Black Man, White Face

I have been listening with some interest and some pain, actually, about Michael Jackson and his work to change his appearance.

Actually, I’ve been answering questions of white interviewers as they have asked, confused, why anyone would want to change his or her appearance? Why, they ask, would Michael do that?

How about because white people made it so that the only standard of “beauty” was white beauty. The white definition of beauty made some to many African Americans not want to be brown or dark-skinned. That same definition made black people ashamed of nappy hair, big lips and big hips. 

Little black girls grew up wanting hair that moved and that didn’t puff up after getting wet. Black people ruined their own hair using harsh chemicals to straighten their hair out …so we could look more “white.” Some black people bleached their skin.

Black people (brown and Asian too) grew to hate the way we looked because we did not “fit in.” We could not hide our skin color or our lips or hips. Even if we managed to get a good education, which many of us did, we still could not escape our curse of being of African descent.

The European standard of beauty didn’t only affect black, brown and yellow-skinned people. I remember seeing my Jewish friends and white friends as well put their hair on ironing boards to make it straight. I remember white friends of mine being very upset that they did not have blonde hair and blue eyes – the highest rating one could receive for being beautiful according to European standards.

But at least at the end of the day, Jewish girls who got nose jobs and who straightened their hair, Hispanic girls who could downplay any “ethnic” look they had, and white girls who had brunette or red hair, could “fit in.” White America was slow to admit that someone other than a Nordic look was beautiful. Modeling agencies like the Eileen ford Agency slowly began to look at other ethnic-looking models, but only slowly …but be clear, if one looked “too black,” one could forget about getting a job as a top model.

Why doesn’t white America understand that?

I heard a Michael Jackson biographer talk about howthe pop star made disparaging remarks about black people, though he was black. That cut to my heart, if it’s true, because his own community so loved him.  African Americans have hated our look because white America said we were ugly. That Michael would hate his African ethnicity so much to essentially butcher his own natural good looks is so painful to think about, and it is more painful to think that he may have hated those who so loved him.

I can remember the daughter of a friend of mine crushed at prom time. She was a beautiful, very dark-skinned girl with amazing features and a stunning head of jet black hair that fell past her shoulders. She had a boyfriend who decided he would not and could not take her to her prom because she was “too dark.”

There are still African Americans who would rather be anything other than who they are, African American men who will not date African American women, or if they do, those women have to be very light-skinned.

Everyone wants to “fit in,” but America made it hard for African Americans to do that. Instead, we stuck out like sore thumbs, walking targets for the most horrible judgments and comments to be made about who we were and what we looked like.

That’s why Michael Jackson “went there.” Obviously, there were some other things which drove him; changing his looks became an obsession, or so it seems from the outside, but clearly, his desire to change from black to white came from a hatred of what this world seemingly hates.

I am grateful that for some African Americans, at least, we have dropped the term “good hair,” meaning hair that is not nappy. In my mind, any hair on one’s head is good hair! I am glad we are free enough to wear dread locks and other natural styles. I smile when I see white people now imitating us, not only with the hairstyles, but with injections to get bigger lips, and efforts to get darker skin.

Seems we weren’t so bad after all, eh?

Wish Michael had known that.

That’s just a candid observation.

2 thoughts on “Black Man, White Face

  1. Reverend Sue,

    While I agree with you that we as black people don’t appreciate our own beauty because of our being “conditioned” to believe that white is beautiful and black is whack. I believe that MJ’s issue was mostley residue from his up bringing.
    He could never be comfortable with who he really is if the person who should have instilled in him the value of self love neglegted to do so. He did have a skin condition also that made him uncomfortable with his appearance. But his father called him things like “big nose”which made him want to change his features.
    My father is both black and white but he’s so light he could pass for white. My sisters complextion is more like his. I can’t tell you how many people thought my sister beautiful because of her light complextion..especially my mother.

  2. Maybe Michael Jackson ( peace be upon his soul) was not trying to look white but trying to not look like a Jackson, just a thought.

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