally embraced, ooohed and aaahed over. When we see the words 'beauty,' 'gorgeous,' 'beautiful' and 'flawless,' what memories' or narratives does that global celebration trigger? I want to start another conversation.

So many black women have an intimate relationship with rejection when it comes to their own beauty. That relationship has a legacy that walks with them today. Their beauty is unseen, unacknowledged, ignored and condemned within their own community, as well as white society. And there is the suspicion that black men' oohing and aahing over Lupita's beauty does not reflect their actual taste. Lupita is not who they date, would have dated, who they choose or have chosen or considered as their chosen chick. The silent accusation is black men are being dishonest in their celebration of Lupita, they are simply joining a global bandwagon that long ago left the station. Some will say this is black women's issue, that brothers do indeed find Lupita beautiful. That may be their truth, the suspicion that it is not, remains. It may also be our truth, the manifestation of our personal experience on the receiving end of that rejection, of society's ignoring of brown skinned black women.

We may want to say other things. We may want to tell black men that years of watching them choose women who do not look like us, and hearing that you are simply not someone's preference took a toll. We may want to quote scholar and producer Dr Yaba Blay, 'there is a fine line between preference and pathology.' We may want to talk about our yearning to be seen, not just to be acknowledged -- but to be seen, to also be adored. We may want to say family space was the first home for traumas around our beauty. We may be ashamed that words spoken to us, behavior we experienced when we were girls on school playgrounds, in friends' homes, followed us into womanhood, haunt us still and shape how we move. But, we don't say that. We call each other out. Our misdirected hurts are clearly articulated as thesis and theory. One day, they may be around the politics of fetishizing black women and why it is particularly problematic for any black man to call Lupita a fetish. On another day, we bring statistics and studies to the table. On another we demonstrate the extent of these issues via important historical research. We are not wrong. It is just that this is not our only truth.

Lupita is currently the chosen one, adored by and adorned in fashion's chosen few. Being chosen for her skin and her hair is a healing gesture for so many black women. It also opens some black women's wounds, thinly bandaged emotional keloids. For some, Lupita is almost a profound vindication. We are seen and adored, because she is seen and adored. Lupita's speech at Essence about rejection and yearning to be seen, yearning to be acknowledged is a familiar prayer and wish for so many chocolate skinned black women. These are our politics of emotionality. I call it 'emotional justice' -- a willingness to see how emotionality shapes how we move. This emotionality may sometimes be the foundation of a conversation we define or describe as political -- and sometimes because of that misdirection -- that conversation becomes cyclical.

Emotionality is negated, derided, dismissed so we clear no room to articulate the personal wounds that the celebration of Lupita's beauty triggers. Instead some black women and black men wrap those wounds and that emotionality in a particular politics that is progressive, radical and, in some ways, safer space. This misdirection means TV segments or blog postings where we rail at each other and about each other. Some of the critique is fair. Some of it is not. This is not about that. We won't speak truth to our own untreated trauma, the legacy of that trauma and how it has shaped how we move, write, walk and deal with each other.

Lupita's beauty is -- in many ways -- exceptional. Lupita's body conforms to Hollywood's -- and fashion's -- definition of fly. Beauty has nothing to do with democracy, it is not fair space. Black beauty has been and is a space of privilege, power, pain with deep historical roots. The cancer of complexion means Lupita occupying a space of privilege, usually reserved for the Halles, Rhianna's, Beyonces also triggers hard conversations for some black women who have occupied this space, and may be feeling dethroned in ways they are unwilling to voice. We carry shame about how black beauty provokes us, so are reluctant to make such honest admissions for fear of judgment. Walking into black beauty space is entering contested territory, inching through a battleground, colliding with casualties from that battleground, and confronting so many of us who fight that pain with our politics. And so we move. In circles and cycles.

Black women could do something else. Black men could do something else. We could create space to make peace on black beauty's battleground. That means 'emotional justice.' It means holding conversations around privilege, power and pain; the ways in which the cancer of complexion has created specific spaces that are now feeling momentarily disrupted by Lupita's beauty and what that triggers for some lighter skinned black women. We already own how Lupita's being and beauty offers healing, we could also own how it triggers our untreated trauma. We could deal with the living legacy of that untreated trauma. We could tell our scar stories, in order to transform this space. We could do that work. That could be black beauty's intimate revolution. Imagine.

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