African Beauties

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Godesses from the Breast of the Earth!

As I select the images for these photo-essays on the beauty of black women – this is the second in a series of four covering the US, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean – I am constantly struck by two things: what an amazing treasure trove I have to choose from, and how Europeans manage to convince so many people of the superior beauty of white women.

Of course the answer to this riddle lies in the fact that by virtue of their dominence in the military, economic and technological spheres Europeans have been able to impose their cultural values on the rest of the world.   In fact, mastery of a major European language has until the last fifty years been essential in order to gain access to the tools a nation needed to achieve modernity.  Simply put, the learned texts that contained the scientific knowledge that is the gateway to the modern world were written in those languages – which also produced a prolific literature that was employed to indoctrinate the colonized populations in the ideas and values of their oppressors including notions of vice and virtue, beauty and ugliness.

The knowledge of modern science was not to be found in Sanscrit, Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, or Yoruba. Even our concept of time and place had been defined by Europeans.  The ancient wisdom of the great empires of Africa, Asia and Latin America proved impotent weapons against the onslaught of modern Europe.  This was not because Europeans were inherently superior, as they would claim, rather it was a function of the fact that “The Enlightenment,” an intellectual movement which separated the functions of church and state, priviledging reason over religion, science over mysticism, physics over metaphysics, ushered in the scientific revolution and the Industrial revolution which followed in its wake.

These dynamic developments in European society provided them with the technology to devestate the armies of the Third World and resulted in European conquest of the globe.  In the early twentieth century the little Island of Britian – whose King, George III, had been rebuffed by the Emperor of China as a “Barbarian” in an official rejection of his bid to establish trade relations around the time of the American Revolution in the 18th century – could boast that “The Sun never sets on the British empire” and had the audacity to call itself “Great Britian.”

The parts of the globe that was not controlled by the “conquoring Anglo-Saxons” were controlled by the other major nations of Europe, which exported their surplus populations all over the Third World, changing the physical characteriscs of the indigenous “natives” and implanting their language, literature and religious beliefs among them.  As a result of these historical events European values dominated the psyche of the subject peoples and convinced many of them that Europeans were superior in all things and and thus it was “a white man’s world” and the white woman became the ideal of feminine beauty.

The anti-colonial revolutions that burst out all over the non-white world in the aftermath of the second world war, was spurred by the fact these subject peoples had fought in the armies of their colonial master’s in two global conflicts within a generation and discovered that Europeans were not invincible and could be killed just like them.  Hence it is no surprise that the leaders of the anti-colonial movements in Afica and Asia, as well as the black liberation struggle in the US, were largely led by ex-military men.  This was true whether we are talkig about Franz Fanon and Abdel Gamel Nasser in Africa or Medgar Evers and Robert Williams in the US.

A major part of the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples of color, as the revolutionary psychaitrist Franz Fanon described so poignantly in hyis writings was to reclaim their personalities, their sense of self.  Nowhere was this process more in evidence than among the black peoples of the world – especially in the USA with the rise of a militant black conciousness that inspired the “Black Arts Movement” which challanged European standards of beauty.  I came of age amidst that movement and was an avid participant in promoting it’s ideas.

I was on the scene when the African Jazz Art Society – founded by a collaboration between visual artists and Jazz – that boldly promoted an “Afrocentric” esthetic view that celebrated au naturel hair styles and African inspired dress which accentuated the beauty of African women.  The four cultural visionaries that created AJASS were musicians Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, along with the Braithwaite Brothers: Photographer Kwame and graphic artist/illustrator  Elombe.

The major vehicle through which they promoted the celebration black beauty was the Grandossa Models, who were presented in a series of cutural happenings in which Jazz, especially the Africa concious revolutionary music of the founders Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln – see video clip at the bottom of this essay – Visual Arts, and Poetry readings were also on display.

The Grandossa Models

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Setting an Afro-Centric Standard of Beauty

Max and Abbey

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln
Kwame Braithwaite: Photographer of the Movement

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Elombe!
All Creator’s of the “Black is Beautiful” Slogan

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A Pan African soldier welcoming Nelson and Winnie to Harlem!

A statement explaining the raison d’etre for the show  billed as “Naturally 62,” held in that year proclaimed it was “created to show Black women (and the world) that our Black skin, kinky hair and full lips were a thing of beauty, not something to be ashamed of.  This photo-essay was created as an extension of that spirit!

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Vanity!

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A Regal Beauty

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The Source: Where Big Bootys Come From!
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Elegante

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 Academy Award Winning Actress

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Miss Ghana!

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Click on link to view Max and Abbey perform “All Africa”

 Compiled by: Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 17, 2016

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