Eye of the Beholder

by Vanessa Z. Rivers

This weekend I saw a tweet that said that the Obama’s have commissioned Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint their Official Portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.   They will be the first black artists to officially paint a presidential couple.  I thought that this was such a great honor, and was excited to see how the portraits will look when they are completed.  I responded with this tweet, “Black artists can bring out the true essence of our beautiful range of colors and undertones because, they can see what non-Blacks can’t. Congrats”.  Oh, what did I say that for, the push back was immediate and harsh.  Why is it that when black people say “anything” about how we feel about “anything” surrounding being a black person, whites act as if we don’t have the “right” to have opinions or experiences that they cannot relate to, therefore; making them invalid.  I can remember “Picture Day” in grade school, the photographer must not have cared whether he adjusted the lighting for the black kids because every year my photos would come out “darker” than my natural complexion.  When my kids would bring home their “Photo Day” forms, I would say to myself, “here we go again”, and attach a note requesting that the photographer adjusted the lighting before taking their photos, sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t.   I chalked it up to this, either the photographer wasn’t taught that people of color are just that, “people of varying hues, pigments and complexions, or that they just didn’t care.   So yes, I do think that black people can see our beauty with an eye of deep appreciation and pride, that others can’t or just won’t.   We don’t need to hold up European features as the ultimate standard of beauty, because, well, why would we, we are just as beautiful.  I guess beauty really is, in the eye of the beholder.


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