Dark and Lovely, Michelle

If a black president represents change, a dark-skinned first lady is straight-up revolutionary.

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“Hey, dark ‘n lovely!”

Gotta love the brothers who show their affection for the dark-skinned girls, even if they are hollering out the window of a passing car.

Gotta love it even more when the brother is the president, and the object of his affection is front and center for the world to see.

It’s true: A lot of black women fell for Barack Obama the moment they saw his wife.

If a black president represents change, a dark-skinned first lady is straight-up revolutionary.

I won’t apologize for taking note of Michelle Obama’s physical appearance. Plenty has already been said about how she, with her double Ivy degrees, six-figure salaries and two adorable daughters, is crushing the image of the struggling black single mother. She is a real life Clair Huxtable! But the true breakthrough here is that sisters who look like Michelle Obama seldom become cultural icons, aesthetic trendsetters—a proxy for the all-American woman.

And don’t roll your eyes and ask why we have to go there; we haven’t completely gotten over our prejudices about skin tone and hair texture. Despite years of scholarly, literary and popular debate—from Dr. Kenneth Clark’s baby-doll tests, to Toni Morrison’s tragic characters in The Bluest Eye, to the showdown between jiggaboos and wannabes in Spike Lee’s School Daze—too many of us continue to accept a standard of beauty that does not favor ebony-hued skin, woolly hair and full lips (and not those surgically enhanced smackers, either).

I know from first-hand experience. I remember being taunted and shunned by some people who didn’t believe that old saying about the blacker the berry. Back when we were Negroes, the word “black” was used to describe the dark-skinned among us, usually not with affection. My mama assured me that I was a pretty black girl, but it was the brothers on the streets, cooing such compliments as dark ‘n lovely, chocolate drop, brown sugar, who convinced me.

Now that we’re all black—folks aren’t quite as open with their intraracial biases, but those old beliefs still haunt us. The lingering effects of racism and sexism, coupled with a beauty industrial complex that constantly assaults our senses with images of female beauty that trend toward the lighter end of the racial color wheel, has rendered dark-skinned women nearly invisible in mainstream media.

Of course, some mahogany girls get play—Gabrielle Union, the actress; Naomi Campbell, the supermodel; Kelly Rowland, the singer and Lanisha Cole, of hip-hop video fame.

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