No, Not “Pretty for a Black Girl”

I’m not pretty for a black girl; I am simply pretty. When approached with the line “You’re pretty for a black girl,” what I actually  hear is, “You are too pretty to be black,” especially when followed with the question, “What are you mixed with?”

Whether or not I have multiple races that make up my genetic code is irrelevant. I want to scream from the top of my lungs that my black is beautiful and that one drop of white does not make me pretty. On the contrary, I am beautiful despite this backwards “one drop” rule.

When this “compliment” is thrown around, it is hard to believe that the person saying it is aware of exactly what they’re saying. The perfect response to this is, “You’re beautiful for a (insert whatever race the speaker is here).” Not only does this turn the tables onto the original speaker, but also makes that person uncomfortable and puts her in your shoes so she can hear how ridiculous such a statement sounds.

“You are pretty for a black girl” is not a compliment, and I do not have to respond after hearing those words escape from someone’s lips. At most, this “compliment” is actually borderline racism. At the bare minimum, it shows blatant disrespect for that person and her heritage.

When you say, “You are pretty for a black girl,” you  are saying that Africa is dirty, that it needs a purification, that it needs a relaxer, that it needs a good wash;  you are also saying that I am better than every other black girl out there.You are saying that out of the billions of black women in the world, I am the only pretty one, which is impossible. I can name several gorgeous black women (and even the ones I cannot name are beautiful).

The phrase, “You are pretty for a black girl” seems to stem from the many years of denigration of the black body and holding European features as the commonly accepted beauty standard. In the United States especially, being anything other than white or light skinned was thought to be ugly. If you had one drop of black in you, you were considered black and therefore ugly no matter what you actually looked like, and some people argue that this ideology has trickled down into modern thought. This flaw in modern thought has the power to really shape someone’s self esteem, causing her to question herself and the motives of other people.

If you google, “beautiful girls,” black girls or women are not listed. Although other people of color show up, they have pale skin similar to those of white people. Furthermore, the media—magazines and advertisements especially—lighten the skin of black people so they seem more “attractive.”

Ironically, the tables seem to have turned and black features are seen as beautiful on everyone but black bodies. Tanning is considered attractive and healthy. Fuller lips are considered sexy. Large hips and buttocks are sexy. In no means do these traits exist solely in black women, but they are regarded as typically black features.

The bottom line is that the phrase, “You are pretty” is a complete sentence. There is no need to add anything else. There is no need to turn a compliment into an insult by categorizing a person based on one of their other traits.

Published by

Ashley Elizabeth

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, Mineral Lit, Sante Fe Writer Project, Knights Library, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. In June 2020, Ashley was the featured writer at Drunk Monkeys. She is also the author of the chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend (Nightingale & Sparrow). When Ashley isn't serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, MD with her partner and their cat. Once COVID is over, they plan on going on a foodie road trip.

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