How Black Women on Tumblr Continue to Bust the White Beauty Myth

by Kesiena Boom

A pervasive lie about Black women, perpetuated mainly by white women, states that we want to be white. When we relax our hair, or get weaves, or talk “proper,” or read books, we are doing so because we wish we were born white. We are so dissatisfied with our Blackness that we long for whiteness and the supposed perfection that it entails.

Let’s get it clear: This is straight up bullshit. White women may hold racial privilege over us, but that doesn’t mean we are sobbing into our silk pillows at night, dreaming of the unachievable goal of whiteness. Do we long for the equality and visibility that is defaulted to white folks? Absolutely. Does this equate to physically wanting to be white? Hell no. Contrary to the popular white imagination, we as people of colour are not enthralled and enchanted by them. What we are enamoured with is the idea of one day living in a system that grants us our humanity.
Black women are painfully aware of the Eurocentric beauty standards that are held over our heads. We know we will never be what the white man deems the epitome of beauty. But who cares what he thinks anyway? The world may accept white mens’ word as gospel, but we as Black feminists do not and have never done so.

In honour of Black History Month, I have been looking to the wisdom of Black feminists of the past. Over thirty years ago in 1981, the seminal feminist text, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Colour, was published. One of the most striking essays in the text is “The Pathology of Racism: A Conversation with Third World Wimmin” by Doris Davenport. In it she expounds upon the ways in which Black women have seen past the myth of white women’s superior beauty, and how—far from feeling deep seated jealousy of white women—we actually feel a sense of pity towards them.

Whilst society may have told them that their ivory skin and straight hair and thin bodies are perfect, Black women see their lack of melanin as “unaesthetic,” their hair as “stringy,” and their figures “ misshapen lumps of whitish clay or dough, that somebody forgot to mold in certain areas.” Davenport’s wry take on the aesthetics of white women are not really about them at all. She is not saying “All white women are ugly. The end.” Rather she is reminding us that beauty is subjective, beauty is a construct, and beauty is a lie. She is emphasising the fact that we can choose to see each other differently. Just because the white world tells us to be dazzled, doesn’t mean we have to shield our eyes. We can open them up and see the truth: We are beautiful too. We always have been, and we always will be.

Fast forward decades to the present day and the prominence of the Internet in our lives is undeniable. The movement to take ownership of our unique beauty comes less from game-changing essays such as Davenport’s and more from sites such as Tumblr, a vastly popular microblogging platform. Here, scores of Black women and non-binary folk follow each others’ lives, post selfies, art, essays, reflections, poems, and more about being Black, beautiful, and proud.

We do this to bring ourselves up after a lifetime of being pushed down. We affirm each other and remind ourselves that the lily white representations of attractiveness that we are fed through mainstream media is just propaganda weaved from white supremacy and neo-liberalism, rather than a mirror of truth. These blogs serve as the consciousness raising circles of today. Information about the realities of racism today and in the past are disseminated, interspersed with tales from our personal lives. This blend of formal/informal makes the experience captivating and compelling. We are able to contextualise the micro-aggressions we face in the wider context of racist systems. Black Tumblr gives us the tools to not only love ourselves, but to understand the fight we’re in.

Black Tumblr is not only a place of learning, but of in-jokes, tips about everything from hair care to relationships, and most importantly, a dismissal of whiteness. In this space whiteness is decentered and forgotten, unless evoked to critique or deconstruct. Exposure to reams and reams of images of beautiful Black women with natural hair and glowing skin, living that Carefree Black Girl life are nourishing pivotal to self-acceptance. Personally, it is only with the help of following so many brilliant Black people on Tumblr that led me to let go of the last vestiges of internalised anti-Blackness that stopped me from embracing myself as I truly am. If the mainstream will not give us the representations of ourselves that we need to self actualise, then we must make them ourselves.

And damn it, we’ve done a pretty good job.

Here is a list of selected Tumblrs for your daily dose of Black Excellence. Who do you follow on Black Tumblr for inspiration and community?

Mochaccino Prince$:
Evolution of a Queen:
Diaspora Drama Zine:
Melanin Collective:
Evan Ifekoya:
Very Femme and Anti-Fascist:
Shades of Green:
Brown Gyul in the Ring:
Rudy Loewe:
Gradient Lair:

Photo: Shutterstock

Kesiena Boom is a Black lesbian feminist and writer who adores Audre Lorde, sisterhood, and the sociology of sexuality. She is twenty years old. She is a regular contributor at For Harriet and You can tweet at her via @KesienaBoom.

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