For the past 8 months I have been living and working in Lima, Peru. It was during the time when Satoshi Kanazawa’s article about the ugliness of black women was published and during the American media’s continued obsession with black women’s singleness. I was living in a culture where my dark skin was actually prized. I walked down the streets with my braids or twist-outs to cat calls of “Morena de mi corazon”, “Que linda!”, “Morena preciosa” and the honking of horns and whistles.
In my interactions with my colleagues and friends (mostly males), I was told that I was attractive, beautiful, exotic, modelesque that I had “jale”. I was accustomed to being complimented on my beauty in the North American context but not with such fan fare, regularity and from such a large quantity of men. Maybe this was how it felt to be a white, blonde, skinny woman with big breasts living in North America.
At times it was overwhelming. Like walking near the beach in Huanchaco and almost every man I passed commenting. Other times my skinned crawled when a group of neighbourhood men clustered in a group with their nasty thoughts written on their faces as I walked down the street towards my house. At times it felt great (an ego boost) to be the beauty. To be the woman that turned heads.
Other times I wondered at this attention. In conversations with two other cousins and a school mate who had traveled to South America, apparently Latin men had a thing for black women. But what exactly was this thing? Was it necessarily a shift in the standard of beauty? The men still fawned over blondes. Did Latin America somehow develop an inclusive standard of beauty??? Soap opera shows, ad campaigns and beauty pageants demonstrated otherwise. But maybe that was just the media.
I had a sneaking suspicion that it was not simply because I was beautiful particularly when I experienced street harassment. Somewhere I had the sneaking suspicion that I was…hmmm…maybe not viewed as a prostitute but as somehow more sexually risque. So I decided to ask a few friends. I was told that it was because black women were known for their voluptuous bodies and their good dancing abilities. A taxi driver told me that he preferred black women because they were more loving than white women. Others said because black women weren’t so common in Peru.
Positive stereotypes. Exoticism. Otherness. Is this really positive? Are black women celebrated within the Peruvian culture? Maybe I am over-analyzing the situation. Some of my guy friends told me I was just beautiful. But I wanted to know why. Was it just the colour of my skin that made me beautiful? And if it was, was that bad? If black = beautiful in South America isn’t that a good thing?