Someone once asked me, “Why do you draw Afro’s on all your characters and why are your Superheroes Black?”
To be honest I never really thought anything about it …. it was not like I woke up one day and said I will make a deliberate effort to draw black superhero characters rocking Afros. I just did it….part of it was to be funny … actually most of it was to be funny.
But then again I think a subconscious part of me did it, because for the most part, most of the super heroes, the princesses, the angels we see in the media are primarily one color and one look. So it is no surprise that beauty is defined primarily by that one color and that one look … which is typically a white lady with long flowing hair.
So everybody even in Africa aspire to this singular definition of beauty, so they wear long weaves from Brazil and spot artificially lightened skins (bleaching), all in a bid to get to that singular beauty … the white beauty. That beauty ingrained into our way of thinking right from an early age without us even realizing. The same beauty talked about in Snow White…
As a young child reading Snow White, the story made no sense to me…but I went along with it. I mean who was I to question a classic with that famous line “mirror mirror on the world, who is the fairest of them all.”
But that was the problem…the line made no sense. Basically the line and whole tale was saying that to be the most beautiful you had to be the fairest … the whitest. That the whiter you are the more beautiful you are.
Imagine a young black Nigerian kid who had never traveled outside the country reading that book. I was so confused, when I saw the word fairest because I would then picture a black Nigerian woman with white powder all over her face. That did not look beautiful to me it looked like a ghost. But somehow this book that I was made to read was telling me that I was wrong for being confused. And that fair means beautiful!
In fact if you look at the Google definition of the word fairest it says beautiful: attractive as in “the fairest of her daughters.” Now we can argue the meaning of the word and say that the word fair could mean light-skinned or it could mean beautiful. But at the end of the day to that confused African kid reading Snow White. The lady with skin as white as snow … the definition of fair was someone who was beautiful because they were light-skinned. And that is the problem.
Not that majority of the media portrays that singular beauty but that it is portrayed so so early to kids at their most impressionable and most vulnerable moments. So early that they grow up and cement this belief subconsciously that black skin and black hair are not beautiful. The belief permeates so deep in our society that when a Nigerian national TV station in 2014 tells Joy Is Bewaji a friend that the only way she could be the host of their new national televised show was if she wore weave and they actually make you do it, then you know we have a problem.
Mohammed Ali said it best here…
“When I looked in the mirror I was proud of what I saw, but there were many Black people who didn’t want to be Black anymore. Little Black boys and girls had no public role models. We didn’t have any heroes who looked like us. There was no one for us to identify with, and we didn’t know where we fit in.
One Halloween, a little Black girl was trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, dressed up in a superhero costume, but her face was painted white. When I asked her why, she said that her sister told her that there was no such thing as a Black superhero. She was right.
When I turned on the television, everyone was always White. Superman was White, Santa Claus was White. They even made Tarzan, king of the jungle in Africa, a White man!”
So I guess…that’s why my super heroes are black and my princesses rock afros because I guess the subconscious part of me was tired of seeing black people painting their faces white.And maybe because I want people especially young kids to understand that beauty is diverse, that beauty cuts across all races and that you can be black and still be a hero and that you can be a princess and still rock that Afro.
Maybe that’s why I am working hard to make this story Afro: The Girl With The Magical Hair an actual children’s book! So that it could replace Rapunzel : The Girl With The Long Hair and then subsequently encourage someone to write Chocolate Brown to replace Snow White, a girl whose skin was as Brown as Chocolate … and the evil Queen would say “mirror mirror on the wall who is the most Bootylicious of them all!”
Okechukwu Ofili is an author, speaker, and blogger and a The Trent Elite Voice. Follow him on twitter, Facebook or subscribe to his blog for more honest talk and as @ofilispeaks on instagram for more sketches! To bring Ofili to your school or organization as a speaker simply go here. His third book How Intelligence Kills was published in December 2013, order it at http://bit.ly/intelligencekills.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.