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Black is beautiful is a cultural movement that was started in the United States of America in the 1960s by African Americans. It later spread beyond the United States, most prominently in the writings of the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko in South Africa.
It aims to dispel the notion in many cultures that black people's natural features such as skin color, facial features and hair are inherently ugly. John Stewart Rock was long thought to be the first to coin the phrase "black is beautiful"-during a speech in 1858-but historical records indicate he never actually used the specific phrase on that day. The movement also encouraged men and women to stop trying to eliminate African-identified traits by straightening their hair and attempting to lighten or bleach their skin.
This movement began in an effort to counteract the prevailing idea in American culture that features typical of "Blacks" were less attractive or desirable than those of "Whites". Research indicates that the idea of "blackness" being ugly is highly damaging to the psyche of African Americans, manifesting itself as internalized racism. This idea made its way into black communities themselves and led to practices such as paper bag parties: social events which discriminated against dark-skinned African-Americans by only admitting lighter-skinned individuals.
While The Black is Beautiful movement started in the 1960s, this fight for equal rights and a positive perception of the African American body starts much earlier in American history. The reason this moment took form was because the media and society as a whole had a negative perception of the African American body as suitable only for slave status. The Black is Beautiful movement was based around a fight for an equal perception of the black body to help undo all the negative ideas brought about by a history based in white supremacy.
In her novel The Bluest Eye (1970), Toni Morrison depicts the effects of the legacy of 19th century racism for poor black people in the United States. The novel tells of how the daughter of a poor black family, Pecola Breedlove, internalizes white standards of beauty to the point where she goes mad. Her fervent wish for blue eyes comes to stand for her wish to escape the poor, unloving, racist environment in which she lives.
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