Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

Lessons from a Mirror

Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.

Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.

Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.

Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.

Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?

Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette

and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.

I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.

And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.

When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.

—Thylias Moss, from Pyramid of Bone (1989)


Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Sarah Baartman, an African freak show, for lack of better terms, who was paraded around Europe, her body put on display for white people far and near to marvel and its strange features (large breasts and buttocks), and measure her against white woman (even after her death). In an effort to elevate themselves as the superior race, they declared that fair, virginal Victorian age white women were the image of beauty and portrayed Baartman as the abnormal “other.”

Hundreds of years later, and black women are still experiencing this kind of marginalization.

Moss’s poem alludes to the tale of Snow White, in which the evil queen/stepmother asks the magic mirror who is the fairest of them all, and it tells her Snow White. Like the evil queen, black women are told daily, whether directly or indirectly, that white women are prettier, that white women are purer, that white women are more desirable lovers. We are forever living in the shadow of their “beauty.” The few times that black women are complimented, it is for their European features, which overtime created the problem of colorism within the black community (light skin vs. dark skin).

Source: Ebony

Black women are constantly pressured to look more like white woman—never mind that most white women don’t even look the world’s imaginary “beauty standards.” Whether it’s a daughter being expelled from school because her hair was too distracting, a model’s dark brown skin being lightened on a magazine cover, a female rapper or celebrity with a very round derrière being slut shamed, or a business woman being fired from her job for refusing to straighten her hair or wear a weave or wig because her boss thinks her naturally outward growing hair is unprofessional.

What’s more insulting is that many black men (not all, but a lot) often praise white women while degrading black women at the same time. While I’m a huge advocate for interracial dating—you love who you love; skin color shouldn’t matter—I do have a problem with black men who only date white women because they hate black women. Excuse me, sir, but your mother is black. Your daughter, no matter how much you try to mix that blood around, will still be black. What’s more demeaning is their worship of “exotic” or “foreign” women, or “white girls with a fat ass,” while the most a black woman would hear is, “You’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” “I only date light skin girls,” “Hell must’ve froze over for me to date a black girl.”

It’s hard to stomach some of the hurtful things I’ve heard black men say about black women. I often wonder where all this animosity comes from. Is it a form of self-hate or did all these men really have the same bad relationship experience with a black woman? I’m leaning more toward the former.

The last two stanzas are the most heartbreaking of this poem. I’m sure all women have that occasional fear that they’re not good enough for their man, that one day a smarter, prettier, nicer woman would come through and take him away. For black women, especially black who’ve heard their men say the above comments, we fear that woman will be white. No matter how hard I try to please him, will he still leave because I’m not white enough for him, because I’m too black? When you enter a relationship thinking this way, you quickly realize that “more than white is missing.”

For today’s BlaPoWriMo prompt, write a poem for the black girl staring into her reflection, for the black girl pinching her skin to bring up the white. Tell her she’s beautiful. God created her in His image and likeness. Tell her she doesn’t have to alter her body, God’s body, to feel loved.

10 thoughts on “Black Poetry Writing Month: Write a Poem to the “Ugly” Reflection

  1. Lately I have been placing emphasis on character. I don’t think India Arie could have written a better song that should be an anthem “I AM Not My Hair”. Well, none of us are our color. We are more than that but can’t seem to get pass that… it would be a shame if someone was interesting, but because they are a certain color we can’t get pass that… I don’t believe in self-denial, I believe we should embrace our heritage because that is part of our DNA. We can’t act like that don’t exist, but we must forward in our social interaction. I would think this world would be dull without diversity, so I can not understand the likes of us why we are so threatened and intimated by differences we do not understand. We should be so much further along.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never understood that either. The minute someone says “I love my Blackness (or insert other ethnicity here)” there’s always that small group in the corner questioning “why does everything have to be about race? I don’t see color.” I think those people completely miss the point. I don’t know why talking about one’s own race or heritage makes some people feel so uncomfortable, or makes them feel like they have to immediately defend themselves. Everything isn’t a personal attack. We as a society really need to work on listening to each other and being more accepting of our differences. I would also like to see more movies (television has started to do that, but Hollywood film making is still way behind) that reflect our diverse world. Again I don’t understand why some people put up such a fight when we ask to see more people of color. It shouldn’t be that hard.


  2. I’ve never been able to see this. Beauty is everywhere, in so many varieties. My older kids had this teacher who was very dark skinned, unusually dark, I’d say, and she was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. Her insides sure didn’t hurt, she was a lovely person, but her skin was luminous and she wore these light, frosty eye and lip colors — no one could have looked better in those.

    About the attraction thing, I’ll agree hatred is no good, regardless of color, but I know too many people who prefer a specific type. My son complained when he went to a certain school. He prefers blondes. In a school where whites were a minority, all the blondes were related to him! One of my girlfriends looks black but she’s only attracted to white guys, she thinks maybe because her father is white. I’m also friends with a skinny white guy who for the last 20 years has only dated buff brown-skinned men, ethnicity varying, but always muscular and brown-skinned. I think it’s because his first love was. Personally, I like tall, long, blond, and blue-eyed. I don’t know why. I just think people want what they want.

    I think good love is hard to find and it doesn’t come along every day, so when you’re blessed with a good person, it’s best not to let labels get in the way. There seem to be very few people who aren’t inclined to a type.
    My daughter probably falls into that category. The boys in our yard have been as varied as can be. After a series of three black boys, I wondered if that was her type, but then a redhead, then a Latino, now we’re on half-black-half-Spanish…seems tall is important to her. She sure doesn’t care about color. Sometimes the parents of the boys HAVE cared about her color, which your writing helps me understand.

    We white girl brunettes are always convinced our men will leave us for blondes. Young, skinny blondes. They’re always young, skinny blondes in movies, aren’t they?

    I can’t get into the hair issue. My hair knows it’s got a lot of “exotic” “foreign” “ethnic” tendencies. I figure it’s an ancient genetic anomaly that doesn’t care how many Europeans it got mixed up with. lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even though I’ve only dated black men so far, I can honestly say that I don’t have a type. I love all men. I think it started when I was nine or ten & made out with the Mexican kid who lived behind us. Or maybe it was in middle school when I was totally in love with a guy who was basically a redheaded Leo DiCaprio. LOL. In college I had the biggest crush on my fiction writing professor. Interesting thing is he reminded me so much of my dad, but my dad was very dark skin, and this guy is a self-proclaimed redneck. That’s about as white as they come! Hahaha! Honestly, if a man has a good head on his shoulders and is Christian, I’ll give him my time.
      I don’t necessarily have a problem with anyone’s preferences; it’s those baseless, shallow excuses for why someone isn’t attracted to another type that really grinds my gears.
      On a side note, I L-O-V-E Indian women. They are GORGEOUS! I know India has a problem of colorism in its society too, but light skin, dark skin, it doesn’t matter, Indian women are hands down (in my opinion) the most beautiful people on the planet! One of my friends is Indian and black and very dark skin. I love her so much. From her complexion, to her face, to her hair…I kind of have a girl crush on her. lol.
      I’ve seen so many white women with that “ethnic,” “exotic” hair, I always joke like, “Girl, who’s your real daddy?” lol. But seriously, we are all so mixed up racially and ethnically, what’s the point of labels? In 40 years, no one’s going to “look” white or black or whatever. The only place where ethnicity might be the purest, would probably be Japan. But I bet even they are slightly mixed up too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OH I SO AGREE ABOUT THAT 40 year comment! You know what keeps happening to me? I keep encountering moms at school, talking to them when the kids are busy, and then when the kids come out, I’m like, “Y’all are NOT the same color!” (But in my head, because obvs they know that! lol) But like, I told my husband, I have got to stop thinking this way, makin these assumptions, because we are growing so much more diverse as a society. There is no denying it when you see it so often.
        I am such a mutt, as is my husband. Recently Moo had to write a paper about her culture, and we were both sorta dumbfounded.
        At least I can say this hair came from my daddy 😉 Then his uncle — after that I just do not know!
        Thanks for sharing your girl crush and your non-existent type.

        Liked by 1 person

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