image

 To some, this is the face of an African queen.

“Oooh, you’re exotic. I’m going to call y’all Godiva!”

That was what a Southern gentleman exclaimed to me and my friend after we told him that our families originated from Liberia and Nigeria, respectively. We had struck up conversation with him and his friends outside of a club and, in exchanging the usual pleasantries and the bits of information you feel comfortable sharing with strangers, he asked us where we were from. I told him Connecticut, she told him New Jersey.

“No, where are you really from?” he countered.

I am always slightly thrown off by these compliments tempered with inquiries into my cultural background, no matter how frequently I get them. I do not know which features give away the fact that my roots are not in America, but the comments that I receive about my appearance often reveal people’s thoughtful or ignorant perspectives on Africa and Afrocentric standards of beauty.

An unwanted seatmate on a train spent the entire hour-and-a-half trip calling me beautiful and stressing to me that he always found dark-skinned women attractive, as if he should be praised for this decision. (Skin color in the black community is a whole other issue.) He was so proud to share that he nearly got hit by a bus while staring at a “blue-black African-looking woman” who was crossing the street. The conversation took an even more ridiculous turn when I told him I was Liberian.

“Do you speak African?” He then proceeded to spit out a bunch of guttural clucks, and I was this close to smacking him in the face.

A good friend once told me, “You look African” and then she quickly followed that fact with, “That’s not a bad thing, though!” Now, why would that be a bad thing if I AM African and consider myself to be attractive?

I know that she did not intend to harm me with that statement because she, like me, grew up exposed to the foolish belief that Africans are dirty and unattractive. I have heard too many stories about kids running around schools, calling their fellow black classmates, “African booty scratcher.”

People have told me that they knew people who rejected their African heritage because they were teased. And I have a handsome cousin and a good-looking friend, both full-blooded Liberian, who have been told multiple times, “You’re so cute! You don’t even look African!”

Thankfully, no one has used “You don’t look African!” to compliment me. I have encountered guys who have gotten more excited, rather than surprised, when they learned that I am of West African descent.

When I told this guy who was hitting on me that my family is Liberian, he was thrilled. “I was that guy who saved old copies of Ebony to stare at the African models they had in the back pages!”

And a videographer shooting me for a video was so enthralled by my features. He asked where I was from, and when I told him he said, “That explains it. Your features are beautiful, wonderful for the camera!”

Something that I find hilarious, yet endearing is the reverence some men have for Africa and African women. My friend’s Jamaican (possibly Rastafarian) ex-boyfriend told my boyfriend that he had better treat me right because he has an African queen.

When I vacationed with the same friend, who is of Jamaican descent, to the Bahamas, one of our many Bahamian admirers told her, “You are beautiful, but this is the original beauty, right here [gesturing to me]. Africa.”

These encounters make me laugh because I never claim to be royalty, unlike the girl in my high school who convinced people that she was a Nigerian princess. And I do not believe I am superior because my family tree is planted firmly in the Motherland. (Well, not exactly, but I won’t get into a history lesson about Liberia.)

I have been told that my cheekbones give away my heritage, and others say I have a slight accent (despite the fact that I was born here), but no one can definitively tell me how they know I am not of American descent.

I love my West African features –- dark brown skin, kinky hair, wide nose, and full lips –-  but I am still bewildered when my looks pique people’s curiosity. Perhaps, you can blame a culture that praises Eurocentric (or racially ambiguous) features. But at least my features have sparked conversations about my heritage, which I am always proud to represent!

 

This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more
on XOJane! 

  • Yb

    I think the reactions the author received was more so the surprise of her shattering negative stereotypes of the appearance of Africans, especially African women.

    I’m half Nigerian/half Black American and I’ve gotten the “you don’t look African” comment as if I should be grateful and take that as a compliment. I’ve had people tell me I’m a liar when I state my father is Nigerian because I adopted my mother skin tone, because some people refuse to shake their close minded beliefs that all African are of one hue.

    From my experience Afro-Carribeans, Latins, and Americans look just like West Africans (regardless of how much these groups brag about how mixed they are.) So know why people fetishised the author’s beautiful appearance and made her fell like “other”.

  • Monique

    firstly, hello my people o! I’m half Liberian and Ghanaian and have dealt with everything you spoke of. great article!

  • http://twitter.com/elozanobuhl Ericka Lozano-Buhl (@elozanobuhl)

    ah, your comment about someone “you don’t look african!” to compliment (!) you struck a chord. one of my best friends in high school once told me, “i don’t even think of you as mexican!” (after saying that mexican people “stink”). i still remember the two-fold sting of that comment – that she thought people like me were awful, but she didn’t even realize/identify me as coming from that group. i have also been asked, very insistently, where i’m “from” – and i’m “from” indiana, second (or third, depending on who you ask) generation american.

    thanks for this article. i’m not black, but i love reading clutch because it makes me feel not alone and opens my eyes to how other women of color feel and experience life.

  • Mama Mia

    She is soooo gorgeous!

  • Ange B

    I find this to be similar but different. I’m Canadian with Jamaican heritage (ie. I born in Canada, parents from Jamaica) and I have often got the where are you from? But it was more of a you must be from somewhere else because you are not white scenario. I will say this at least on my experience of Caribbean (of African decent) people and our love affair with Africa/African people. I think stems from slavery. And that for us having lost our language and full aspect of our cultures there seems to be an internal longing for an African connection. Directly at least it seems that way to me. I know certain beauty products and fashion seems to be at least from what I experienced a notion of that’s African made designed? Ooo’s and awe’s happen. So possibly the same situation happens in America as well?

    On the other hand I do understand the problems that can arise from exoticfiying a person and their culture or what is believed to be of the culture. As well as the notion of Africa as a country mentality rather than a continent with varying nations,traditions and cultuers.

  • KD

    You are pretty, but lots of American black women share your features. I guess 80 percent of us are exotic.

  • http://tontonmichel.tumblr.com/ Tonton Michel

    I wouldn’t have made the assumptionshe was African based off her looks especially with no accent, just another pretty woman. But I would be wary of people who are a little too preoccupied with your background that gets old real quick.

  • Anthony

    Just remember that men sometimes simply want to start up a conversation, and are genuinely clueless about what to say.

  • http://twitter.com/JumpJunkieJoe Geechee Goddess (@JumpJunkieJoe)

    I’m Gullah and many many times in my life I’ve gotten the “No, where are you really from?” question asked. No one believes that I’m from South Carolina. In fact a African classmate argued with me that I was not from S.C. A Caucasin customer once said to me “I love shopping here because you’re my African Nubian Ebony Chocolate Princess”. He really went there. It always puts a smile in my face and makes me feel very proud of my heritage.

  • Yb

    “So *don’t* know why people”

  • http://gravatar.com/bossladi bossladi

    This is the story of my life! Well done fine geh.:)

  • Job

    It’s always funny when my African friends who I’ve met over the last few years are surprised that American blacks immediately know that they are not from here. There is just something about them that gives them away without fail. It’s not always racist, though when I was in school the american blacks were very mean to the Africans.

  • silkynaps

    Just as you say “I love my West African features –- dark brown skin, kinky hair, wide nose, and full lips”, guess what. Those features are indicative to the rest of the world that you’re West African.

    We are not so removed from African culture that we forgot how we looked before miscegenation had such a tremendous effect on the aesthetic of black Americans, Central Americans, South Americans, Europeans, etc. etc. and a cashmere sweater.

    Yeah, we may have two black parents, but it’s not uncommon to see remnants of that white great great grandfather or that native great great grandmother surfacing in the form of a less than ebony complexion or light eyeballs, or a looser curl pattern.

  • Deb

    I’m 100% Nigerian…my ancestors from what I know, never left Africa and I would get those “where are you really from?” comments and when I told them, they’d say stuff like “I thought so” and “no wonder” and yes I have what’s thought of as the typical west african features. The thing is that I personally don’t see it as an insult anymore even if people MEAN it to be and I LET THEM KNOW.

    I look like my mother, who looks like her mother (who I sadly never met), the hell do I have to be ashamed about. At the same time, it obviously shows the immense ignorance regarding the diversity of looks in africa. Hell, I heard a nigerian woman telling a nigerian young woman that she almost looked MEXICAN. MEXICAN. This girl was an igbo, light skinned girl and I know tons of girls that looked like her but this was coming from another nigerian woman who was dark-skinned. I almost started cackling.

    The best compliment I got regarding this issue was from an older mexican woman in one of my spanish classes. She asked me where I was from, I told her, then I got the “but where are you REALLY from?” and when I told her she said, “No wonder, you look so regal.” and went back to studying.

    I wish all types of beauty could be celebrated without having to put others down. But that would be too much damn work for most humans. Either way, I will forever celebrate your beauty, my beauty, and the beauty of africa and it’s diaspora.

  • ?

    Really enjoyed this story. So often we only hear of one type of Black women being thought of as exotic and beautiful. It’s great to hear all of our stories.

  • jellybene

    I think she is very beautiful. I agree, sometimes people can get a little weird, but I don’t think they realize that they’re being strange. When I saw her picture I didn’t think she was African-American, I guessed Nigerian or Senegalese. When I get my hair braided by Nigerian women, they always ask me if where I’m from. I’ve gotten everything from Mali, Somalian, and even Namibian!

  • Keshia

    I’m African American but I get silly stuff like this too I’m always confused. I remember in high school I had really long thick hair and people would always asked me if I was mixed smh, I even had a mixed person asked if I mixed because I my skin color (golden brown). But this whole “exotic” mess needs to stop especially from black men because based off of many of their perceptions of what “exotic” is they don’t meet the criteria basically they are “regular” themselves. I just don’t get it

  • Mama Mia

    Wow. I actually just recently learned about the Gullahs. What a coincidence. You really are beautiful : )

  • stef

    asking “where you from” is very common really normal especially on the east coast especially Brooklyn ( and DC)where a huge amount of black people are 1st,2nd generation Americans who parents come from the West indies or Africa.

    these questions are usually conversation starters they either work or go horribly wrong as long as an idiot is not saying anything negative. embrace it

  • Melu

    I can relate to this on so any levels! I’ve heard the “You don’t loo Haitian” line so many times.

  • Nic

    Right, I think there is frequently, but not always a difference too. Beauty comes in many forms and I’ve noticed that there are people that fall into the “all africans are ugly” camp but there are also people who think that they are the only attractive blacks b/c they are so “exotic”. I’ve seen both.
    There are ugly and pretty folks on both sides of the Atlantic, I don’t think anyone can claim all of the good things.

  • Nic

    Very true…and it’s not always meant as an insult when you can tell someone has more obvious features although the African continent is so diverse that a lot of things people associate with Africa are either totally incorrect or else represent just one of many kinds of people.

    I was at a dinner a couple of weeks ago for a former grad school classmate who is Nigerian, and most of her other dinner guests were Nigerian or Senegalese (I think I was the only Black American).

    At any rate, the long white guy found one of the girls to be very attractive (she was from Senegal), and he later said “oh, she’s so pretty, is she part French.” I had to roll my eyes and explain to him that just b/c he found her pretty did not mean she had white ancestry. There are nothing about how she looked that would suggest that. I’ve seen other women from that part of the world who looked similar so I’d say she’s likely a member of the same ethnic groups as them.

    Too many people, black, white, and other fall into the trap of believing that black people can only be beautiful if they have mixed ancestry. That ignorance needs to stop.

  • Nic

    She is pretty but you aren’t lying about how some people fetishsize black women who aren’t American. I don’t think I’d think she wasn’t Black American unless her name or accent seemed unusual to me.

    I’ve seen guys who weren’t thinking about someone perk up when they find out her ancestry isn’t just garden variety Black American (esp. if the person is ethnically Latina for example).

    And if her name seems “foreign” to people that will increase her stock a lot.

    Let’s not forget, a lot of people attach negative stereotypes to Black Americans and finding out that a black person is elsewhere lets some racists dissociate them from those stereotypes.

    And I think that it is not uncommon for people to assume that if they find you attractive, it can’t be from you being “plain old black.”

  • Kacey

    I love when people tell me I’m “exotic” and try to guess where I’m from. I’ve noticed that it especially attracts men of other races who often use it as an intro to talking to me. I think it’s a compliment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sandieappiah Sandra Appiah

    Same thing happens here in Canada. I’m of Ghanian descent, first Generation Canadian, and I’ve had people use the -”you don’t look Ghanaian (Or African)” line on me as if it were a compliment.I love my skin, I love my kinky hair, I love my culture. I’m not ashamed of ANY of it and I hate that people make me feel like I should be. The opposite happens a lot too (sometimes to me, and other times, to my girls around me) where a guy will pursue you just because you are African or from the Caribbean.

  • Chelley5483

    ….Like wicked gorgeous. I think I stared at her photo for a least five good minutes lol. The videographer that made the comment about her features was not kidding. Stunning woman.

  • tish

    “do you speak ‘african’?”

    that made my day. LOL!!!!!!!

    peace and blessings, sis….

  • EST. 1986 (GO RAVENS)

    Well, it is then up to men to learn how to talk to women.

  • http://gravatar.com/rockthecatbox rockthecatbox

    She looks like most of my relatives and we are all 100% USA grade ex-slave lol. Black is black. When Africans insist I have to be one of theirs (I have gotten into verbal spars with Nigerians, Senegalese and Jamaicans) and the compliments take an ugly turn to the point where they insult US blacks in order to pay me a compliment. I get where this comes from, it’s pride and that’s all good. But I always say yes, I’m African but my ancestors were slaves and yours were colonized, so…of course I seem familiar to you, brother. For some reason it makes some folks uncomfortable to mention that, as if the black people from places Europe got the slaves couldn’t possibly look like the people now living in the places the slaves ended up. We don’t all look the same black people but some of us need to not delude ourselves into thinking it’s so weird for a West African to look like a Black South Carolinian.

  • Humanista

    And it’s not always lighter skin/eyes or looser hair. My white ancestry shows itself in the shape of my facial features–as opposed to color. Meanwhile I am dark-skinned with kinky hair. My dad jokes that the only thing “negro” about me is my nose, and then, only barely.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Great point! So you can look at this as a two-fold issue because when the “exotic” discussion/question comes up most people don’t think black American and some even have that “OH…” face when you confirmed that you are what you are (personally experienced that one…lol) but at the same time I love her story because when people use the “exotic” word as a compliment most of the time it is towards a woman who looks ambiguous or with European/white-wash features…i.e. small noise, light colored eyes, certain hair type, etc.

  • TinaLeana

    i can relate lol. I am haitian american and when i was younger people would ask me what was i. I guess i dont look like the typical haitian but lol thats all subjective, there isnt alot of ethnicities that look alike besides some people from east afria ,and some from carribean islands. I wouldnt say i am light skin but more of a light brown, and i have more curly less kinky hair texture, and long eye lashes lol.all those “exotic” features have to do with my “supposed” indian grandfather and some french mix that i have in my family.
    According to some people thats enough exotic features to be considered an “other”. I have never felt any type of way about it, never been offended or pleased. Lately, some people have inquired whether I am a afro-latina and i got to admit that i am little hyped lol. to me its nice to hear that u could pass for other ethinicities, and races, that u stand out a little. I dont let it get to my head becasue its nothing to get big headed about but its still nice.
    I do want to say that we as humans are exotic to someone. some people will find me regular ol’ black and some will find me a carribean goddess lol jk, and same with you. we are all someones idea of exotic and someones idea of typical as well, just take it with as a grain of salt either way and dont let it discourage you or make ur head big lol.

  • student

    When I first moved to the DC area for school I met a TON of people who asked me that question. I soon found out that outside of poughkeepsie was not a correct answer. They’d start asking me about my parents and some would look disappointed or shocked that they too, were the “boring” kind of black.

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    I will get thumbs down but this is my individual experience. Attending a predominantly Nigerian University was a real eye opener for me as far as standards of African beauty are concerned. I found that it was primarily Africans themselves that have a negative connotation of African beauty. The fact that I’m half Arubian and Dominican with curly hair, a slightly lighter complexion and with hazel eyes was an instantaneous turn on for most African guys at the university, even though I was surrounded by ’African Queens’. Frequently hearing remarks such as, “she’s pretty, must be Caribbean” from Africans, yes, from Africans.
    So what the hell is she talking about?
    The article makes out that it’s her against the world, but maybe she should look a bit closer to home and start with her own people’s idea of beauty. Last week there was an article stating how 70% of Nigerian women bleach and now some crap about tattooing your lips pink. Bitch please; Europeans invented the description of ‘African features ‘but its defo Africans that made it pessimistic. Thick lip, wide nose, Little Wayne’s (tougher than Nigerian hair) not Caribbean’s, Latinos, or whoever else you choose to blame. Africans until you stop persistently making statements such as ”He’s ugly he looks so African, he has really big African features “ yes, these are statements that I hear on a regular basics, you will be associated as ugly, disturbing the self-esteem of beautiful black queens in your own community

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    This is news to me. I will get thumbs down but this is my individual experience. Attending a predominantly Nigerian University was a real eye opener for me as far as standards of African beauty are concerned. I found that it was primarily Africans themselves that have a negative connotation of African beauty. The fact that I’m half Arubian and Dominican with curly hair, a slightly lighter complexion and with hazel eyes was an instantaneous turn on for most African guys at the university, even though I was surrounded by ’African Queens’. Frequently hearing remarks such as, “she’s pretty, must be Caribbean” from Africans, yes, from Africans.
    So what the hell is she talking about?
    The article makes out that it’s her against the world, but maybe she should look a bit closer to home and start with her own people’s idea of beauty. Last week there was an article stating how 70% of Nigerian women bleach and now some crap about tattooing your lips pink. Bitch please; Europeans invented the description of ‘African features ‘but its defo Africans that made it pessimistic. Thick lip, wide nose, Little Wayne’s (tougher than Nigerian hair) not Caribbean’s, Latinos, or whoever else you choose to blame. Africans until you stop persistently making statements such as ”He’s ugly he looks so African, he has really big African features “ yes, these are statements that I hear on a regular basics, you will be associated as ugly, disturbing the self-esteem of beautiful black queens in your own community

  • AM

    Sup Geechee Goddess!! :) Smooches!!

  • JaeBee

    I get the “where are you from?” question often, but it’s usually from someone who’s of African or West Indian heritage. Even when I say that I’m American they insist on knowing where my parents are from originally and I surprise them by saying Indiana and South Carolina. Recently, a guy contacted me on OkCupid and made the assumption that I was an “island girl”, and started telling me about his own Caribbean background, and basically said that he was looking for someone of the same heritage. I was like, “Hate to break it to ya, but I’m African American, and other than myself and 1 aunt on my father’s side I don’t believe ANY of my relatives has ever been to the Caribbean.” He tried to play it off after that to continue talking to me, but I certainly felt that I had been exoticized (I know it’s not a word). I felt like he was interested in me primarily because I didn’t appear to resemble the “typical” African American phenotype (whatever the hell that’s supposed to look like). I’m dark skinned, petite, and have nearly waist long hair. Guess African American’s are not supposed to have those features [shrugs].

  • http://www.facebook.com/nieshag Niesha Gourdine

    I get that all the time too.. mostly by whites, and some blacks.. they say where you from, I say Baltimore, then they say, no what is your background? I say hmmm, my ancestors came on a boat from Africa and were slaves.. I said that to a person once, and they were so embarrassed.. good! I hate that people don’t think that blacks can be attractive enough.. I’m not mixed, or anything else but black, and I’m proud! embrace your race!.. great story by the way…

  • Echi

    What are you talking about? is it because a number of Nigerian men at a university wanted to get into your panties that you decided to spout this nonsense?
    From my experience, bleaching skin is seen as stupid, and the Nigerian media is ruthless towards actresses who try such. And try stopping the next Nigerian you meet on the streets and ask them about tattooing their lips and watch them give you the WTF face

  • Nic

    This girl was dark skinned and had kinky hair worn in corn rows. If I had to guess, I’d say she was Fulani but I’ll admit to being very ignorant about the overwhelming majority of ethnic groups in Africa…I just known that there tend to be many within the false boundaries created to the colonizers. And clearly, she could be a mixture of African ethnicities.

    My point to you would be the same as it is to him…just b/c you have a narrow nose and other features you have decided aren’t “black” does not mean you have it b/c of your European ancestry. There is this idea that black in its purest forms means the darkest skin, the kinkiest hair, the widest nose, and the biggest lips, and that simply is NOT true.

    I haven’t been to any part of Africa but I do know that when different Europeans arrived to take things over, there were many places where they found the women to be very much to their liking(in the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans were very much into the idea of physiogomy, which means that you can tell someone’s intelligence, character, and other qualities based on their facial features, their size, and their proportion and distance to one another), precisely b/c they found that these 100% African women had small, delicate features that everyone wants to claim you can only have by having white ancestry.

    So there is that…

  • BlackNortherner

    Aaaawww man….. I almost got flashbacks on this one.

    I am a Canadian born Black man who grew up in a not so diverse area, then went on to spend the last 14 years in two of the most diverse cities in North America. Certain things you mention remind me of the treatment I got from many white people in the first 19 years of my life before there was a change in how we conducted the census. We know collect detailed info on minorities.

    I used to have a standard conversation where I was asked if I was Jamaican or African (its a country apparently, not dozens of them). Then when I said from here, they fired back with “no where are you really from?”…. I reply… then “where were you actually born?”…. finally when they see I was Canadian born, some would walk away and others would dig into my background to determine what country to apply me to (“where was your mother born?”). It is these same people that would sometimes say I have an accent. It jumped out at me that people claimed you to have an accent after determining your background.

    Now, about that exoticism…. its good when stories like this get out cause it used to be, in my world, that only white people did that. Its a different situation up where with more than half of Black people being immigrants, so within the community you wont find that same exoticism going on, but I know the feeling you get from it. We have different messed up issues within… but some of what you speak on is familiar. We tend to have massive divisions between the various groups of Black people, and within them (Canadian born vs foreign born of the same background) its sad.

    I had to laugh at “do you speak African?” I also had to shake my head that the comments you got about “looking African?”.

    Good article.

  • http://fromthoughtsintowords.blogspot.com/ rkahendi

    You definitely deserve a thumbs down. Just because you had a specific experience in a Nigerian university does NOT mean that every African female living in the US must have experienced exactly what you describe from your perspective.

    You ask “So what the hell is she talking about?”
    She’s talking about her experience. That is really all that any of us can do. So, by all means, talk about your own experience, but have the humility to recognize that it is your experience, and that it doesn’t negate another person’s experience.

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    “get in my panties”, don’t hate Echi I knew that this comment would provoke some angry black women to respond in this manner
    cuz no one wants to get in your panties maybe lol

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    II know what you mean this makes sense to me. I didn’t mean to offend anyone I feel like this is a delicate subject with black women that people often react aggressively towards. But I’m merely stating that as a woman who doesn’t have ‘typical African looking features’ I have noticed this to work in my favour with men.
    That don’t mean I lack humidity (Rakhahendi), or that men fancy me just to sleep with me(Echi). Why do black women get sooooooooooooooooooooooo angry about this topic? When was the last time you watch a music video and saw a black women with ‘African features’ like the girl who wrote the article as the main girl, lets admit it she doesn’t exactly resemble Beyonce does she, and I’m contributing in the conversation by saying that I feel that what African men’s desires have contributed to societies ideology of beauty, and because of this I as the female get shot down instead of women thinking well why is that, it’s so predictable.

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    Tinaleana when i read this I knew it would thumbs down, but I can totally relate to this comment thanks for writing it

  • Yb

    @sheworkshard

    I really don’t understand the disbelief and dare I say anger in your comment.

    “So what the hell is she talking about?”

    You basically say the author is lying or delusional because in your mind you don’t think anyone will find and dark skinned, kinky haired woman beautiful.

    “The article makes out that it’s her against the world, but maybe she should look a bit closer to home and start with her own people’s idea of beauty idea of beauty.”

    This article wasn’t about Eurcentric standards it was about, people finding her beauty exotic. In your comment you took the focus off her beauty, and implied “I’m mixed and receive compliments, there’s no way people can find you exotic. Stop lying.”

    “but maybe she should look a bit closer to home and start with her own people’s idea of beauty idea of beauty.”

    Sorry, but as a Dominican you don’t have room to talk.

    “Bitch Please”

    You call the author a bitch, say her experiences don’t matter, and associate her with ugliness, then have the audacity to call Echi an “angry black woman”. The Nigerians at that university you attended and the black women of Clutch didn’t ask you to be her. You over estimate your importance, and I think I know why. If you don’t like blacks you can leave.

    And the superiority complex, and condescending attitude you have toward Africans is appalling. It seems that the same complex you accuse African of having that “light is right” you also have.

  • Elizabeth

    My family come from Nigeria and my lighter skinned family members have been questioned about their race in the UK since the 60s,not all Africans are ebony.

  • Mel

    I have also been plagued by the “Where are you from?” question for most of my life… It gets very frustrating and irritating. But, I think it’s because I ever know WHY people are asking. They say I look “exotic” and sometimes I get offensive comments about being “well spoken”. You are very beautiful. You’re also younger than me. I am 38. I think by the time you get to that age, you will be able to get away from the ignorance.There will always be ignorant people… That will never change, unfortunately. But as I get older think I am deflecting it differently

  • http://gravatar.com/bornliberian bornliberian

    @sheworkhard
    r u chocking yet? b/c u came back and put ur whole leg in your mouth. stop while u r ahead. say no more.

  • Mama Mia

    You’re of Dominican descent, right? Your people are delusional and extremely racist as well when it comes to typical “afro/black” features. The majority of the population there claim to be “white” and will accuse anyone with dark features to be Haitians. No need to call anyone a liar simply because you haven’t experienced it. I know a Dominican girl who didn’t want to date this Dominican guy who liked her simply because he “looked black” (her words, not mine). So please don’t go there.

  • Mama Mia

    You know there just has to be that “one” to bring in all of the negativity. Being exotic is totally subjective. No one group can just be considered ‘exotic’. Just because she finds herself to be the desired exotic range, anyone who doesn’t look like her, but claim the same experiences, will be considered a liar. And her anger and jealousy goes just as far as to calling the author a “b!tch”. Can you believe it?

  • Nic

    Right, I’m a dark brown Black American, not ebony, but true brown and I have known many, many Africans who were lighter than me. And I’m not so silly as to assume it’s b/c they have European ancestry. I have friends who are deep ebony who have white grandparents.
    But I hate the “you are so pretty”(I’m saying in general, not referring to myself) so you much have something non-black in your bloodline. I don’t understand how people don’t understand how offensive and gross that sounds.

  • Nic

    Maybe you should say “funny, you don’t look stupid” the next time someone says that…

  • quietgal

    Nice way to generalize all Africans based on your experience with only Nigerians. Oh and good job at generalizing Nigerians too.

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    I don’t claim to be white, never said that

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    dont get this comment, is this an african american thing

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    Isnt “bitch please”, an american saying thought african americans acknowledge each other that way all the time, like how they call each other, “nigger”
    My mistake

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    YB dont know how to start but you totally misread my comment and it would take to long to acknowledge everything you said, except the fact that I am well within my right to comment on here and you have not right to tell me other wise, thank you

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    Don’t get the chocking thing, and I didn’t come back, I never left, didn’t think it was a race to get ahead, get ahead to where, will have to put this down as a language barrier
    But if you are commenting about the disagreement of my comment.
    I already stated that it was a comment that the majority of people would disagree with, that is what the comment section is for, to express our own views, that may differ to others,you read the whole article and decided the only thing you could think of to say was something about my comment instead of the article itself.

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    Quietgal stop trying to get thumbs up with your kiss arse comment you know thats not what I was trying to say

  • Eve

    @she works hard
    Sounds like a bit of envy, females will always hate on the pretty girl, glad to see you didn’t rise to it. Black men will always find women like us desirable. I am half indian, meaning I have ‘good hair’ and black women always hate on me, I see your point, don’t know how you could be bothered to reply. Just leave them be.

  • Mwendwa

    I totally agree as I have faced the same experiences as a first generation Tanzanian American living in South Carolina. like what’s wrong with looking alike lol?

  • allday

    Nigerians are dark or a small departure from it. There have been genetic studies on Nigerians and they are virtually all black and genetically similar across the board. They have no detectable European ancestry. African American skin tone is oftentimes different due to European admixture and can vary greatly from person to person.

  • allday

    Nic,

    West Africans have similar features. Black in its purest form is not blonde-haired and blue-eyed whatever your fantasies to the contrary. There are benchmarks and similarities within and between populations. It is entirely possible to have slightly narrower nose than normal but if you look at the average Nigerian, they are remarkably similar and uniform. Studies on Nigerians. Ghanaians and Angolans all note these populations are genetically homogeneous and European DNA is not detectable within the groups as a whole.

    Generally the rule is that darker-skinned people in the Americas are more black since the original slaves were as black as black Africans today. If you want to know what a black African looks like, type in any West African group.

  • allday

    I’m a black man and West African negro hair isn’t “waist long hair”. You’re probably mixed race and that’s the truth.

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    “…some people have inquired whether I am a afro-latina and i got to admit that i am little hyped lol…”

    Haitians actually ARE technically Afro-Latin, with the Latin being those cultures partially descended from “Latin” European colonizers in France, Spain, and Portugal (I’m Franco-Haitian).

    I really don’t understand the intent of your post. It seems you’re suggesting that being racially ambiguous makes a person more attractive (hence the thumbs down)?

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    I think people don’t appreciate your comments because they are racist (you have repeatedly assumed your own superiority and the inferiority of others).

    Although I suspect that you’re trolling.

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    @allday

    I don’t know why you’re getting thumbed down (why are Blacks people so sensitive about the fact that we have darker skin). There’s less genetic admixture in West Africa than the diaspora for obvious reasons — this results in pretty uniform skin colors (what Africans call “lighter” is not what those of us from Latin America would call “light.” We generally mean appearing White — that’s genetically impossible for pure, West African descent).

    It’s similar to saying Japanese and Koreans have less variety in appearance — it’s simply true, because there’s less genetic variety.

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    Didn’t feel like commenting on this but felt compelled to — this has been, regrettably, the story of my life.

    Saw this on facebook without the pic. I am actually glad that the woman in question is a dark-skinned Black woman, which gives another perspective.

    I am usually characterized as racially and ethnically ambiguous, and do have an extremely high racial admixture (about half Black, the rest White and Other — I’m Franco-Haitian).

    I have been uncomfortable my whole life because I’m an introvert and have just wanted people to leave me alone. I’m not saying that people find me extremely attractive — although I have sometimes been told that — but people feel it’s appropriate or acceptable to share their feelings about how I look or *should* look and always reference their ideas about race or ethnicity from their perspective. When I was younger, I had no idea why this was happening to me and was oblivious as to how I’m perceived until I got older, which made me feel even more isolated.

    It may be the most violating dimension of my life, although Black women throughout the world experience *distinct* oppression no matter what shade we are. It’s put me in positions that I did not ask to be in with Whites, Blacks, Latins, Asians, and men and women. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to have community with other Black women and have found that I’ve gotten immediate hostility and was not perceived as really belonging, although in my own family I’m perceived as dark-skinned (about the same color as Zoe Saldana).

    Anyhow, there’s an excellent book called “Mulattas and Mestizas” that explores what those of us women from the Caribbean and Latin America are experiencing if categorized this way. I have Latin female friends — who are either labeled as mulattas or mestizas — who have been as validated as I was in reading that book.

  • Nic

    @Collette, Koreans and Japanese don’t look like each other, and they don’t look like Chinese people(where the billion plus population has loads of different ethnicities). The differences may not be as obvious to non-Asians, but they do vary a lot in terms of how they look, what size they are, how light or dark they are, etc. Few races have the range in color that we do, but just b/c you don’t notice doesn’t mean it’s not there. And there are ethnic groups that are present in countries other than their country of origin, so you have people of Chinese descent in the Phillipines, and the same is true in Thailand, Malaysia, and other parts of Asia. Just as in Africa, colonization, migration, and wars results in lines being drawn where people of the same ethnicity will be found in many different nations, with people leaping to the false conclusion that how look is b/c of their nationality, without understanding or considering all of this information.

    There is way more to Africa than just Africa, so I dislike how people act like Eastern, Southern, and Northern Africa don’t have plenty of examples of what I’m referring to (and no, not everyone in Northern Africa is Arab/non-black).

    As I said, I’m not well-versed in too many of the African ethnic groups but my eyes tell me that Nelson Mandela does not look like, for example Laurent Kabila.

    I’m probably Michelle Obama color which is dark-skinned but still isn’t as dark as the darkest black skin by a LONG way (since there are people who have perfectly ebony skin, darker than perhaps Alek Wek). However, there are plenty of people from all parts of Africa who are lighter than me, and most of them didn’t get that way from having European ancestry.

    What @allday deserves a thumbs down for is the hyperbole that my statement that there is a lot of genetic variety among the various African ethnic groups is fueled by some desire to claim that there are blond haired, blue-eyed people all over Africa. I said nothing about white skin. I said nothing about blond hair or blue eyes. So perhaps he/she has reading comprehension issues.

    All I said is that I have seen dark-skinned African people who have narrow features and there is historical documentation and pictures that show that when for example, the Belgians first got to the Congo, they found the Tutsi women to be beautiful b/c of their narrower features. I definitely know plenty of Africans who are lighter than me.

    Like I said, people think that being African means having the blackest skin and kinkiest hair and you’ve possibly read the comments from members of the African diaspora who I will presume know their ancestry better than you or @allday, so I think I’ll trust them if their good looks or not dark (no one said white) skin came from entirely African ancestry.

    I think more people are bothered by the idea that any kind of African can be pretty without having had a great-grandmother who was raped by a white man. And my point is that even if you do have perhaps a narrow nose, it isn’t from that. I’m not going to claim that my cousins who have green or gray eyes or blond hair got that from Africa.

    But feel free to dismiss my comment as some kind of insecurity about my skin color if you wish. It’s annoying enough to have this conversation with non-blacks who claim that all attractive black people don’t “look black”.

    I dislike how so many people want to shut down dissenting opinions by claiming that the people making the comments are jealous or insecure. It’s lazy and facile.

  • Nic

    Exactly, anyone with eyes who has gotten out even a little bit should know that, but apparently they will always want to claim that you really have European ancestry that you are denying/unaware of.

  • http://gravatar.com/jaebee81 JaeBee

    Well, I’m not West African. I’m African American, and yes, there is some admixture in my background–much like the majority of African Americans.

  • Nila

    Anyone who looks at that pic and doesn’t suspect that she is African is delusional. She clearly has very strong African features. I have similar features although not quite as strong but I am usually told that I look like I am from Jamaica or Trinidad. I have also been told that despite being Nigerian, I don’t look like the typical Nigerian.Not sure what that means but I think that people diagnose you based on their level of exposure. You can take their diagnosis however you see fit. I know who I am and what I am so thats all that matters to me.

  • Shay

    Hasn’t Clutch had an article like this before? *scratches head* Deja vu…

  • Tosin

    You’re absolutely right Nic, it’s not an insult when you can recognize someone who has more obvious African features, when they are recognizable. Many people are misinformed on their perception of an “African woman.” However, the central argument is women who have European features are more exotic. There are certain distinct features that are only recognizable if you’re aware of people from that similar African region. There is a difference in how Nigerians look from one another, there is a difference between how Carribeans look from one another, and there is a difference between how African Americans look from one another so sometimes it frustrates me when there’s blatant ignorance towards understanding that being black comes with a spectrum of beauty.
    I’m from Chicago and I’m Nigerian. I’ve gotten “You don’t look African”, to which I ignorantly reply “You don’t look American.” Clearly, I can’t look like an entire continent, but until we move beyond all this post-colonial lingo, we’ll never set our own standard of beauty.

  • lookslikeregullaoleblacktome

    So, “I’m exotic” is the new “I’m mixed with” . . . . . to derogate from ones unmitigated blackness.

    In their own minds of course, because all I and everyone else sees in the photo is a regular, full black, black woman – more late 70s disco queen than African queen (yawn) and writing that’s more quixotic than exotic. LMAO! .

    Where’s this foolishness going to end?

  • http://twitter.com/Cognorati001 Colette Marcheline (@Cognorati001)

    @Nic

    “Koreans and Japanese don’t look like each other, and they don’t look like Chinese people(where the billion plus population has loads of different ethnicities).”

    I didn’t write clearly enough — I’m not saying that Koreans and Japanese look alike (btw, I lived in Northeast Asia ). I’m saying that Koreans really do tend to look like one another — there is less variety in physical features because they have the least genetic variety in the world (saying that is just a genetic reality). Japan is similar because of historic isolation. China is completely different because of the dramatically different ethnic and even racial groups (Uyghurs and Tibetans are not “racially” Chinese by any stretch of the imagination and some Uyghur Muslims and others have blonde hair and blue eyes). Southeast Asians are too diverse to be considered a racial group (the term “Asian” is actually pretty meaningless, if we consider it).

    I didn’t really see her comments as hyperbole.

    Also, the “wide” features of Africans are not universally true. I am genetically Mende/Limba (Sierra Leone) and many have narrow noses and small mouths.

    What tends not to vary *as widely* in Bantu-speaking African groups is skin color. People are generally ignorant in describing Africans as extremely dark — that’s not always true. But most Bantu speakers are likely to be medium to darkest brown. What they consider “fair” is not fair to those of us from the Caribbean and Latin America, where to be fair is to appear White. For instance, my father’s family’s hair is straight and his mother was extremely fair yellow (most American Blacks would not identify her as Black). That’s not from Bantu-speakers.

    Just like someone who is multi-generationally Scottish isn’t born Black, and Koreans don’t have blonde hair. It’s not that big a deal to just state the obvious.

  • Daphne

    This article is the story of my life.

    I had this guy tell me that I didn’t look Haitian, and then actually proceeded to tell me that it WAS in fact a complement.

    I couldn’t believe it.

  • chanela17

    ugh be happy that you’re FROM somewhere and know your culture and can most likely visit and/or speak with family members from your home country.

    some of us “regular” black folks don’t have ISH but slavery. honestly, who wants to be proud of being enslaved and not knowing anything about ourselves? it’s so sad and frustrating. i seriously envy those who are able to talk about their country. all i have is crappy america who is full of ratchet folks and violent misogynistic music to call my heritage and be “proud” of. smh

    quit complaining. be glad that you have a beautiful culture that is still going strong. it may not mean a lot to you, but when you don’t have anything to identify with except for being associated with people that nobody likes, it means everything.

  • Muse

    allday is getting thumbed down because she’s actually incorrect.

    Nigerians come in a variety of skin complexions. Yoruba people tend to be deep chocolate hued, Igbo people are usually on the caramel and sometimes lighter side, and Hausa people are mixed with Arab so they tend to look more East African (i.e. Ethiopian). Then there’s the Fulani who are know for their narrow facial features. All beautiful but different.

    All I’m saying is you cannot generalize the “look” of the western part of Africa because believe it or not, the skin tones and facial features vary a lot.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    Yeah, I got this a lot too, but it was offensive just as often as it wasn’t. For me, when people pushed the issue after I insisted that both my parents are American born, they’d follow it up w/ something like: “Oh, well, you don’t ACT like it”. As though Af-Ams are a bunch of common savages.

  • Echi

    Urrghh – I’ve always hated the term “exotic” when it is applied to women. It leaves a foul taste in my mouth. It’s kind of like the backwards compliment, “you’re not like other back people,” because you speak English or brush your teeth, or something mundane like that. The exotic label as been applied to light skinned and mixed race women in order to emphasize their desirability over darker skinned women. The label has also been applied to southeast Asian women so as to emphasize unsavoury stereotypes.
    I just didn’t find this article uplifting as a fellow West African living in America. It had, “oh-I’m-so-beautiful-and-so-different-from-the-rest-of-black-American-society,” written all over it. So, it gets a side eye from me.
    (Oh, in regards to your Nigerian high school friend who claims to be a princess – it is quite possible – there are hundreds of autonomous communities in Nigeria which have some governorship be traditional rulers – even if only figureheads. If you don’t understand it, why condemn it. The shade was unnecessary. And yes, I am Nigerian and no, I’m not a princess – though my mother was).

  • Q

    I’m also from the SC Lowcountry and receive the same comments. When people ask where I’m from they either think I’m Jamaican (because of the accent) or West African (because of the facial features).

  • http://www.facebook.com/yvonne.watkins.39 Oldschoolyrw

    Self-absorbed much? How did this become about you and your poor mulatta meme?

  • http://www.Hello-Dora.tumblr.com Danielle

    Wow, I wrote a piece on this exact topic on my own blog back in December. please feel free to read and comment.

    http://hello-dora.tumblr.com/post/37401282810/where-are-you-from

  • Jhenisis

    Oooh, Sweetie! Don’t you know what it really means to be BLACK? To be a black American? To be African American? It means to be from a long line of thrivers in a land where no one expects your survival. It is to be from inventors, entrepreneurs, poets, activists, orators, scientists, Olympic medalists AND the original people on this planet. Being black means climbing to the top and taking your respect because you shine so bright you cannot be ignored.

    If you’re feeling hurt and lost and disconnected from who we are, save $300 and get a genealogy test and find out specifically where in Africa your people are from. But even if you never do that, don’t you ever think your people’s history began when MTV played it’s first music video. Be smarter than that. The library is still free and you typing that message means you have some access to the internet.

    Study up on us! We are triumphant!

    Even if we never knew that our people mostly originated in West Africa and were great people before they came to American shores, we have a mountain of ever-increasing achievements to be proud of right here in THIS land.

  • Jkristie

    Great article…. I am too Liberian and have dealt with all you wrote about. At the end of the day I embrace my roots and the looks that derived from them….

  • http://jenniferkizzyaaol.com jennifer stewart

    i’m let’s see black white and portagese on my dad’s side of the family and black british and east indian on my mom’s get used to it honey it will never go away just be kind and respectful to people who bring it up that help’s

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