“She’s pretty for a black girl.”
As women of color at Andover, we should never have to strive for this false and offensive excuse for a compliment. On our campus and around the world, the word “beauty” is too often constricted to a rigid definition that requires white skin, blonde hair, a slim frame and blue eyes. Black and Hispanic females do not fit into this standard: our hair will never be naturally sleek and our eyes will never be blue, yet societal standards demand that we spend hours irreversibly damaging our hair by chemically straightening it and that we avoid sitting in the sun in fear of getting “too dark.” This practice of incessantly adjusting ourselves to fit a mold we simply cannot achieve proves both tiresome and emotionally taxing: in kindergarten, I made my mother cry by telling her I only wanted the white Barbies because my friends said they were prettier.
Expressions such as “She’s pretty for a black girl” are in no way compliments; on the contrary, they are microaggressions. These statements reinforce the notion that black and Latina women are not inherently beautiful and imply that the natural state of our bodies is something to be offset, corrected or concealed. While a white girl’s lean frame or curvy figure is often complimented or envied, this same quality on a black girl is far too often used by others to determine her worth as a sex object. Standards are not always equal at Andover, and beauty here is a fundamentally white trait. Women of color in a Westernized world have learned that the more closely we are able to resemble our light-skinned peers, the more attractive we are found to be.
Oftentimes, when pursuing relationships or hookups on campus, the first question a black and Latina girl asks herself is whether or not a person would even consider being attracted to a member of her race. As Twitter user @QueenAraweelo satirically proclaimed, “[Black Privilege is] having the superpower as a black woman to be both fetishised and undesirable all at the same time.” Widespread usage of the term “jungle fever” to describe the attraction of any white male to a woman of color heightens this sense of discrimination: what is it about black and Latina women that makes others liken us to a plague? Even in a community as diverse as Andover, women of color are exoticized, eroticized and reduced to a fetish by a culture that makes sex appeal our closest alternative to being considered beautiful. It negatively impacts both our self-confidence and our experiences: we are apathetic to people’s grievances over the hook-up culture at Andover because we seldom exist within it.
Fortunately, women of color realize that our value resides in more than just appearances, and that romantic involvement does not determine our self-worth. Black and Latino students have proven an integral part of the Andover community both inside and outside of the classroom, notably through our contributions as club leaders, peer tutors and mentors to younger students. Our ability to excel in these roles helps balance out some of the negative effects of the unattainable aesthetic standards we are unfairly held to.
Nevertheless, black and Latina students have an indisputable right to love our bodies and ourselves. While we realize that deconstructing our school’s current standard of beauty cannot happen overnight, as it is a standard that has reigned supreme for centuries in the Western world, we believe that the Andover community at large can alleviate some of the pressures black and Latina girls feel by becoming more aware of the prejudices that shape our mindsets on campus. We need to stop glorifying specific body types, enforcing damaging stereotypes and subtly shaming people for hooking up with or dating black and Latina girls by using terms like “jungle fever” to imply that they are somehow less than our counterparts of other races. Romantic preferences do not exist in a vacuum anywhere — especially not at Andover. Instead, they are informed by the standard of beauty that is upheld in our community, and it is the obligation of every student to recognize this.