I need to talk about Blue Ivy, Teyana Taylor and Ari Lennox and the antiblackness and featurism that they’ve faced within the last week and really as long as they’ve been known.
But with this demonstration in featurism, I want to hone in on and specifically mention how white women and Black men can be equally complicit in featurism directed towards Black women and why. Because believe it or not, these two groups have some things in common when it comes to this.
First, what’s featurism?
Featurism, which falls under the antiblackness umbrella in this scenario, is the discrimination of certain features and/or the acceptance of only certain features.
If you’ve been living under a rock then you might have missed the Black male film critic from Vanity Fair and a white woman journalist from Harpers Bazaar who teamed up to admonish 8-year-old Blue Ivys looks.
The backlash was swift and unrelenting, rightfully so. Ever since the birth of Blue, there have been jabs made at her features and how unattractive they are.
But let’s keep it 100- These features that are considered so unattractive, large lips, wide nose, strong jawline, kinky hair… are simply strong/common Black features. They’re not the softer, more socially appealing and I suppose more watered down features that our society covets – which is why you don’t see the same criticisms of Queen Bey. 🐝
And the criticizers? They’re as white as they are Black. Both groups have portions that just don’t find pronounced Black features attractive. Does anyone remember the study done that showed that ALL races of people (to include Black folks) find Black women the least desirable? That’s featurism, y’all.
White people are the used to being the default, the standard of beauty so it’s entirely unsurprising that anything outside of that isn’t typically considered attractive.
As for the Black side, it’s an example of how deeply traumatized and conditioned we have been and still are. It shouldn’t be any surprise that 400 years of oppression – particularly dealing with assimilation, standards of beauty and just trying to survive has left a mark.
Case in point is hair. I know that we are the masters of hairstyles and versatility but can we please be honest when it comes to conversations about straight/relaxed hair? While we can and should rock whatever kind of hairstyle we want, straight or otherwise – let’s not pretend that there isn’t a bit of featurism in some of our hair preferences. I’m sure even beloved Madam CJ Walker, creator of relaxers, did so in part to help us fit in better with white society. It is what it is.
And we all know that a lot of Black households past and present have straightened their kids’ hair before church, school pictures, any important event or just to look “presentable.” The presentable = straight hair sentiment is a literal featurism relic.
While this is slowly and painstakingly changing, the famous Black women whom society deems most beautiful are usually more ambiguous, lighter, have a looser, less kinky curl pattern or have softer, less pronounced features. Think about Halle Berry, Zendaya, Paula Patton etc. While you may know of famous Black women who are not ambiguous, the conversation surrounding how they look is usually much different. Think about Serena Williams, Leslie Jones and Michaela Coel who all have experienced extreme public scrutiny and lambasting over their perceived unattractiveness.
As for Ari Lennox and Teyana Taylor, recently a tweet by a Black man went viral after he commented that they have great sex appeal while simultaneously looking like rottweilers.
The two singers were met with an outpouring of support and the tweeter was unceremoniously dragged for days. If he wasn’t aware of the error of his ways (doubtful) baby he sure is now. Both singers, especially Teyana, have been criticized for their strong features since ..forever.
Ok you’re probably thinking- yeah, yeah I know all this. Get to the part where you mentioned that some Black men and white women share a commonality in featurism.
Warning, hard truth ahead.
First we have to look at the top. At the tippy-top of the societal hierarchy is straight white men. And some white women and Black men both, in their outward want for equality are, whether admittedly or not, inwardly trying to just… replace them at the top. And to do that, they have to behave as white men do and neither really has a problem doing so.
Black men have to deal with racism but are able to leverage sexism and misogyny (or misogynoir which is misogyny directed at Black women) to advance. White women have to deal with sexism but can leverage racism in their climb to the top.
Ready for hard truth number 2?
Sections of both groups share a common goal because it is simply in their best interest to wield the privilege that they have for those that want to be on top, not equal, but on top.
How does this play out in the real world? Let’s use feminism as an example – regular modern feminism or white feminism as we Black feminists call it is RIFE with racism. So much so, that modern Black feminism, which is an entirely different movement altogether was created.
Intracommunally, Black men and Black women have sects that are very much at odds. Black men can use the EXACT same tactics and sentiments against Black women that white men and women use against them – respectability politics, stereotypes, victim blaming, etc. There’s a reason why we have this saying: “straight Black men are the white people of Black people.”
Now sis/sib/bruh, if by the end of this you’re still wondering about internalized antiblackness, featurism and beauty standards – ask yourself this, what do you think it does to the psyche of a child if for every milestone and important event, they need to straighten their hair?
Or when their features are only looked at as beautiful when they’re less Black and less pronounced and this is reinforced by every conceivable source – who they see uplifted in the media, mainstream society AND sometimes in their own community?
Do you think they grow up confident? WIthout trauma?
What about others who internalize it more, never recognize or deal with that trauma and thus have a hatred for things that remind them of themselves? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they could turn into the type of person who perpetuates antiblackness/featurism and weaponizes it?