Shade Queens: Changing Beauty Ideals and White Women's Hostility

by Ogechi Emechebe A few days ago, my friend and I were discussing the QVC controversy where two white hosts were accused of mocking a b...


by Ogechi Emechebe


A few days ago, my friend and I were discussing the QVC controversy where two white hosts were accused of mocking a black model’s afro. We were trying to figure out whether the hosts were really throwing shade, or was it bad timing that the camera panned on the model as they made a corny joke? As we delved further into the topic, my friend said regardless of what really happened, she’s not surprised at the situation.


“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m not going to jump to conclusions, it could have just been bad timing on the host’s part,” she said. “But it’s not uncommon for white women to mock and make derogatory comments about black women. It’s like they do that to raise themselves up while putting us down. I’ve experienced it quite often.”

I pondered on her statement for a bit. I could relate to what she was saying: I remember situations where white women would make sly comments about my hair, skin tone, or appearance all in “good faith,” but I knew there was much more to it. I had experienced them code switching at my presence numerous times. I walk into a room and it goes from “Hello!” to “HEY, GIRRRL!” with accompanying finger snaps.

No. Stop.

A page I follow on Facebook wrote this in response to the QVC incident:
Racist shade is the best kind of shade there is. It is usually done by the so-called ‘modern’ or ‘liberal’ ones who ‘have a black friend’ or who donate to UNICEF or who enjoy a Motown or Nicki Minaj song when they're out with their friends. But they never waste a moment to drop subtle cracks about your inferiority--especially the women.
The statement rang true to me. Historically, white women have been ascribed virtues of womanhood like beauty, purity, piety, etc. without earning it. They’ve been placed on the highest pedestal and protected by their male counterparts for centuries. Black women, on the other hand, weren’t ascribed any of this. We weren’t even seen as human beings, let alone the embodiment of a “real” woman. But now that Black women are becoming more celebrated and elevated culturally, white women are beginning to panic. After having the spotlight to themselves throughout history, they aren’t ready for the competition.

It amazes me how a group of women who have always been placed on top are threatened by us. Because if we weren’t a threat, would there be any need to throw shade and put us down? They will do it in such a subtle way that if you call it out, you will be accused of being paranoid. I’ve expressed my frustration on this with some friends and family members, only to be told I’m overreacting or my favorite: a hater.

Black women have been put down by white and black men for so long that many don’t realize when some of their white counterparts offer them poisoned “kool-aid.” As more black men are expressing their dislike for black women, I’ve noticed how white women have also jumped on board. They will sit back and watch as black men disrespect and degrade us as they get uplifted and praised. Some will even take part in the act and tear us down, claiming they “got our men too.” A friend of mine told me a white girl at her school said to her, “I don’t know why black women are so mad at us for dating black men. It’s not our fault they want us and not you guys.”

Since white women are systematically oppressed by sexism, some of them overcompensate by asserting racist dominance over black women, to reinforce their power and control over us. Many are experts at gaslighting and will make passive aggressive, insulting, or demeaning comments in such a lighthearted, joking way that the intended target may not recognize it. Blatant acts of racism or comments will land them in hot water, so they find subtle ways of attacking black women’s self esteem. This is usually done to keep us in what they feel is our natural place: underneath them.

Who can forget when journalist Alessandra Stanley wrote that New York Times article that referred to Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman” and Viola Davis as “less than classically beautiful”? Rather than giving Shonda credit for creating three of television’s highest-rated drama series, Alessandra chose to cast an infamous stereotype on her, while downplaying her success. Her article proved she couldn’t stand seeing two powerful black women in the media who are calling the shots and changing the game.

Black women in America are rising and defeating standards placed to hold us down. When Lupita Nyong’o was named People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Person last year, I was overwhelmed with joy to see a dark-skinned African-born woman with natural hair as the top pick. It seemed like a small victory that the ideal of white skin, thin lips, and silky straight hair had been usurped in favor of someone who looked like me.

This is not to say that all white women are bad, that black women and white women can’t be friends. Of course, there are tons of white women who are remarkable, loving people and fight against the racist society we live in as allies. But as we see, there’s plenty that don’t give a f*ck about us as well.

Fortunately, black women aren’t intimidated by this. We don’t seek white women’s validation and their comments don’t define us. Their subtle racism reminds us of their insecurity and proves to us that they aren’t ready to share their space.

Luckily for us, we don’t need their permission to shine.

Photo: Shutterstock

Ogechi Emechebe holds a journalism degree and enjoys reading, writing and cooking. Her topics of interest include gender equality, social justice and healthy lifestyles. She describes herself as a gym rat with a slight obsession of eating healthy. She can be reached at emechebe1021@yahoo.com.

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