December 8, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 13
African American Women in the Beauty Industry 12
Alfred Richard Fornay
Corynne Corbett
On September 8 th of this year, Grammy award-winning artist Rihanna released her inclusive makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, which features a diverse array of foundation in both light and dark tones. While the product line grossed over $72 million in media values alone in its first month 1 , the most notable contribution to Fenty Beauty’s success was its foundations for darker skin tones--the first to sell-out in stores and online. While the line was praised for its sensitivity to skin tone diversity, it also raised a pertinent question: why, still, are black women underrepresented in the beauty industry?

The devaluing of black beauty by mainstream America predates the slave trade, notes Erin Kenny and Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols in Beauty Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia: “Missionaries in the mid-19 th century concerned themselves with imposing methods of sanitation on Africans in an effort to reform and ‘civilize’ African bodies and established a standard of beauty that excluded dark skin. Stereotypical ideas about the appearance of the Other were, and still are, often used to support discriminatory practices and exclusionary policies.” 2 Alma M. Garcia in Contested Images: Women of Color in Popular Culture agrees that the mainstream media in the United States enforces biased standards of beauty, stating, “White hegemonically defined standards of beauty is not a new occurrence. Historically and into modern times, African American beauty has been disparaged,” and that “African American women and their beauty have been juxtaposed against white beauty standards, particularly pertaining to their skin color and hair. During slavery, black women who were lighter-skinned and had features that were associated with mixed progeny tended to be house slaves and those black women with darker-skin hues, kinky hair, and broader facial features tended to be field slaves.” 3

HistoryMaker, makeup artist and magazine beauty editor Alfred Richard Fornay recalls these damaging portrayals of African American women in film that he witnessed as a child in the 1950s: “ During that period they did not dignify elegant, glamorous women--and I’m speaking of poses and close ups. The people that I talk to now don’t understand when people are sensitive about full lips and broad noses. But those were pointed out as being negatives. They would always show Africans who had those plates in their lips, and not explaining that those were tribal rituals and signs of beauty. Those were standards of beauty in those tribes and on the continent. But by the time they were translated here in America, it was identified by the white film industry as being ignorant, backward, primitive and unattractive, you know. So, we’ve had to rewire our thinking” 4 [Alfred Richard Fornay, THMDA 2.8.2].
Furthermore, in Explorations in Diversity: Examining the Complexities of Privilege, Discrimination, and Oppression, Sharon K. Anderson acknowledges the impact of white supremacy on mainstream beauty ideals: “Dark-skinned women seemed invisible to the makeup industry. Dark shades of facial makeup were limited to a few manufacturers. As a result, dark-skinned African American women were forced to wear facial powder and foundations with pink tones, which resulted in a gray, pasty appearance.” 5

In addition to the small market of cosmetic companies that cater exclusively to African Americans, Fornay recalls the lack of visibility of African American women by major cosmetic brands: “ The beauty companies really did a disservice to black women for years. And I speak of it because I’m part of the industry, but I often wondered--years ago, the companies started ethnic departments. We call it diversity now, but the word ethnic was just thrown all over the beauty industry. I worked for Clairol, Inc., where they had an ethnic division. And that responsibility was to develop brochures to complement the appliances and to include photographs, in terms of step by step, in all of their products, so that black people would feel comfortable about buying them. But at the same time there was no research to back it all up. It just happened to work, and if it worked, fine. But there was not much research done in terms of turning out products for black women” 6 [Alfred Richard Fornay, THMDA 2.8.4].

Kenny and Gackstetter Nichols note this change during the Civil Rights Movement and the ‘black is beautiful’ movement of the 1960s: “ During this time, black activists worked to reclaim an alternative standard to white beauty that had been imposed upon them during the era of colonialism and slavery and thus marginalized their appearance. It critiqued black popular culture and dramatically demonstrated how the lives of black subjects in the West had been marked by the slave trade and the dehumanizing effects of racism.” 7  Similarly, HistoryMaker and magazine beauty editor Corynne Corbett recalls the advent of the ‘black is beautiful’ movement, “There’s not one way to define black beauty. Black beauty is from the lightest to the darkest, from the kinkiest to the straightest to wavy. It is the confidence to own who we are and to love it and to celebrate it. That’s for anyone, but particularly for us where we were told we’re not good enough and that we’re not enough of anything. And that what we have is not beautiful, but for us to know that it is and to, to push back on that notion. And to say that, that, that it is true; ‘I am beautiful” and to believe it’” 8 [Corynne Corbett, THMDA 1.9.7].

Despite a reclamation of natural black beauty in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as more recent strides towards inclusivity made by brands like Fenty Beauty, the whitewashed, Eurocentric ideas of beauty remain widely marketed, accessible and dominant within the established beauty industry market.

The HistoryMakers Honors Anita Hill 9

The #MeToo movement--in which victims of sexual assault and harassment stood united and spoke truth to power about--their experience while naming their abusers, was selected as Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2017.

In the wake of the formation of an empowered coalition of women and men standing up against sexual misconduct, it is often easy to forget that there was a a time when #MeToo was not strong enough in the face of fear and doubt.

In 1991, attorney and Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree represented law professor and Silence Breaker Anita Hill during her testimony at the U.S. Supreme Court nomination hearing of her former boss, Clarence Thomas. During her time as Thomas' subordinate at the U.S. Department of Education at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, Hill was subjected to ongoing harassment from Thomas. At first hesitant to get involved, Ogletree recalls his impetus to stand with Hill: " And the thing that caught my attention was that I would call home every night and let my wife, Pamela Ogletree, know. We would meet as a team, talk about issues. I would call her in Cambridge. And one night, it was about midnight, and my daughter, who was a young girl, Rashida, she said, “Dad, can I talk to you?” I said, “Rashida, you should be in bed. It’s almost midnight.” She says, “But, dad, I just wanna tell you one thing.” I said, “What, Rashida?” She said, “I believe Anita Hill.” And it struck me: here’s a young black girl, up watching these hearings, and it transformed her life. And she, like her father, like me, became a lawyer. And that’s my youngest child. I was very impressed that a woman understood, a black woman, a black girl, understood what this was about. And that made a big impact in the sense that there is a black girl who influenced me to understand how deep and how serious and how important this was" 10 [Charles Ogletree, THMDA 5.13.2].

Reflecting upon the hearings during his interview in 2014, Ogletree concluded: " A lot of people were asking, why get involved in this case? Hearing from these women, black and white women, the reality is that it took a whole new sense because the white men on this Senate Judiciary Committee had never dealt with this issue, race and gender. And they thought that when he’s talking about hi-tech legal lynching of uppity blacks, talking about males, what about Anita Hill? It was a hi-tech legal lynching of her by the senators, who happened to be white. And they didn’t understand gender at all. We didn’t attack his politics. We attacked his character. And I, I think that made a big difference" 11    [Charles Ogletree, THMDA 5.14.5].
This week, 14 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Patricia Turner

Middle school teacher Patricia Turner (1944 - ) was a member of the "Norfolk 17," who were instrumental in the desegregation of Virginia and the South.
John W. Mack

Civic leader, nonprofit chief executive, and city government appointee John W. Mack (1937 - ) was a former president of the Los Angeles Urban League; co-founder of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights; co-founder of the Los Angeles Black Leadership Coalition on Education; and an executive member of the Board of Police Commissioners of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Dorothy Roberts

Law professor Dorothy Roberts (1956 - ) was the Kirkland & Ellis Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and the author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.
Philip Hart

City historian and sociology professor Philip Hart (? - ) was the author of Cities, Suburbs and Blacks: A Study of Concerns, Distrust and Alienation and a leading expert on early African American aviators.
Phoebe A. Haddon

Academic administrator Phoebe A. Haddon (1950 - ) taught law courses at Temple University before becoming the first African American dean of the University of Maryland School of Law. In 2014, she was named the chancellor of Rutgers University - Camden.
Michael White

Jazz musician and music professor Michael White (1954 - ) was professor of Spanish and African American music at Xavier University of Louisiana, and bandleader of the Original Liberty Jazz Band in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin

Theater chief executive and library director Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin (1945 - ) was executive producer of the National Black Theatre Festival, and board president of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. She also directed the Forsyth County Public Library.
The Honorable Barbara Lee

U.S. congresswoman and state senator The Honorable Barbara Lee (1946 - ) was the first woman to represent the State of California’s then-9th and now-13th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Honorable C. Jack Ellis

Mayor The Honorable C. Jack Ellis (1946 - ) was elected the 40th Mayor of Macon, Georgia, becoming the first African American mayor in the City’s 176-year history.
Willie Taylor

Business chief executive Willie Taylor (1932 - ) was the vice president of Sonicraft, Inc., and managed one of the largest single series contracts the United States government has ever awarded a minority owned business.
Martin Nesbitt

Transportation chief executive Martin Nesbitt (1962 - ) was the founder, president and CEO of the airport parking corporation, The Parking Spot. He was also a close friend and advisor of President Barack Obama.

The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan

Minister The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan (1933 - ) , leader of the Nation of Islam, was known for his work as an advocate of civil rights and social activism.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr.

Neurosurgeon and medical director Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. (1951 - ) was known for his groundbreaking work in neurosurgery, particularly for the operation he performed in 1987 to separate infant conjoined twins, who were attached at the head.

Ralph Sampson

Basketball player Ralph Sampson (1960 - ) was one of the most recruited college basketball players of all time. He won three Naismith Awards and an unprecedented two Wooden Awards in college, and was a four-time NBA All-Star with the Houston Rockets.
2.     Erin Kenny, Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols, Beauty Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, June 22, 2017.
3.     Alma M. Garcia, Contested Images: Women of Color in Popular Culture . AltaMira Press, September 16, 2012.
4.     Alfred Richard Fornay (The HistoryMakers A2007.211), interviewed by Adrienne Jones, July 23, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 8, story 2, Alfred Richard Fornay talks about the media's representation of black beauty, pt. 1
5.     Sharon K. Anderson, Explorations in Diversity: Examining the Complexities of Privilege, Discrimination, and Oppression. Oxford University Press, 2018.
6.     Alfred Richard Fornay (The HistoryMakers A2007.211), interviewed by Adrienne Jones, July 23, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 8, story 4, Alfred Richard Fornay talks about the changing images of black beauty
7.     Erin Kenny, Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols, Beauty Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, June 22, 2017.
8.     Corynne Corbett (The HistoryMakers A2013.302), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 13, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 9, story 7, Corynne Corbett shares her views on multicultural and black beauty standards
10. Charles Ogletree (The HistoryMakers A2003.075), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, August 10, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 5, tape 13, story 2, Charles Ogletree recalls a conversation with his daughter about Anita Hill's testimony at Clarence Thomas' 1991 Senate Confirmation Hearing
11. Charles Ogletree (The HistoryMakers A2003.075), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, August 10, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 5, tape 14, story 5, Charles Ogletree talks about responses to Anita Hill's testimony during Clarence Thomas' 1991 Senate Confirmation Hearing
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