On Baby Blue Ivy Carter and the Alleged Ugliness of Blackness

Of all the madness surrounding Beyonce and Jay Z's newborn, the self-hating attacks on black beauty were the most disturbing. But even in a time when calling babies ugly in print is OK, we can still find solace. In good books.

By Akiba Solomon Jan 13, 2012

Besides reading straight news stories and some of Jorge Rivas’s Beyonce Baby Absurdities, I’ve avoided most things Blue Ivy Carter. I knew if indulged in even a smidgen more about this little girl, I’d find myself walking among stunted souls who traffic in the idea that the full lips, large eyes, broad nose and dark brown skin of a Jay-Z is inherently ugly. 

But then, in a reckless act of masochism, I did it anyway. Here’s a sampling of the stomach-tightening invective I’ve read online:

"hopefully she gets most of her looks from her mother’s side."

"thats gonna be one ugly nigga baby with big ass lips and a dirty ass weave."

"i just hope beyonce genetics dont get over powered by camel genes."

"I had a dog named Blue! Poor kid–all of the talent and money in the world won’t do her much good if she looks like Jay-Z."

"I had no idea that that ‘adorable’ and ‘Jay Z’s nose, eyes and lips’ could have been used in the same sentence. I wish them the best of luck though!! <3 <3"

"i NEED pictures cause that baby don’t sound "adorable" She got all the ugly traits of Jay-Z..not to be mean or rude & talk about a kid or nun but that baby sound ugly."

Even with the grain of salt with which I take online comments, I do believe these statements are a true expression of what too many people–my people–are saying about this child and feeling about themselves. There’s nothing I can write to make this better. Not addressing it won’t make it better, either.

There is, though, some beauty to be had in matters like colorism. Personally, I’ve found solace in good books, particularly works of fiction that allow me to process the nauseating reality from a distance. People can be so ugly, but words are pretty. 

One such book is "Maude Martha," the debut novel by the late and greatly missed poet Gwendolyn Brooks. In her unfettered, masterful prose, Brooks shows us how some women of color look in the mirror and assess what they see with pragmatism rather than self-destructive melodrama. Listen to her main character, Maud, as she takes stock of allure:

I am what he would call–sweet. But I am certainly not what he would call pretty. … Pretty would be a little cream-colored thing with curly hair. Or at the very lowest pretty would be a little curly-haired thing the color of cocoa with a lot of milk in it. Whereas, I am the color of cocoa straight, if you can be even that "kind" to me.

Then, through dialogue between Maud and her suave husband-to-be, Paul, Brooks reminds us that women are not alone in this thing:

"Fatherhood," said Paul, "is not exactly in my line. But it would be all right to have a couple or so of kids, good-looking in my pocket so to speak."

"I am not a pretty woman, said Maud Martha. "If you married a pretty woman, you could be the father of pretty children. Envied by people. The father of beautiful children."

"But I don’t know," said Paul. "Because my features aren’t fine. They aren’t regular. They’re heavy. They’re real Negro features. I’m light, or at least I can claim to be sort of low-toned yellow, and my hair has a teeny crimp. But even so I’m not handsome."

No, there would be little "beauty" getting born out of such a union.

Still, mused Maud Martha, I am what he would call–sweet, and I am good, and he will marry me.

The power in these passages lies in their straightforwardness and honesty. "Maud Martha" was published in 1953, before "Black is Beautiful" and more expansive ideas of female beauty. So Maud and Paul know what world they’re living in, and they do just that: Live. 

I hope, in our media-saturated, appearance-obsessed society that is still so wounded by white supremacist aesthetics, baby Blue will find peace and joy in the simple act of living, no matter what she looks like.