By now, it is difficult not to have heard of Amara Le Negra, the gorgeous Afro-Latina music artist on Love & Hip Hop Miami. Besides having an epic head full of natural curls, her personality is larger than life and she has been quite vocal on the colorism she has experienced. In fact, throughout this season of Love & Hip Hop Miami, there has been an ongoing conversation about colorism from both ends of the spectrum from Amara Le Negra and Veronica Vega (another Love & Hip Hop Miami cast member). While Amara has questioned why the Latin image always is a singular depiction of fair skin and straight hair, Veronica recently asked the question of how black someone has to be to be considered black, and—citing the lack of aid in Puerto Rico as an example—notes that anyone who is not white understands inequality all too well.
The history of colorism in America is deep and long—but surprisingly not as long as you may think. In the early days (mid to late 1500s)of the Atlantic slave trade, Africans were treated more as indentured servants rather than chattel slaves. Indentured servitude meant that, much like the Irish, Africans could work for a time to meet a contractual obligation and then become as free as any other American. There were many Africans who did just that and went on to marry, have families, acquire wealth and even hold slaves themselves. A lot of those Africans married Europeans because it wasn’t unusual or against the law for races to mix. “Race” wasn’t even a thing yet.
The concept of race was not invented until 100 years after the Atlantic slave trade began and was not fully realized and institutionalized until another 100 years after that. The initial reason why “race” was invented was to keep poor whites (like the Irish who had been indentured servants) from uniting with enslaved Africans to rebel against and overthrow wealthy, landowning whites. (Yes, that happened a lot and often enough for American oligarchs to create the idea of white supremacy.)
In the meantime, many free Africans and the multicultural families they created enjoyed a better lifestyle because they were actually wealthier. Their appearance became synonymous with privilege among darker-toned blacks in America. As the concept of race took hold, so did the byproduct of colorism. Lighter skin and straighter hair among enslaved blacks meant house work instead of field labor, better food, and better clothing. Lighter skin and straighter hair also meant an increased ability to pass for a free, wealthier citizen and/or white. In these instances of passing, however, hair texture became especially important because curly, kinky and curly textures were unmistakable signs of African (black) heritage.
Nevertheless, colorism is wrong. It propagates the completely false notion that there is some sort of beauty standard which darker people, or folks with naturally curly, kinky, wavy and coily hair, can never reach. It also places lighter-skinned blacks in this strange social purgatory of somehow not being black enough be down but never being accepted or treated as white. Finally, it creates a conflict within our community that should not exist especially when we all collectively face racial discrimination today.
There is no beauty standard. Just like there is no such thing as normal or abnormal hair texture or skin tone. To possess African ancestry is not synonymous with possessing bad, ugly or inferior qualities. Rather, to be of African ancestry is to have all the possibilities of beauty coursing through your veins. Just as the peoples of Africa feature a range of appearances in height, weight, build, skin tone and hair textures, so do all of those of the African diaspora all around the world and in North and Latin America. When we all get together, how magnificent it is to see all that we are. And that is definitely a beautiful thing.
To see the beauty and diversity of the African diaspora and natural hair in America for yourself, come to the World Natural Hair, Healthy Lifestyle Event this April 21-22 in Atlanta where Amara Le Negra will perform. To get updates on the show, follow @taliahwaajidbrand and @naturalhairshow on Instagram.
And if you have questions about naturally curly, coily, wavy and kinky hair care, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.