How we think about beauty and blackness can save lives


How we think about beauty and blackness can save lives


4000 words.  Longform article.

In this article, Enuma Okoro drawing on her own experiences, history, and the U.S. philosopher Elaine Scarry's "lateral disregard" concept, she asks, "How much has been lost to the West by the refusal to see beauty in blackness or to celebrate the humanity, the full aliveness, of black people?" "Instead we have a history that commemorates the lifeless bodies of blacks." Okoro presents a compelling need for a radical new paradigm for thinking about blackness that recognises beauty’s potential to save lives.

"Having now lived in multiple countries on multiple continents, I’ve begun to wonder about beauty’s place in the sociopolitical discourse around belonging, and ethnic or cultural difference. How does an understanding of beauty intersect with notions of race and justice? What cues us to esteem something as beautiful, and are these cues inherent? Or, are there culturally mandated margins of beauty that lead us to make countless daily judgments about what is or is not beautiful? Can the ways we learn to recognise beauty have a potentially lifesaving impact on how we learn to care for bodies that don’t look like ours? These are some of the questions at the forefront of my mind as I think about being a black woman in the world."

She concludes: "I have lived in five countries across four continents, and I have experienced the varied ways one can move through the world in this black skin, depending on how the history of blackness has been constructed and perceived. Having that sort of insight has greatly affected the way I think about ethnicity and race, belonging and bodies, and the stories we tell about these things. There are stories we simply have to continue to refute and to resist. And there are some stories we have to learn to tell and to keep telling, until they become the new truth. Our stories, like beauty, can be salvific."

About the Author
Enuma Okoro is a writer, speaker and creative consultant, author and editor of four nonfiction books, finishing her first novel, and currently splits her time between New York, Nigeria and Italy.

Published in Aeon Magazine, October 2019

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“How we think about beauty and blackness can save lives,” Anti-Racism Digital Library, accessed October 28, 2021,