feature: faces- finding the glory of black skin in all its hues (philmore)

September 26, 2016

The model for this painting was chosen because he has some of the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen. It is rich with pigment, and reflects the light in the most captivating way. I instantly noticed him in the front row of a talk I was giving. It is strange to me how anyone could not see the beauty in his skin, and yet sadly there are people who would insist that it is somehow inferior to other colors. Back when I was a little girl I went to a school where I was one of a handful of black students. I remember overhearing a group of older girls talking one day. One “complimented” the other on a recent sunbathing session. She said “Nice tan! Are you trying to turn black now?” They all laughed. In that moment it felt as if there was some sort of secret they all knew that black girls didn’t. My reaction to her sentence was confusing at the time. I recognized a duality in her words. On one hand she genuinely liked her friend’s newly acquired pigment, which made her even darker than me, an actual person of color. But on the other hand there was level of disgust which permeated the compliment. A joke. At that moment I learned the very distinct line that exists in our culture. One which made the girl’s tan skin “beautiful” but mine “undesirable”. Over the years I’ve learned that “in context” brown is beautiful to our society. It is safe, and comforting. It is our coffee, our chocolate, our expensive leather and our rich soil. It is prized until it is coupled with black features or black culture, at which point it becomes “otherness”. What is different is almost always ostracized. Now this does not go just one way. I’ve seen white people in predominantly black settings who have been singled out for their otherness. I recently attended a party where there was one white guest. She was the punchline of many race related jokes and referred to as “white-girl”. I thought to myself, how terrible it is to be a person who has experienced racism and then turns around and dishes it out to another. When we sink to this level, we nullify all the good those before us worked so hard to accomplish. Now I understand how people come to this point. It is hard being a person of color. There are day-to-day challenges on economic, social and systemic levels. We all internalize our experiences in one way or another. Some of us let it poison us and embitter our very core. However, the challenge is to take those painful experiences and turn them around for something good. Such a change can come in many forms. For me it has been a lifelong process of hearing “black is not beautiful” from the world around me, but rejecting that idea and fighting to change it.

By Julia Douglas, AFROPUNK Contributor

Oil on canvas
Julia Douglas