from the editor: the many shades of black

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– by Antonia

The world is filled with so many different types of people that it’s probably impossible for us to fully grasp the magnitude of our nuances. We try to make a little sense of who we are by categorizing each other based on geography, physical characteristics and cultural norms. And while such categorizations have the ability to both separate and connect us, they don’t come close to telling the full breadth of our story. They fail to capture the stories that fall within the gradated spaces that lie in the in-betweens. The stories of Black are probably so varied that they can fill a library.

For a while now, we’ve been yearning to learn more about us. We get a few stories on TV and in magazines. We see a few shades in advertisements. A chapter or two in history books. But our full story hasn’t and isn’t being told. It may be too rich and too vast to put it all on paper, but this year at Un’ruly we’re going to get some of it down. This year we’re going to explore the various hues of Black. Black has so much meaning in present day because we weren’t Black until we left Africa. Before then we were our ethnic identities–Igbo, Ashanti, Wolof and so on. But imperialism and slave trade stripped us of our ethnic and cultural colorings and labeled us with one easy over-simplified identifier, an identifier that, as a result, goes beyond skin color. In many countries Black is a socio-economic category; it’s an indicator of political orientation; it’s a stigma; a behavior. And we’re diving into all of that this year because classifications and labels have the power to limit a person’s view of who they are and who they can be. So it’s important that we explore and challenge the labels that have been placed on us and that we place on ourselves.

Let’s get the conversation going: What does being Black mean to you? Tell us in the comments.

the many shades of black

Each month we’re tackling a hot topic that helps us better understand the various aspects of Blackness.


discuss: when did you first feel your race?

I first felt the color of my skin on a playground in London when I was about six years old…


black history: black images in european art

The classical paintings in the Louvre show us that Blacks indeed had a history of servitude in Europe, but we were also depicted as players in Greek myths, traders, warriors and kings.


what the baoulé taught me about beauty

We’re told to look inside a person to find their appeal. But what does that really mean? My trip to the Branly Museum gave me an alternative way of interpreting this tried and true saying.


skin bleaching: who’s the fairest of them all?

Is skin bleaching simply a form of self-fashioning and constructing one’s own physical identity or are there really deeper motives at play?


relaxers won’t be around for long

I see the demise of relaxers. The caustic chemical treatments that straighten kinky hair will fall as natural hair solidifies its place as a staple and not a fad in the Black hair world…


why nigeria’s economic potential matters

Knowing what you can be and where you can go is in and of itself a mandate to get going.


thando hopa: choosing pretty

Thando’s story is not one of being confident despite being different; it’s one of understanding difference in a larger unifying context as well as tuning into our innate ability to decide who we are.


the colorlessness of black

When unable to rely on stereotypical physical characteristics how does one define who they are?


my mother never told me to stay out of the sun

My mother never told me to stay out of the sun. I was never burdened with the tragedy of darkness, never locked my fingers across my brow for shade on rainless afternoons.


black music?

What is “Black music?” Is there such a thing? What essential characteristics give music a color?

christy lynch, on sound and place

Nigerian-American singer Christy Lynch gives us her take on how geography can impact music.


the ideal beauty from hollywood to nollywood

Have you ever wondered what more diversity in the media would actually look like? What would it do for what we consider beautiful? Would it ease pressure to meet a standard of beauty?


black food: how what we eat connects us to where we’re from

I don’t know if there is such thing as White food but there is certainly such thing as Black food—as in food Black people eat. And it has a lot more depth to it than Urban Dictionary would make it seem.

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An entrepreneur at heart, I founded Unruly in 2013 after spending six great years in advertising. I’m über lazy when it comes to doing my hair so I’m always looking for easy and quick ways to care and style my hair.

Articles: 191


  1. ‘Black’ is a color, that was ignorantly defined into ‘race’ (which is a verb NOT an adjective) by the people that took us (who are the most recent descendants from Africa) to describe our classification and color.

  2. “Black” is a social construct to me, but it is also an identity. Race is an arbitrary category designated for the purpose of justifying oppression- but as fabricated as it is, it unites a people, tying them together through common experience. In this way, race is an identity and so Black is an identity.

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