If You Don't Know Anything About Black Women, Please Don't Write About Us

By Jaimee Swift

As seen in historical manifestations, the proverbial white feminine hierarchical complex on the ideals of Black women and Black beauty has reared its ugly head once again. And of course, the target of such criticism is none other than one of the most powerful Black women in the world: Beyoncé.

With the release of Vogue’s highly coveted September issue, Beyoncé graces the magazine and serves as the third Black woman to be covered in this specific issue, behind Naomi Campbell in 1989 and Halle Berry in 2010. With the tagline reading “Just B: Beyoncé and the Art of Global Domination,” the spread highlights the phenomenal career of the femme fatale, the countless accolades of the diva dominatrix, and her timeless beauty and curvaceous figure.

But, of course, Beyoncé’s cover was met with severe criticism, especially from Meghan Garber, who is a writer for The Atlantic. Referring to Beyoncé’s hair as “stringy” and “un-pretty,” Garber equates Beyoncé’s overall hairstyle as an attempt to “look white.” With this incredulous assertion, Garber falls into an extensive lineage of writers (particularly white writers) who feel that they have the authority to speak on Black women when they obviously don’t know anything about us.

You see, if Garber knew anything about Black women, she would understand the dazzling uniqueness, versatility and multifarious nature of Black hair. Black women wear their hair natural, in a weave, braids, Bantu knots, a fade, locs or twists. If Garber understood Black women, she would know that Black hair and Black beauty in itself is a revolutionary counter to the predominant white order of beauty. If she knew the power of Black hair, she would understand that Beyoncé is not trying to be white, but rather herself, which is a multifarious, Black woman powerhouse.

With this “reaching” critique, Garber’s assessment of Beyoncé’s hair ultimately speaks to the politics of white femininity and the normative ideology that white women serve as a herculean barometer of culturally-accepted beauty. With this racially-coded notion of beauty, white aestheticism is regarded as superior, while Black women and beauty are deemed inferior and often disregarded. However, Black beauty is considered “worthy” or “superior” when white women culturally appropriate and insert themselves in the distinctive paradigm of Black style.

Examples of such appropriation include Allure’s profile on how white women can wear afros, beauty blog Mane Addicts crediting Marc Jacobs’ use of bantu knots as a “twisted mini-buns inspired,” and Marie Claire’s appraisal of Kendall Jenner for rocking “bold” and “new epic” cornrows.

With these aforementioned cultural appropriation examples and beyond, it can easily be said that Black women are certainly not trying to be like white women.

However, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, white women are trying to be like us.

So, following in the same vein of the infamous Mean Girls statement “you can’t sit with us,” to all the white writers (including you, Ms. Garber) if you are uneducated on the exquisite and diverse essence of Black women and Black beauty, you can’t write about us.

So with that, stop trying to make fetch happen.

Photo: Mario Testino

Jaimee A. Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is contributing writer at For Harriet. You can follow her on Twitter @jaimeeswift.

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