Black youth's presence in different forms of self-expression is at an all-time high in 2020. From progress in the field of visual arts to a strong presence in the fashion industry, the message is apparent: Blackness is beauty, and this fact is here to stay. Diana, a Black 20-year-old college student, is no stranger to the new wave of Black faces in all areas of life. She is particularly active in the arts, which is depicted through her abstract makeup looks, 90s-inspired wardrobe, and various paintings. She finds herself thrown into this new world where Black fashion and style are sought after and displayed proudly without limitations. Having grown up in both the Latinx and Black communities, she recognizes the bias toward women and men being able to freely express themselves without fear of judgment. "Men who are effeminate and dress without lines of gender are often ridiculed and looked at as less than. This mindset remains consistent in both the Black and Latinx communities, and that shouldn't be,” she stated.
As a woman, Diana finds it easier to explore different types of fashion, makeup, and hairstyles, but recognizes the discrimination toward those in the LGBTQ+ community who express themselves through various outlets. Though they are constantly ridiculed and shamed, LGBTQ+ individuals are undeniably innovative and talented in different areas of self-expression, especially those in the Black community. While there is still a blatant conflict regarding other identities clashing with race, we are starting to see the new generation breaking free of historical gender roles that previously controlled all aspects of their appearances.
When charting into the area of cultural appropriation, Diana made her stance clear: cultural appropriation is the theft of what used to be looked down upon, without acknowledgment of those who created it. "Ghetto" style, which was once viewed with disgust, now has the full spotlight, but not for its beauty and importance to the Black community. Celebrities adopt these traits that they know hold historical significance and mimic a culture that they don't understand and, frankly, don't wish to. Even in this day and age, Black culture is so widely accepted, while Black people themselves aren't, which is why cultural appropriation is such a significant issue. "I think that Black fashion is valid and should be treated with respect and honor,” said Diana.
While recognizing the beauty of Blackness, Diana also realizes that she could not express it in the workplace. Currently, in college on the pre-law track, she feels that her Blackness and self-expression constantly need to be handled with caution. If you stand in your Blackness proudly, especially in certain spaces, you are forced to wear certain labels. The question remains: why must we always compromise our identities in order to maintain our reputations in professional environments?
"As a pre-law student, we're often told that long nails, braids, and gold jewelry are unprofessional in the workplace,” explained Diana. “I find those aspects of Black culture to be beautiful and ornamental. How am I supposed to stop representing myself and my people?"
Some argue that in order to normalize ourselves in that type of environment, we must keep imposing ourselves into spaces that haven't accepted or encouraged Black people to be their authentic selves without restrictions. Diana has made it her mission to input people of color in uncharted spaces, which is why she uses them as inspiration for her artwork. For centuries, the standard of beauty has been drenched in Eurocentrism, leaving people of color and their features with little to no positive representation. Because of that reason, she focuses her work toward women of colour, saying, "I love to paint women of color. I have always found them and their stories to be so extraordinary, and it's a shame that they rarely get told. I want to be able to show the beauty that has been shunned for centuries."
Diana wants to share the lasting message that Black youth shouldn't be afraid to express themselves freely and to the fullest extent. We owe appreciation to those who aren't afraid to deviate from the norm, because without them, we wouldn't be able to see how diverse and complex we are as people.