congratulations on winning an oscar for your role in 12 years a slave! like many black women, i got chills when they called your name for best supporting actress and cried with you during your heartfelt acceptance speech. while you’re an amazing actress with ivy league training, it’s not your profession that has so many of us celebrating your presence. it’s the fact that you’re a black woman, with dark skin and natural hair and despite or shall i say because of these things, you now exist at the epicenter of what’s been denied similar women for far too long — beauty.
most black women become aware of the unwritten rules about beauty when we’re very young. i remember being in elementary school when i was rubbing my pudgy stomach and a lighter friend told me how “black” it was with a look of disgust. i was in middle school when one of the popular girls in school walked around class and measured the width of our noses, an exercise in determining our attractiveness. i was in college when walking to class, a stranger loudly recommended that i quickly find shade so i wouldn’t get any darker. i was in grad school when i was told (for the 25th time) that i was “pretty for a dark skinned girl.” microaggressions like these become a dark-skinned black woman’s rite of passage — universal experiences that leave us feeling ugly and undervalued.
in light of these experiences, imagine how our hearts leaped when the mainstream media deemed you a beauty icon in the making, an honor usually reserved for the beyonces and zoe saldanas of the world. amazingly, you didn’t have to pander to negative stereotypes to get recognized, instead you came to the world’s attention as a thoughtful, witty, beautiful and talented woman. while your presence doesn’t eradicate a history of white supremacy and patriarchy or black women’s subordination, it certainly represents a challenge to the dominate group’s authority to restrict our wholeness.
thank you lupita for recognizing what you mean to us and your willingness to be open about struggling to fight the same standard of beauty that your presence now works to debunk. your existence tells little brown girls who fight to embrace their beauty that it cannot be denied.
with sisterly love,
a little brown girl