From Self-Love to Eroticism: An Affirmation for the African in Us

2011/03/06

Often we’re bombarded by stereotypical images of Us:  Africans of the Diaspora.  First, we are human, and we have free will.  We can choose to tune out, turn the page, turn away from the billboards, leave the gallery or museum, exit the theater or cinema or runway, sign off our iPhones or iPads, and log off the computer, etc.  But we need to cease ignoring our inner selves and thwarting our constructive motivations.

We need to take more than a passing look in our mirrors every morning and every night.   In addition to the universal meanings in our lives — as Michael Jackson sang in the Siedah Garrett-Glen Ballard song “Man in the Mirror” — we need to recognize our individual threads in the magnificent tapestry that is Us.   A major key to loving others is the ability to love ourselves.

I can testify that coming to grips with my peculiar kind of beauty (a poor paraphrase of a friend’s statement), exploring my erotic potential (in life and in literature) and releasing the floodgates of creativity saved my own damned life.  I thank friends past and present, those few relatives, and more than a few teachers and professors who told me:  “Keep on writing.”  I am still here because they all encouraged introspection, and reminded me of the importance of humor, especially the knack of laughing at oneself.  These special human beings changed the brushstrokes of my life from swaths of gray and black to splashes from the infinite rainbow.  God bless them all.

Let’s appreciate our richness of spirit, of mind.  Let’s cherish our families, friends, lovers and companions.  Let’s celebrate our achievements, complexities, self-determination and myriad representations of beauty.  And, while I’m at it, let’s stop pitting ourselves against one another because of differing complexions, facial features and hair textures.  (If once more I’m forced to listen to my hairdresser talk about how she prefers “good hair” and aquiline noses [on Black people] while she’s lathering on lye-based product, and at a snail’s pace, I’m going to tell her off — and then change salons.)  Instead, let’s embrace the amazing variety of physical attributes we have and stop being embarrassed about how they evolved.

The purpose of this page is not to preach to you about intragroup tolerance or to confess ad nauseam about my existential dilemmas, however.  On my Negrotica blog, I share with readers links to websites that offer a variety of images of Us.  Under the link category “The Mind-Body Erotic:  Images of Us,” dig the links to websites that offer (for view and/or purchase) paintings, photographs, original prints, DVDs, coffeetable books and calendars.  The list will expand as time allows, but, please, if you know of any sites that are apropos for the aforementioned link category, kindly drop me a line so I can add them.

On this page are stunning photos of icon Josephine Baker.  A world-renowned actress, singer and dancer, the beautiful “La Baker” was “the toast of Paris” and was honored with a state funeral in the City of Light.   Much in the way many Europeans appreciate the trailblazing creativity of Africans of the Diaspora today, back in Baker’s early days, the Parisians also publicly expressed their love for her as a human being.  Many Americans, Blacks among them, despised her.

At first the image below, of Josephine Baker in the “Banana Dance,” may strike some as stereotypical.  However, anyone familiar with the artist’s struggles with early-20th-century-style U.S. racism and its limitations to one’s potential (creative and otherwise), knows that Baker was a heroine of the African Diaspora.  She also was a humanitarian, adopting a large number of children of various nationalities.  Despite tragedies early and late in her life, Baker celebrated her beauty and art through song, drama and dance movement, and she didn’t apologize for it.  Brava!

When I visited Paris in the late 1990s, I was flattered to be told I resembled “La Baker” — OK, it became exhausting after the tenth time — because I had learned in my twenties that the “Bronze Venus” once turned the world on its head with her gorgeous voice and her vibrant, intoxicating erotic dancing.

[By the way, The Josephine Baker Story (an edited version) will air on TVOne on Saturday, March 12, preceded by Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (also edited for TV).  Lynn Whitfield stars as Baker; Halle Berry stars as Dandridge.  Both made-for-TV movies won Emmies.  Check your cable TV listings for show times.]

So, mes amis, let’s not allow the deep-pocketed powers-that-be to dictate what beauty is, because beauty is limitless.  Because women of all phenotypes are targeted by Madison Avenue, we women of the African Diaspora need to be especially vigilant in not buying into the hype.  For example, lip and booty injections, raves about Angelina Jolie’s crescents, and TV ads for padded panties (for those Fantasia, J.Lo, Jenifer Lewis, Joyful Drake, Mo’Nique and Beyoncé curves) will be replaced by other trends.  But … your natural beauty always will be in style. 

Continue to enjoy the plethora of visual representations of Us.  Appreciate what our African heritage contributes to humankind’s erotic mix.

Much Love and Peace,
Chantale

Top photo:  Josephine Baker.  Havana, Cuba, 1950

Photo Credit (top photo):  Rudolf Suroch

Bottom photo:  Josephine Baker in her iconic “Banana Dance”

4 Responses to “From Self-Love to Eroticism: An Affirmation for the African in Us”


  1. Thank you, makushimu. I’m glad that you thought this post was a good read.

  2. veraroberts Says:

    Josephine Baker was one of a kind. I have noticed Europeans are much more open to, well, everything than Americans aren’t. Interracial dating and marriage is not even an afterthought over there and it does seem like Black people, no matter what background, can also thrive there more than in the US. I’ve noticed Canada is the same way.

    As progressive the US claims to be, we are so bass-ackwards when it comes to doing things, no wonder other countries are laughing at us.

    Josephine Baker paved the way for many starlets nowadays; Beyonce and Janet Jackson come to mind as being the chief recipients. They may or may not have studied her style but I don’t doubt what Ms. Baker had done before made it a lot easier for the artists to express themselves.


    • Thanks for commenting, Ms. Vera. She surely was unique.

      Now about Europeans being very open — yes, so true. Perhaps it’s not ironic at all, but it’s interesting that the continent containing countries who began, operated and profited from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade — and the African Holocaust that was the Middle Passage — has welcomed, accepted and encouraged, especially during the past century, the art and literature of people of the African Diaspora.

      Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and, in just the past 30-odd years, Tina Turner, are just a few of the incredible numbers of African American artists who found solace in a more open kind of humanity — and were able to explore and celebrate the outer limits of their creativity — in Western Europe.

      And then we need to look at Us, too. U.S. racism has done a serious number to the self-esteem of generations of African Americans over the centuries. The strength and survival are there, but often there is too much in-fighting — a lot of brothas and sistas putting each other down because “she sounds too white” and “he needs to take those locks out his hair” and “she’s walking around all ‘siddity’ because she’s high yellow.” Of course, that last word usually is pronounced “yella” when that putdown is uttered.

      When it comes to artistic achievements among Us, it breaks my heart whenever I hear another Black person put down everyone from Billie Holiday and Alice Walker (for the lesbian references in the novel The Color Purple) to Fantasia and Ceelo Green. Yet we have Black gospel musicals that often stoop to the gutter as they chart characters’ descent from grace and parody familial, romantic and sexual relationships. And, yes, we need those gospel musicals, too. All I’m saying is that the hypocritical bullshit needs to stop. I don’t want the churchgoer wagging a finger at me on her way to church on Sunday morning as I struggle to the Laundromat with my cart, only to find her the loudest one whoopin’ & hollerin’ in the row in front of me at the Beacon Theater that evening because the leading man of Two Wrongs Don’t Make Mr. Right “is making me so wet cuz he’s so damned foiiiiine!” Such remarks from the so called religious women have inspired me to write erotica, raw and uncut.

      I’m tired of religion being used to justify what’s “presentable” and what’s obscene. Is it not true that people still flee to America for our various freedoms? Yet so many of us are so uptight. They need to stop frontin’ cuz they’re the biggest freaks. I’ve already revealed my repressed past, so I can talk.

      But getting back to Josephine Baker … If all that people — no matter what phenotype, ethnicity, etc. — see in her legacy is a half-naked Black woman in pincurls, that’s their loss. They need to crack open a book and read about the woman’s history. They need to learn why Baker was French (American-born, yes) and given a state funeral in Paris. Like Baker before her, Tina Turner is a much bigger deal in France. I happen to know more about artists in France than in other European countries, but I know of contemporaries of mine who have made the journey across the Atlantic for greater recognition and for respect.

      When you break it down to being a Black writer of erotica, you need to look to publishers in Canada (especially Quebec with its refreshingly open society) and to Europe — especially France, German, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands — to have a better chance of getting your work published in hard copy, uncensored. Henry Miller was white and his Tropic of Cancer was banned in the United States. Sure, it was the 1930s, but not much has changed in terms of the mind-set in America.

      Today, we show people getting blown to smithereens on film but turn squeamish when actors walk in the foreground in total nudity. In Europe, today, it’s not a big deal to show skin because there it’s understood that the human body, in its myriad shapes and sizes, is beautiful.

      I leave you with this, an anecdote from my first trip to Quebec. I was walking down rue Ste-Catherine in Downtown Montreal en route to my hotel. I passed a high-end go-go establishment where a guy was out front seeking male customers. Just for fun, I stopped in front of the place, put my hand on my hip and told the young (twentysomething) guy, “Hmmm … guess I’m too big of a girl to dance in there, hunh?” He told me, in English, looking me up and down like I was a size 5: “No, madame. You’re wrong. I like what you got.” Montreal is just across the border on the same continent as the United States but, oh! What a world of difference.


  3. Thank you, IzaakMak. I’m in & out of consciousness over here.

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