White Supremacy and Beauty Politics

with Dr. Yaba Blay

*Note: The class recording will not be publicly available

“If you do not understand white supremacy – what it is, and how it works – everything else that you understand, will only confuse you.” – Neely Fuller, 1957

For Black people the world wide, “beauty” is political - there are negotiations of power at play in the naming, claiming, and recognition of our (potential) levels of attractiveness - and “White supremacy” is the beast.

The reality is that for many of us, global White supremacy is a taken for granted reality. Although we may understand some of its basic premises and recognize its most egregious manifestations, few of us are familiar with its historical development, and as such, we have limited insight into the various ways in which it continues to impact our lived experiences. So pervasive is the ideology that it has shaped how Black people see ourselves - literally - even when and where White people aren’t around.

This course draws explicit connections between beauty and White supremacy, and explores why and how beauty, as both a concept and a practice, functions as an agent of White supremacy.


To read:

  • A Black Women’s History of the United States, Berry & Gross

  • The Half Has Never Been Told Slavery and the Making of American

Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist

  • Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen

  • Caliban and The Witch, Silvia Federici

  • Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge, Erica Armstrong Dunbar

  • Belly of the Beast, Da-Shaun L. Harrison

  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

  • The Color Complex, Russell, Wilson & Hall

  • Daddy, Why Am I Brown?, Bedford Palmer

  • Living Color, Nina Jablonski

  • Me & White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad

  • Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment, Leticia Nieto

To watch:

  • A Girl Like Me (2005), Kiri Davis

  • Good Hair (2009), Chris Rock

  • Exterminate The Brutes, Raoul Peck

  • Dark Girls (2011), Peter Spirer

  • Coded Bias

Misc things to research:

  • Curse of Hamm

  • Commodity Racism

  • Brown Paper Bag Test

  • Blue Vein Societies

  • ColorismHealing.com (IG: @colorismhealing)

Photo of

Dr. Yaba Blay

Dr. Yaba Blay is a dark-skinned, kinky-haired, first-generation American-born-Ghanaian who identifies as Black with a capital B. She is a scholar-activist, cultural creative, and consultant whose scholarship, work and practice centers on the lived experiences of Black women and girls, with a particular interest in body, identity, and beauty politics. dr. Blay’s commentary is featured in “A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond,” a permanent installation exhibited in the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC); and she is the author of the award-winning book, One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race.

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