With the rising of Lupita Nyong’o’s star, several op-eds about colorism have popped up on the Internet and once again the discussion has turned back to what it means to be Black. To place the focus back on loving ourselves no matter what our shade, “My Black is Beautiful” teamed up with transformational life coach, Lisa Nichols and actresses Tatyana Ali and Coco Jones to challenge Black women to love themselves through inspirational actions everyday for 30 days.
#TeamBeautiful caught up with Tatyana Ali, who is celebrating her latest LP release, “Hello” and gearing up to star in a Queen Latifah film, “November Rule,” to get the veteran actress’ take on Hollywood’s depiction of Black women, colorism’s impact on her life and what she hopes this My Black Is Beautiful campaign will do for Black women. And yes, there is talk of the infamous “Paper Bag Test” and how she doesn’t “pass.” Read on!
HelloBeautiful: Do you think that Black women are still underrepresented in Hollywood?
Tatyana Ali: This year changed everything. This year more than ever is the year of the Black woman in television and film when you have a variety of different women and a variety of characters and a variety of portrayals and skin tone. This year is exciting.
HB: How does Hollywood perpetuate colorism?
TA: It doesn’t just exist in Hollywood. I think it exists in society and to be quite honest, I don’t know how much it exists in the larger society, but it definitely exists in the Black community. There are obvious historical reasons for that. The closer we were to White, the more freedom we thought we could have or the more acceptability. Beauty was defined as White and the farther away you get from that White-blond-hair-blue-eye definition of beauty, the uglier you are. The closer you get to it, the more beautiful you are and that’s what we’ve been doing amongst ourselves for a very long time.
HB: How does colorism personally affect you?
Look, I can’t pass a paper bag test. I’m definitely darker than a paper bag and I have “good hair” and that’s just me being in a different category and a different light. I know that me and my sisters were separated by our cousins by older relatives who would make these weird comments and then not mention the beauty of the other child that’s sitting right there and playing the same game.
There’s a separation that’s made among sisters and we end up looking at each other funny, not realizing and thinking “she has it so good” and the other one thinks, “I feel like an outcast, she has it so good” and not realizing that we’re both missing out on each other. My experience in Hollywood is different. When Chris Rock did “Good Hair,” I was like “Why didn’t he talk to me? He didn’t get the full story.” He didn’t get the full story because, for example, it’s about identity, it’s about belonging.
It’s not just, in addition to what’s beautiful and what’s not. It’s also what’s acceptable. “Where do I fit?” “Who do you think I am based on what I look like?” For me, when I was younger, I remember my mom, because of my hair, my mom would braid my hair at night before auditions in small braids to make my hair thicker so that there wouldn’t be a question of “Oh, is she Black enough?”
What’s harmful about it is the idea of separation and the idea of not belonging and not being loved and each one of us feels it in a different way because no matter what’s being said about all of us, whether lighter is better or darker is better or being able to twist your hair is better than having straight hair. We all experience pain because of it. The bottom line is we’re all being measured a standard of beauty that has nothing to do with who we are and where we come from.
HB: Your opinions on measuring beauty makes your being part of this “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign a perfect fit. What makes your Black beautiful?
TA: What makes my Black beautiful has nothing to do with what you see on the outside. My perseverance and my confidence. At the end of “Imagine A Future,” a young woman says, “My Black is beautiful because I say so.” That’s my favorite out of all of them. It’s about confidence. It’s about saying, “I am who I am, if you don’t like it, get out the way.”
HB: What do you think will be the impact of this challenge on young Black women?
TA: This challenge is for women of all ages. We’re going to hopefully have all ages involved and posting on the Facebook page and that creates a different kind of community and sisterhood and many points of view. The part about action that I love is it’s almost like being in a virtual retreat. Lisa Nichols, amazing transformational expert, I know her from “The Secret.” If she wasn’t in “The Secret,” I don’t know if I would’ve felt that way I did without her being in it and you have her everyday giving you a challenge and trusting you with taking action. The reason why retreats work is because it takes you out of everyday life and, in this case, it takes you out of your everyday way of thinking and just asks you to take 30 days to initiate these tiny changes in the way you think. They say it takes 30 days to make or break anything, so we’re gonna see the transformation.
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