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The Racist History Behind 'Well-Meaning' Compliments

I know from conversations with black, female friends that I am not the only one who has been caught off guard in professional or social environments with comments like, ‘Wow, I love your new hair!’; ‘You’re probably a freak [in bed] right?’; and ‘You have a great body!’ Or by someone drawing comparison between my skin and an edible (granted, usually delicious) substance. These comments complicate the skills needed to navigate everyday spaces in Britain, which are so often characterised by the offering of unsolicited opinions about a person’s physical appearance.

The thing is, I understand that usually these comments are well-intended so I will make three disclaimers here: firstly, I am not declaring war on compliment-givers, nor banning the population from complimenting black aesthetics; secondly, this piece is written to validate any uneasy feelings that you may experience as a receiver of these comments – once again, not to vilify compliment-givers; thirdly, the comments can be as innocent as a reference to your lipstick colour or blouse – even comments which do not appear political can play into the historical trend of objectifying black, femme bodies.