You're Cute for a Black Guy

Mon. March 30, 2015 12:00 AM
by Terrence Chappell

I'll never forget the day a white man found me attractive. It was the summer of 2014 and we were in Progress Bar on Halsted Street in Chicago. Out of all the other pickaninny black guys in the bar, he chose me! His sexual entitlement was only outdone by his incredible knack for compliments. He brought glasses of Wycliff Champagne as if he was offering me flutes of Veuve Clicquot. His devilish smile complemented his deluded sense of engagement. And then that's when it happened. He said it. His insulting compliment was Iggy Azalea's faux urban accent to my ears.

"Ya know, I'm not usually into black guys, but you're cute for a black guy," said the White man.

Needless to say, the champagne was burned and so was his backwards compliment. But I'm always very confused of how I'm suppose to respond to such a backhanded compliment. Did I win a prize? Do I do cart wheels and praise the Heavens because a White man finds me attractive? Should I tap dance also? "You're cute for a black guy" is not a compliment. In fact, it's an insult saturated with arrogance.

I say arrogance because it positions the foolish flatterer as this dueler of validation. "You're cute for a black guy," translates into "You're attractive because I say you are, so feel special and be grateful." Oh yea, and let's not forget the whole shitting on an entire race of people either. While this may not be the intention, it certainly is the impact, and one that circles back to the standard of beauty.

It's no secret that the standard of beauty is still very much a white one, which is arguably a manifestation of white supremacy. In such a social construct, white people are by definition attractive and any deviation from this standard would be considered undesirable. For the "undesirables" who aren't perceived to quite measure up to this very archaic beauty benchmark, sometimes internalized self-hatred and low self-esteem can follow. As early as the 1940s, there have been studies and tests about the effects of how sustaining a white standard of beauty has on small children.

In an effort to desegregate schools during the late 1930s and early 1940s psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark carried out their famous doll experiments, which focused on black children's self-perception as it relates to race. In the experiment children were presented with two identical dolls with the exception of hair and skin color. One doll was white with blonde hair while the other was brown with black hair. Children were then asked questions that included which doll they would play with, which doll has the better looking skin color and hair, as well as which doll is the nicer one. Bottom line, there was a clear preference for the white doll, which pointed to internalized self-hatred and racism.

But that was like 70 years ago. Surely, we've progressed since then. Um, not really. Although our schools have been desegregated and to my knowledge there aren't any skin lighting placement ads, at least in America, the effects of this systemic white standard of beauty still lives on in our kids today.

Inspired by the Clarks' doll experiments, in 2010 CNN and Andersen Cooper tested racial biases in 133 children. In the study, kids were shown six identical images of children ranging in skin tones. Similar to the Clarks' experiment, the subjects were asked to point out the smart child, the nice child, the bad child, and the skin tone adults like/dislike. The study concluded that both white and black children had a stark preference for associating white with positive filters, though the black children's bias was not nearly as strong as those of the white children. If left unchecked, these biases and preferences just carry over into adulthood.

However, all hope isn't lost, other races can still be considered attractive, just in longs if they look white. And in essence, that's what the big spender back at Progress Bar was unconsciously hinting towards, "I find you attractive because you don't deviate too much, and therefore you're a very safe looking black person to be attracted to."

I'm not attractive for a black guy. I'm just attractive. And so are other black guys and men of color independent of their proximity to society's silly standard of beauty. The solution isn't found in compliments. The solution is breaking away from this whitewash standard of beauty. Beauty isn't fixed. It's fluid. But I tell what's not beautiful, fuckery-driven compliments washed down with cheap champagne. So, keep it cute, or keep it on mute gentlemen.