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Lupita Nyong’o Discusses the Difference Between Black and African Identity in Stunning Vogue Spread

Avatar • Sep 19, 2015
Vogue.com

Vogue.com

Lupita Nyong’o continues to be our girl crush. The stunning actress, who will appear in the live action version of the Jungle Book and the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, covered the October issue of Vogue and we are feeling this! Vogue got it exactly right, putting Lupita in looks that accent her natural beauty. But it’s the accompanying interview that is truly fascinating and gives deeper insight into the graceful actress’ identity. In it she discusses how, as a young college student, she came to understand Black American identity in relation to her African identity;

Lupita moved to America at 20 and took classes in film and African studies at Massachusetts’s Hampshire College. It was here that she was confronted with race for the first time. “As Africans, we don’t grow up with a racial identity. We grow up with cultural and ethnic identity before racial identity. I never used the word black as a child. It was never a thing. When was I ever discussing black? Why?”

At Hampshire, she says, “I realized that my skin color was making some people see me differently.” The moment this became apparent was in class, when Lupita wrote a paper on independent American film. After reading it, Lupita’s professor instructed her to go to the Writing Center to get help with her writing skills. But having looked over Lupita’s paper, the teacher at the center asked her, “Why are you here?” “I said, ‘Because my teacher said I should come,’ ” says Lupita. “And she said, ‘I could use this paper to teach the people who come here how to write.’ ” Puzzled, Lupita looked at two Caucasian students’ papers in class. Even though they were full of grammatical errors, these kids had not been given extra teaching. “And then I realized that there was maybe one other black person in the class, who had also been sent to the Writing Center.”

Vogue.com

Vogue.com

Lupita has been praised for bringing much-needed mainstream attention to the beauty of dark skin and, fascinatingly, this is an awareness that is also impacting her native Kenya. The article reveals that Lupita is of the Luo people, who are among the darkest on the African continent.

Lupita’s career path was not without its obstacles. As a teenager auditioning in Nairobi, she was told that her skin was “too dark” for her to be on television. Lupita is Luo, a member of the Nilotic tribe that migrated south from Sudan. They are one of the darkest-skinned of the African tribes. Although the Luo are a sizable ethnic group in Kenya, known for their intelligence and scholarship, the Luo language, like most other tribal tongues, was forbidden at Kenyan schools. She had to speak English or Swahili. “So there was a certain amount of shame attached to my mother tongue.… I developed this discomfort in all things that identified me as ethnically Luo when I was a teenager.”

Vogue.com

Vogue.com

It seems the actress’ success and visibility are bringing dark skinned pride to both Africa and America. Wonderful!

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What do you think of Lupita’s photos and feature?

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LuvMyBrownSkin?
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LuvMyBrownSkin?

Flawless, Natural, Beautiful, Glamorous, Sexy, Elegant and Intelligent.

CocoSheaNut by Ayo
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CocoSheaNut by Ayo

Absolutely stunning

EllieLo
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EllieLo

Every single one of these photos are perfection. Lupita does not MISS!!!

Maggie A
Guest

I really enjoyed this. Lupita is such an incredible person and her intellect is just ravishing! <3

kxlot79
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kxlot79

Absolutely gorgeous! ???

Fix it
Guest
Fix it

Glad that other beauty standards are being recognized.
I’m really over Black actors/actresses only getting notoriety for Slave / maid roles !
And disappointed in them for taking them !

Aqueelah
Guest
Aqueelah

So, you’re disappointed in Lupita, then?

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

Lupita is right, as Africans, we grow up with cultural and ethnic identity. That is because we are all black in the continent, and Black = African. Racial identity is more of an American thing. I never called myself black and I didn’t know I was black until I moved to the United States. When I would identify myself by my nationality, everyone would just lump me in as black and I hated it because I felt like my cultural and ethnic identity was being taken away from me. It was a rude awakening for me lol

cryssi
Guest
cryssi

Sadly we were raised with our culture already stolen from us before we even arrived in this world. The only tie we were born with to our heritage is the color of our skin. We didn’t realize we were deprived of the privilege to know our true history.

I’m sorry you had to taste what we were born into. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve never tasted the poison.

Cai Marie Blackshear
Guest
Cai Marie Blackshear

Perfectly said.

Broadmoornative
Guest
Broadmoornative

As a black American, I agree. A lot of immigrants do not realize how native born black Americans are socialized.….especially when you come to a new country with your native country’s culture intact.

Milly
Guest
Milly

I agree, but I would like to give an alternate viewpoint from my life experience. I agree tribal identity plays a large role in African identity, but Racial identity is not an American thing. I am an East African (Ugandan), but I grew up in South Africa Depending on where you live there is a varying sense of being black, since it is the “Rainbow Nation”, black people do have a strong sense of ethnic identity, don’t get me wrong, but it is overlayed by the sense of being black, especially the more we occupy white spaces i.e. private schools,… Read more »

Steve Biko
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Steve Biko

Being African refers to the RACE you belong to. Moving to Africa, or being born there (of a different race) doesn’t make you African. Everybody knows that African = Black.

If I were to describe myself on the phone to a person who doesn’t know me, and I say that I’m African, he/she would INSTANTLY know that I’m black. You’ll never hear anybody say: “Is he a white-African or a yellow-African” .. Get it?

Edges_N_Paris
Guest

I’m sorry but African does not equal Black just like American does not equal white. Africa is a geopolitical continent with different ethnic groups of which majority are Black. Charlize Theron is African but her ethnicity is European. I am American but my ethnicity is a mix of African, European, and Native American. If you were to describe yourself on the phone to a person as African, an educated person would not assume that you’re Black because all Africans are not Black. Case in point those who live in the Maghreb, some are Black and some are white. In Morocco,… Read more »

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

Europeans in South Africa are “citizens” of South Africa by choice, they are not “children of the soil” aka African. Your ethnicity does not change because you decided to relocate to another continent/country. All those people you mentioned know exactly where they are from. I am a United States citizen by choice, I follow the laws of the land, I respect the land, and I pay my taxes. But I am not American.

Milly
Guest
Milly

I found this YouTube video that gives an interesting definition of identity that I can relate to versus the one proporsed here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT5OpU2PlS4

Otherwise I understand your logic, even though I don’t subscribe to it. I largely felt the same way for a long time, until I became aware of how non-black Africans felt about their identity.

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

Regardless of how anyone feels, black people are not accepted anywhere in this globe. White people will never go through that because they are the dominant group economically. That is something you need to realize.

Edges_N_Paris
Guest

So white children born in SA have made a “choice” to be born there? I don’t think so. With global migration describing one as African does not equate to Black skin.

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

Migration does not change your ethnicity or nationality. Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico but she is not Mexican or Latin American.

Rael Marie
Guest
Rael Marie

Are blacks born in Europe called Europeans?

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

I have been to your country, Uganda, and to they do not consider Indians Africans. Historically text both in Roman and Greek have always described Africa as the land whose inhabitants are black. Africa = black weather anyone likes it or not. The white people in South Africa who are the dominant group economically, are trying to change the African narrative because it’s rules them out. HOW ON EARTH CAN A COLONIST NOW DECLARE TO BE AFRICAN when their goal was always to wipe us out of existence so that they can take hold of the continents wealth (study colonial… Read more »

Milly
Guest
Milly

@pearl82:disqus Yes, I am aware that Ugandans largely do not consider Indians Africans. But I do feel that those who choose to self-identify as African should be entitled to this without the hostility that is often shown to them. This definition of African = Black become blurry when we consider those that are mixed. Look at the mixed, Coloured, community in South Africa: they are a mix of native Khoisan people, Bantu people, European colonialists and Malay/Indian/Chinese slaves; should they not be allowed to identify as African since this is the only continent they know, the only culture they grew… Read more »

Pearl
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Pearl

Most African society are a patriarchy society, so we claim descent through our father and his father. This settles any identity problem that any mix-race person might be having. I hope you realize that prior to colonialism, every African ethnic group considered their ethnicity, their nationality. Your country extended to end of your tribal boundary. The people, their language, and their land, was all the same name e.g, Yoruba people, speak Yoruba and live in the nation of Yoruba. When the Europeans re-drew all borders for their own economic gains, our sense of nationality changed to include members of the… Read more »

Milly
Guest
Milly

If your last statement is sincere, then you do not need to worry about the state of my soul, as it is in God’s hands. Otherwise I see my alternate view has not touched you at all, and I refuse to subscribe to yours, so I shall leave it as is, no more back and forth. God bless

Tricia Boahene
Guest
Tricia Boahene

FYI most Ghanaians actually operate matri-lineal heritage. Children inherit their mothers and are from where their mothers are from. This is the case for most Akan peoples (BUT NOT ALL and not for Ewe/Ga-Adangbe/Hausa descendants — But Akan’s are just a larger grouping).

So within Ghana you can have ethnic identity issues because one parent is from a tribe that is matri-lineal and another is patri-lineal.

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

Woman, that is why I said “MOST” African society is a patriarchy society. I certainly wasn’t talking about all African societies

Tricia Boahene
Guest
Tricia Boahene

At last! Someone who completely understands that Africa has changed and is changing and that racial origins are not in and of themselves enough to define someone’s identity in their entirety.

Broadmoornative
Guest
Broadmoornative

I’m black American and those of us (black, white, etc.) have been categorized since birth. It’s the American way. As a kid we are taught we’re the best country in the world and everyone is trying to come to the USA for a better life. As an adult, I wonder why some people would choose to come here because now you get to be boxed into a category. I respect different cultures but the US sees race and expect you to somehow assimilate into the American way of thinking. You may hate to be categorized as black but understand that… Read more »

Pearl
Guest
Pearl

You have to understand that countries that do not have a racial
identity do not think about race until they are confronted with it. So It does
not occur to people that they will be boxed into a racially category when they
move to the United States. It’s just one of things that we all come to terms in
staying here. Regardless, everyone has a different reason for coming here, and
most people leave when they reach their goal.

maralondon
Guest
maralondon

Beautiful African Queen. She looks so much younger than her years. When mentioned that her people are one of the darkest in Africa I thought of the Sudanese people and it just so happens that she derives from that region.

PrimmestPlum
Guest
PrimmestPlum

This spread is so stunning. The architectural skirt is my favorite piece.

I’m pleasantly surprised that Lupita actually spoke on the topic of racial identity and how Black people are viewed as inherently lesser regardless of their actual achievements. A lot Africans I come into contact with tend to think we are lying, “playing the race card”, or making excuses when we say we face discrimination in nearly all public spheres. It’s tough and very discouraging.

Neema
Guest
Neema

Growing up in South Africa, which is more racially diverse than other African countries , race has always been a very big deal. I still have memories of being refused into restaurants and hotels, being stared at for ‘not being in the right place’, undermined by teachers and lectures for not fitting into the ‘black people are not supposed to be intelligent’ stereotype. Although alot has changed for the better, racial tension is still a painful reality. Despite the negatives, I would rather dwell on the positives. Growing up in a multicultural society is one of the most enriching experiences… Read more »

Sarran Jabbie
Guest
Sarran Jabbie

Growing up biculturally as African and American. A film that most immigrants and first generation born individuals can relate to. Take a look here amithefilm.com and join the discussion.

Ugonna Wosu
Guest
Ugonna Wosu

How can I read the article with such a STUNNING photo at the top? Then I scroll down, and they’re ALL so divine? lol. Her skin and eyes are to die for!

Aqueelah
Guest
Aqueelah

Such a beautiful woman, inside and out. And so humble. Love her.

AfroCapricornette
Guest
AfroCapricornette

Zara better produce a version of that golden cover dress because it just POPS on her skin! Jeez! I’m sure if I meet her in person, I would go fan girl on her like a groupie…sigh. Yup, she is right with the whole ethnic id thing. When I mentioned on a previous blog that I didn’t realize I was black till I moved to America (not that I thought I was white, but you get my drift), I was derided lol. None of the AA understood what I meant but I hope most understand us Africans now regarding that initial… Read more »

AfricanAmy
Guest
AfricanAmy

Tell u what, I’d love a Zara version of the dress too 🙂

Gaby Wallace
Guest
Gaby Wallace

I use this line all the time and I’m a half-black person from Quebec. When I grew up, it never mattered. Moving to the US, it was a shock.

Broadmoornative
Guest
Broadmoornative

That’s because the US has a big race issue. A lot of people move here and do not realize it until they get here but for those of us who are from here, we’ve been conditioned to box people into a group.

Saran
Guest
Saran

she was born with blue blood and to wear the color blue #thatbluedress

Aisha
Guest
Aisha

It’s amazing how she looks stunning in every color and texture. And such an uplifting and refreshing young woman.

AfricanAmy
Guest
AfricanAmy

Amazing how her skins just glows! I wondered what her skincare was like then realised the lighting must have something to do with it too. Great photos!
Really good article too. Very important topic. Racism, prejudice whatever you choose to call it does impact on how people view others. It’s a shame because being sent to a Writing Centre or for a Language class like my bf was in London when there is NOTHING wrong with either just because you are foreign and/or black is an outrage.

Loyal Royal
Guest
Loyal Royal

She looks like a beautiful doll. And the clothes. I LOVE the variety in the dresses she is wearing — the color, various textures and material. The art and architecture in the photos and the clothes are giving me LIFE. This spread is FLAWLESS!!! Now if only I could afford to purchase some of these pieces. Lol

Tiffany Frederick
Guest
Tiffany Frederick

she glows!

Marmaduke
Guest
Marmaduke

Wow! She worked every. single. shot. I can’t wait to see her in more leading lady roles. I also have to say that while I know there have been a few articles on styling the twa, she’s taken it to a whole new level in style diversity. I don’t even understand what her hair is doing in that first picture but it’s all kinds of fabulous.

Amarachi
Guest
Amarachi

She’s gorgeous! And her impact will hopefully continue to be felt! However, it would be great if you could refer to her specific country (Kenya) instead of referring to the whole continent of Africa, especially when referring to Africa with America. That just reinforces the idea of Africa being a country rather than an extremely diverse continent.

Mokki
Guest

OMG. She’s so drop dead captivatingly gorgeous.. I can’t stand it.. The beauty!! The photography!!! The #melanin!!! I love my people!

June
Guest
June

honestly,i am kenyan and luos and kikuyus are known for being very outspoken for speaking their tribal languages.It is nothing to be ashamed of nor are the other luos or members of other tribes feel discomfort in speaking their languages.However it is not encouraged because the country is trying to foster national unity and speaking your mother tongue in public places like schools and offices contributes to a tribal division in the country,which as the world knows sparked the post-election violence in kenya back in 2007 because of tribal divisions. Perhaps the dark skin can weigh in a bit more,but… Read more »

Rose
Guest
Rose

I am Kenyan too. And a Luo. I dont agree with you because Lupita is right. You might not realize it (or maybe your just trying to deny it), but Luos in particular have had a very tough time in Kenya ethnically. We have been the brunt of systematic ethnic discrimination and marginalization — particularly from the Kikuyu community. I am a Luo too and growing up as a teenager, even though I had friends from all over the country, I felt the exact same way Lupita did in school. You may not realize it, but that is the way… Read more »

disqus_l5AKLiKBqN
Guest
disqus_l5AKLiKBqN

“As Africans, we don’t grow up with a racial identity” “As a teenager auditioning in Nairobi, she was told that her skin was “too dark” for her to be on television” These two statements are diametrically opposed! Skin color discrimination is a direct result of racialization. Also, Ms Nyong’o should be careful to reference her own upbringing instead of generalizing. I can’t imagine how the statement ‘as Africans, we don’t grow up with racial identity’ could ever be applied to Blacks in South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Sudan who’ve lived race-based apartheid under the yolk of White, Indian,… Read more »

space
Guest
space

In Africa we do not see colour, she is right with the first statement, we really don’t grow up with racial identity. the reason why the statement oppose one another is because she wanted to enter an industry made by white people, and despite being in Kenya most of these industries are owned by whites and have to mirror western ideas of beauty. i grew up in South Africa in a middle class neighbourhood with whites and indians, and i never knew what the word nigger meant or that i was even black until i came to Europe.

Fatisha
Guest
Fatisha

No, there is a difference between racism, colorism, and xenophobia. Those things she listed are colorism and xenophobia, not racism. In in places like America, it is racism that fuels those two. Just not Kenya. She has a point, she just maybe didn’t word it the exact right way.

SOM
Guest
SOM

Lupita is truly amazing. And she is quite right with her statements. We really don’t grow up with a racial identity in most African countries, unless maybe South Africa. Then again, South Africa is like America in terms of race issues. They were oppressed as the blacks were in the U.S. When other African countries came in contact with white people, we were only colonized, we did not integrate ourselves with their foreign cultures. We dwelled in the same country with them till we managed to push them out. There may be colorism and ethnic issues but no race.

S Hanson
Guest
S Hanson

Lupita makes such a good point. Iwas born in England and went to live in Nigeria at a very young age for 4 years before returning to the UK. It was only when I got back that I realised I was black. Then a friend of mine came to live in UK from Nigeria in his 30s he said he did not realise he was any thing than a man till he moved abroad when now he realised he is black man with all the negative connotations that come with it. He says mentally, it was a difficult adjustment to… Read more »

Layla
Guest
Layla

her skin tone is amazing! SHE IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD!

Tricia Boahene
Guest
Tricia Boahene

I know very little about Kenya so it was interesting the hear about Luo people. I always thought she looked Sudanese actually, now I know why. I’m such a Lupita stan though. Lol.

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[…] and entertaining. Award winning media Icon Oprah Winfrey and  popular actresses such as  Lupita Nyong’o, Taraji P Henson, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and so many others have worked […]

Wazakauye Zulu
Guest
Wazakauye Zulu

She looks glorious! I can’t breathe!

Mahe76
Guest
Mahe76

She’s probably one of the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen… and yes, I am white and don’t give a shit about all the racsim talks… Black women are for me the ultimate example of true beauty… I can’t stand people, countries, governments, television channels or anything that judges based on your skin color… that’s just wrong and should be erased from society. For me, black women are the most beautiful in the world… and it may sound racist to white girls because I’m a white male… who cares anyway. Every person who has a heart and soul does not… Read more »

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