What does it mean to “look African”?





I didn’t know I was African until I left Africa. A loaded statement coming from a Nigerian; an Igbo girl. Nonetheless, it is exactly the way I used to feel, before my family relocated back to the States from Nigeria. Before I left the confines of my father country, declaring me an African person was redundant- a statement of the obvious – so I never had to consciously think about it. In Nigeria, particularly in my Igbo culture, my father’s name and my education were the two most important cultural indicators.

What does it mean to “look African”?
Words Geraldine Amakihe, Contributing Writer from  http://blackgirllonghair.com/


(Sudanese model, Alek Wek)


(Ethiopian model, Liya Kebede)
When I moved back to the US I quickly realized that I was now “African” and was constantly expected to represent a billion people. And that being anything other than “that African girl” was considered an upgrade.

Countless numbers of people thought they were complimenting me with reassurances that I didn’t “look African”. Some would wonder about my last name, and upon discovering that I was Nigerian, would give a range of responses;

“Oh wow! You’re African??”

“I thought you were just ‘regular’ black”.

“Oh! So, THAT explains your features!”

I remember an instance when a teacher told me that he just knew I was African because of my “big features”. I also remember cringing inwardly as he emphatically stressed that my African look basically boiled down to my full lips. That day, as I sat in his classroom, I fiercely wished that I could be the complete opposite of what he thought was the African look. I wanted to be thinner lipped and lighter skinned, solely to force him to recognize that his so-called African look, as dominating as the idea was, was a fallacy.

Whenever the African phenotype is mentioned, the stock image is usually the stereotypically flat description of dark skin, full lips and backsides, wide noses, and highly textured hair. To delve into the misconception even further, let’s lay out all the cards and attach “poor”, “dirty”, “backwards” and “starving” to the description. People seem to find it difficult to reconcile the notion that there are just as many people who might look this way, as there are people throughout the continent who don’t, but still identify as African, and that these people fall into all levels of social status. It’s irritating when we allow ourselves to mindlessly gorge on misinformation dispensed by myths and media, and continue to dismiss people for not fitting a narrow margin of the supposed African look.

Shouldn’t it go without mention that different people identify as African, and the current categories should be expanded? However, common sense ideas often seem to be the hardest to understand or implement. For instance, with a country like Nigeria, which is an arbitrary amalgamation of hundreds of ethnicities from Fulani to Igbo, facial features and body types vary incredibly. If we step outside of Nigeria, Alex Wek and Liya Kebede are both from East Africa.

They look amazingly different, and yet, by looking at them, people would assume only Alek as the “pure African”. None of these regions are homogenous, and prevailing features run the gamut from the deepest to the fairest of complexions.

Let’s continue to extrapolate that example and apply it to Africans in the diaspora; Colombians to Canadians, Americans to Argentinians and the catch-all African phenotype begins to dissolve. The African look is a multi-dimensional one, and we shouldn’t rely entirely on the media to provide accurate information. We should constantly challenge ourselves to think outside the proverbial box and to question ourselves, because in doing so, we can expand our familiarities, and in turn, challenge the status quo. It is also our responsible, as black people, to stop associating certain African features with poverty and backwardness.

We need to totally rethink Africa and, by extension, our perception of African beauty.

Publicado por

C. Saint Omer

El día que dejé de luchar conmigo misma. Ese día descubrí que también tenia una misión la de hacer que otras personas que estaban en conflicto con su yo. Se miraran desde otra perspectiva más positiva. No solo eso que se dieran cuenta de lo importante que eran y del potencial que albergaban en su interior. Ahora la web antes mis mangue ha cambiado de nombre para convertirse en un espacio de life coaching para ayudar a ti que estas bloqueado, que crees que has perdido el tren. Que deseas salir de zona de confort y no sabes como sigue y descubre que siempre hay un nuevo tren que coger. porque eres más fuerte de lo que crees y más sabio de lo que piesas .

2 respuestas a “What does it mean to “look African”?

  1. i am not sure what to » look African » can possibly mean…

    i find it almost crazy and kinda mind lacking to say something like that…

    will i be correct if i said someone looks » American» when knowingly knowing that america is a continent not a country and community .

    the way people look, dress and relate is influenced by ones cultures that defers per community and country..

    there is no such as looking or to look African . we are all different…

  2. You’re right, I’m tired of explaining that Africa is not a country is a continent with great diversity.Is absurd to think that when my hair is straightened, I’m American or Latino, and when I’m wearing it naturally, I’m African. When continent like Africa has a diversity of cultures and people. It ‘s like thinking that all Spanish are bullfighters.
    I live in Spain which is a country with diverse cultures. Imagine an entire continent. The problem is in the media when they talk about Africa they never specify where things happen. They just say, this happen in Africa, period.

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