Beauty is in the eye of the beholder….

Unless you are Black, then you just think you are attractive when the rest of the world knows the “truth”.  Such a harsh statement and yet society continues to promote ideals of racism and prejudices towards people of color while hiding behind titles of science and psychology.Yes, it was that article that upset a lot of people… the article published through Psychology Today, one of the largest psychology forums out there, where psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa wrote an article titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”.  In a moment I saw the years of oppression rear their ugly heads while I stand in a world that feels I should not be affected by “the past”, that is actually ever present.

Kanazawa publishes these findings he has gathered in an attempt to show that Black women are less physically attractive than other races yet we feel as if we are attractive.  I think it is less important to go into the details of how he came to that conclusion because there are a lot of articles and rebuttals that dissect his findings scientifically.  I would much rather take a look at how this type of covert racism impacts the community and impacts me as a Black, Wiccan mother in society today.

Yolanda Flores Niemann writes about some of the effects of racism in The Making of a Token; A Case Study of Stereotype Threat, Stigma, Racism and Tokenism in Academe.  She wrote, “Largely as a result of these experiences, faculty of color may also undermine their own competence.  That is, they may fall victim to stereotype threat, which is defined as being vulnerable to internalizing the negative stereotypes about one’s own group in a situation, even when one does not endorse those stereotypes”.  She goes on to talk about how the challenges to people in these situations are not just limited to what others think but also about the instrusive thoughts that undermine one’s own sense of self.  This can be more damaging than dealing with other’s negativity.

These subtle messages, and sometimes not so subtle, are the foundation for breaking down others ability to find hope and meaning.  The internalization of these messages increase the chances of creating fertile ground that allow faulty social structures that promote prejudices to become effective.  Society continues to endorse feelings of learned helplessness and broken self worth when these types of rhetoric are filtered into main stream and endorsed by the professional world.

Am I less attractive because I am caramel skinned with fuller breast and darker nipples?  Or is it because I have thick, nappy hair?  It must be my round hips, thick middle and big butt.  I remember images of my ancestors that all looked the same as I and I never thought of them as ugly; I guess I was wrong.  I wonder how the beauty of the Goddess can be celebrated in a society that categorizes people by skin color and then eliminates them from the race before it has even started.  Is it a race? Sometimes it feels as if it is but I am not sure who I am racing against.

Images of Yemaya and Oshun show all the same ethnic features that I was raised to cherish, since I am of the same blood.  Images of the Venus of Willendorf show the round hips, big thighs and full breasts that are similar to mine; were we at one time worshipped for what we are now criticized for?  When did being Black begin to equal being unattractive or less attractive than others and what does that mean to me as a Black Wiccan Woman in today’s society?

After recently completing the Shades of Faith anthology I have been working on for almost two years, I know that those of color in Paganism have not always felt welcomed or accepted…. much like we have not felt that way in other areas in society.  When I read this article and I hear these statements, I can see how it has had an effect on my people for many years… on an energetic level.  Even when others are accepting, we are programmed to be hypersensitive to how we may be viewed by others when we are entering an environment where we stick out as different than the norm.  How do we truly integrate into other societies fully when the fears, insecurities, history, internalized racism and our knowledge of past experiences keep us out?

In Healing From The Effects of Internalized Oppression, Marya Axner states, “When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize (believe and make part of their self-image – their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group” and she goes on to say, “When people from targeted groups internalize myths and misinformation, it can cause them to feel (often unconsciously) that in some way they are inherently not as worthy, capable, intelligent, beautiful, good, etc. as people outside their group. They turn the experience of oppression or discrimination inward. They begin to feel that the stereotypes and misinformation that society communicates are true and they act as if they were true. This is called internalized oppression.”  We turn it inward and it becomes a part of our image of ourselves.  Let us be aware of what is happening when we read or hear things such as the work of Kanazawa.

To my Black community I say, “let us work towards healing from the inside out and releasing the images that others have programmed into us.  If we cannot take the steps towards healthier images of our history and our present, we can never identify our genuine place in the world.”

To my Pagan community I say, “let us look at how we can open our arms to those who look a bit different yet worship in the same thread as we do.  We not only need to invite people in with words, we need to look at the subtle images and actions that appear to be anything other than inviting of those who worship divinity, nature and human spirit.  It is the subtle clues that are harder to overcome than the ones that appear to be outright offensive.”

And to the world I say, “stop it.  Let’s stop acting like prejudices don’t exist so we can actually find ways to minimize the damage to those within our own communities and those yet to come”.

And to myself I say, “You are a beautiful version of the Goddess, born of her blood and faceted with her hands.  Your hips are full to represent the power of birthing, your breasts are full so that you may provide nourishment to those in your care, your lips are full so you may speak with honor and spread the message of the Goddess to others, your skin is caramel to signify the power of the sun as the God shines upon you and your hair is kinky because it represents the beauty in the entanglement of life.  If the Goddess wanted me to be like someone else, she would have made me that way and I am beautiful in all ways because the Goddess made it so”

So mote it be.

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