From Self-Love to Eroticism: An Affirmation for the African in Us
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,
Top photo: Josephine Baker. Havana, Cuba, 1950
Photo Credit (top photo): Rudolf Suroch
Bottom photo: Josephine Baker in her iconic “Banana Dance”