Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Garth A. Rattray | ‘Black and ugly’

Published:Monday | January 13, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Miss World Toni-Ann Singh

I spoke at a function several years ago. As I exited the building, an elderly lady stopped me. She introduced me to two of her sons, grasped both my hands firmly, smiled, looked me straight in the eyes and said in a solemn voice, “Although yuh black and ugly, continue to hold up yuh head … .”

I immediately understood what she was trying to say, but the funniest part of all was the mortified expression on the faces of her sons.

What she meant was this: although the colour of your skin is a handicap, continue doing well and being proud of who and what you are. It remains one of the greatest compliments that I ever received.

In her early 20th-century world, there was no descriptive term for simply being Black; it was always Black … and ugly. The two were inseparable. To be ‘Black’ (dark skinned) meant that you were thought of as being ‘ugly’. And, sadly, eventually, many ‘Black’ people saw themselves as ugly because of how they were treated by the privileged in society.

Black people must have been ‘ugly’ because they were not suitable for work as receptionists, bank tellers, and, in fact, any work that necessitated interaction with the middle- and upper-class people of that era.

Black people must have been ‘ugly’ because the vast majority did not grace the social pages of the newspapers or appear in ads or mingle with the ‘topanaris’ ilk of the time.

Black people must have been ‘ugly’ because they never represented our country when it came to anything except athletics and entertainment.

Black people must have been ‘ugly’ because they were usually portrayed as dirt poor, uneducated, struggling and often unhappy.

Our Black ancestors were once powerful world leaders. But greed, through the slave trade and, later on, through the exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, subjugated and denigrated Black people. However, Black people must remember who they are and be proud.


I am, therefore, always very disheartened whenever I see people ‘bleaching’ their skin and claiming that it’s only fashion. When people lighten their skin, they are trying to deny their God-given gift of natural beauty. And, they are also disrespecting those of us with naturally dark skin.

Additionally, ‘bleachers’ are effectively insulting their ancestors, who passed on their genes to them and who suffered and died as a direct result of their skin colour. They dishonour their family, their heritage and their entire race.

The level of aggression, animosity, hate, crime and murders stand as evidence of our self-hate. The poor little ‘Black’ children are often treated like outcasts and of no value by the greater society. Therefore, they don’t know love, they don’t love themselves, and they don’t love the society that they see as hateful. The only thing ugly about some of us is our behaviour.

Five Black women were 2019 beauty contest winners and two Black women were runners-up. Toni-Ann Singh of Jamaica (Miss World winner), Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa (Miss Universe winner), Chelsie Kryst (Miss USA winner), Nia Franklin (Miss America winner), Kaleigh Garris (Miss Teen USA winner), Ophely Mezino of France (first runner-up, Miss World), and Suman Rao of India (second runner-up, Miss World).

None of us is ‘Black and ugly’ by any stretch of the imagination.

“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. And I think that it is time that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine. Thank you”. Quote from the 2019 Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.