Posted in Opinions

Why I’m not “pretty for a black girl”

Accidental racism or not, compliments that involve my racial identity are harmful

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No, this isn’t an article for me to vent all my outrage and disappointment at the way black women are depicted by our society — although that would be one heck of an article (maybe I’ll save it for next time). I’d simply like to raise awareness of a certain topic that takes up only a fraction of my disappointment: casual racism disguised as ‘compliments.’

There are many forms of discrimination, and some are less obvious than others. Casual racism happens to me often, like when people think that it’s acceptable to use phrases such as, “Oh, you’re pretty for a black girl.” It might be hard to believe, but I have received such comments numerous times, from men and women of different racial backgrounds — including black men.

When will people understand that this is in no way a compliment? Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that some people genuinely believe they’re just being nice. But just because racism is accidental doesn’t make it any less harmful.

I’ve been in situations where the person is genuinely trying to compliment me, and just to be polite I’ll return a wry smile. Some people just don’t know any better. Honestly, how do you expect someone to respond when you’ve insulted them, intentionally or not?

There are other backhanded compliments that we should just entirely eliminate from our vocabulary. “You’re pretty smart for a black girl.” “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” (Let’s not get started there, it’s disgusting.) “Your English is so good.” “You speak so well.” “You’re so white!”

To sum it up, any compliment that ends in “for a black girl” is a big no. These statements are built off the negative assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with being a black woman. I think we all know that it is most certainly not OK to go up to someone and say, “Oh, you’re good-looking for a white boy,” or “You’re nice for an asshole” — at least, I hope most of you know that this isn’t OK.

In response, I’d like to say that I’m a woman, not a girl. Just as it can be degrading to call a man a boy, I feel the same way about labelling a woman a “girl.”

By telling me that I’m pretty for a black girl, you imply that black women do not naturally possess the quality of being beautiful. These statements make me feel like an exception to some kind of rule that says black women are not seen as attractive. Was there a poll taken that I didn’t know about? When were black women classified as being unattractive? Did I not get the memo?

So, the next time you want to compliment anyone, don’t include the colour of their skin. Tell me I’m pretty, or just give me a compliment that isn’t based on my looks. Leave my racial identity out of it.

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