Tag Archives: colorism

Throwback Thursday: “You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned girl!”

19 Jul

Today, I am revisiting the first blog I wrote for the collective in 2010.  I can’t remember why I wrote about colorism, but it feels as fitting and relevant today as it did two years ago when I first found the words.  I wrote about how “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” is a backwards pseudo-compliment that leaves dark-skinned girls caught up in a conundrum and half-smile, wondering if the two things she is being called (the two things she is) are oxymoronic, canceling each other out—does being pretty make up for being dark-skinned, does being dark-skinned cancel out being pretty?  What the hell?

As I attempted to put a new take on it, my recent reflections remind me of how infrequent I hear a personal compliment or affirmation at all.  Sometimes, not hearing who we are, particularly from the people around us, makes us question it.  Pouring from my own needs I tend to shower people with compliments.  I call my students beauties, just in case no one has (ever) told them they are beautiful.  I want them to know that they are beautiful people—not out of manipulation, but sincerity; and not because of what they look like, but because of who they have the capacity to be.  When I notice something beautiful about a person I tell them, specifically and intentionally, that they have a sweet or calming spirit, a beautiful smile, remarkable eyes.  Beauty, for me, is more than skin deep…it’s not about what people see, it’s about what they can’t see.  This is how I survived my formative years, when people called me what they saw/thought (“ugly”) based on standards I could never meet (“light, bright, damn near white”), and I still had to figure out how to love myself.

When I was younger I thirsted for the words, even if they were empty.  Perhaps that is why I found myself in empty situations with hurt feelings, a battered heart, and a beauty so scarred I couldn’t see it for years!  When someone finally told me I was beautiful they were able to use it against me like a weapon because down deep I never thought I would hear it again.  Once I picked up the pieces and got perspective on the ways that colorism mimics so many other built-in discriminations and privileges (i.e., heterosexism, ageism, sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) I vowed to never be that thirsty for a compliment again… and to actively remind myself, and others, (especially beautifulbrownandblackgirls/women) that beauty ain’t never been stingy and there is enough to go around! This post reminds me that I need to call my damn self pretty…more.  I need to rely less on other people’s opinions, release myself from being bound by other people’s stubbornness (to give a compliment), or opinions, or lack of home training, or insecurity, or down right meanness and love myself… fiercely and unapologetically.  I will look long and deep til I see my own damn pretty, and say it out loud (because sometimes I need to hear it), and if needbe take a picture and keep it on my nightstand.

So this morning, after re-reading the post, I stood in the front of the mirror and stared at a early morning, wild-haired, glassy eyed, bloated bodied me… before I washed my face, brushed my teeth, got in the shower or could even see myself good I decided to love on myself for a moment.  I noticed the moles on my chin, the line that forms on my nose and forehead when I squint, how my teeth and lips hide my gums when I smile, and how dark and brown my eyes are.  I saw my mama’s nose, my daddy’s mouth, and my grandmother’s sass hidden behind too few hours of sleep and puffy eyes.  I saw the imperfections, birth marks, stretch marks, and chocolate dipped exterior and thought to myself, I am pretty…period!

Self-care includes self-love!  Be about it.

Original Post: April 1, 2010, see amended version below

“You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl…”

I have heard this statement many times in my life from well-meaning black women, seemingly surprised peers, family members, and perfect strangers who usually make the statement in response or reply to not having seen me in a while or in genuine wonder and fascination. The words come as somewhat of a shock in the moment, somewhat of a criticism, somewhat of an offense. I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted… I mean we never say “you’re pretty for a white/light-skinned/skinny/athletic/young/able-bodied/heterosexual girl….” It is always the opposite that deserves comment.  In other words, “you’re pretty to not be normal/what I have come to expect.” (Yeah, folk can pretty much keep those pseudo-compliments to themselves).

The words, “you’re pretty for…” is no different than saying “you’re pretty, but…”  The old-school women in my church would often talk ish while smiling, sandwiching a compliment between critique like meat and bread.  “You putting on some weight?  You look good, but what you doing with your hair?”  Uh…yeah? Or, “She got strong features.  Favor her mama.  Look just like her daddy.”  Uh-huh.

The words would come at me softly, sometimes hard, but mostly behind smiling eyes and perfectly thick lips, insinuating that if it wasn’t for _____ I would be acceptable.  The other implication was that one is either pretty or dark-skinned (not both)…and the tendency to be both simultaneously, is possible, but not likely. So, at best, I am an anomaly.

I believed the either/or myth long enough to be

surprised at lyrics that praised “boricua morenas”

and confused at Lauryn Hill’s sweet lyrics of

the sweetest thing she had ever known

being wrapped in “a precious dark skin tone”

and India Arie’s fascination with “brown skin.”

My skin

left me feeling like if it weren’t for the fact that I was dark-skinned (or simply just a calm shade of brown), perhaps I could be beautiful/loveable/wanted. The internal conflict came at a problematic time because I already often feel like the merge of two impossibilities (undeniably black and possibly beautiful). Those insecurities sometimes continue with me being a black woman academic… something right (smart and successful) coupled with something wrong (black). What does that make me?

The backwards compliments (“You are pretty…to be dark-skinned”) have often fed my colorism, color complex issues and low self esteem as a child and my curiosities as an adult about my attraction to men who pass the paper bag test…

My homegirl and I talked about how these color-issues translate to our lives, how we see ourselves (as beautiful or not) and how we are seen (desired or not). In movies, we (dark skinned black girls) are (usually) not the love interest. My friend sighed in surrender as she shared with me that “dark skinned women, unlike dark-skinned men, were never in style.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that people don’t notice that we are “pretty” (I mean chocolate is sweet)…but their temporary short term longings transition to long term sensibilities that tend to send them on quests to find the most exotic, racially ambiguous person to take home to mama or make babies with. Regardless of my qualities, I often(times) hear words merge with others telling me, I am pretty for a dark-skinned girl, but…

And those words remind me of how many nights I fell asleep on tear-soaked pillows praying to wake up a different me, a light-skinned, long-haired me, thinking and believing that that would somehow make me more…loveable. It was easy to believe that when everyone from my elders to my peers were constantly commenting on my lighter than ebony but darker than chestnut colored exterior and demeaning me (whether they meant to or not and whether they knew it or not) because I was not “white” enough…or “light” enough.

Women of color, black women especially, often struggle with seeing ourselves as beautiful when the epitome of beauty is something like white…

I am far from a Barbie doll—but loving the skin I’m in. Learning to love yourself is a lifelong process and endeavor and I am committed to it and fully aware that in a culture that privileges red bones over big bones I am not sure how beautiful I seem…but I am embracing the mocha in my skin and the mahogany behind my eyes. Even though I have often been told that I am beautiful in spite of, not because of, my “dark-skin” I am dreaming dark and deep.

Battle of the What?: A Brief Reflection on the Battle of the Complexions Controversy

27 Feb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am sick and tired of the cultural story line that insists only one version (complexion) of black women can be “in style” (beautiful, popular, desirable) at any given time.  There seems to be a not-so-invisible scale that insinuates that black beauty is either light or dark, always one or the other, never both/and.  Binary thinking is always problematic and especially in this instance because these evaluations are inextricably linked to issues of self-esteem and self-worth.  In a society that has been obsessed with black women’s single/sex/personal lives, this feels like another opportunity to pinpoint the pitfalls of being a black woman and tell her why she is not wanted (could it be you are the wrong complexion too?).  Since black women are routinely subjected to desirability tests that are based on their measure of whiteness exoticism it should be no surprise that those comparison scales are becoming more intentional and literal (see below).

Being judged and rated in society is an unfortunate plight that black girls learn how to negotiate with the help, love, and reassurance from other girls and women, of various shades, throughout our lives.  These women are our red-boned mothers, our high-yellow aunties, our mahogany brown best friends and other brown blood and soul sisters whose beauty we immediately recognize.  We learn, from our relationships with these black women, that there is no such thing as one kinda (black) beauty.  We learn how to appreciate our differences and likenesses and we realize that the discriminations and prejudices that we face are similar and rooted in racism.  But then the outside (influences) makes its way on the inside (mind).

In what was claimed to be “a black history month event,” by club promoters Mack TV and Nelly Da’Celeb of St. Louis, black women were invited to participate in a contest where they would be ranked and evaluated based on their skin color.  The “Battle of the Complexions” was a “runway contest for [the] sexiest complexion.”  A facebook page for the event announced, ‘This is the most debatable topic of the year, what’s the sexiest skin complexion?? So ladies come out & lets settle this!!”

It seems that this supposedly debatable topic could be settled in a crowded night club with hundreds of horny and inebriated men and attention-needy women on stage with something to prove.  When confronted with the multiple and layered problems of their “light skinned versus caramel (brown) skinned versus dark-skinned” contest, the promoters, two black men, not unlike Too $hort a few weeks ago (check out this post,  this post , this post, and this one), apologized for offending those who were offended, but not for the misguided event itself (the event took place, as planned, on Friday night).  In a statement they said, “It’s Black History Month so we made a party theme dedicated to our African American crowd…here’s the first time ever you can come out and be proud that you are black!!  Regardless of your skin tone!!.. We could have used a better choice of words…We did not mean to offend the offended.”

Battle of the Complexions

Well…I am offended.  And despite the attempt to clean up the mess they made, it is not just a matter of semantics.  It is not only the words that are problematic but the theme itself, because evidently it does matter what skin tone you have if the purpose of the event is to choose the most sexy complexion.  The ways in which this perpetuates and promotes colorism and division makes it far more than misguided and unfortunate word choice.

I can’t help but wonder what the tone of a venue that pits black women against each other must be like?  Do they call each other names?  Do they call each other ugly?  Do they create color-coded cliques and demean the women not “qualified” to be on their team?  How do they prove their worth/beauty/desirability?  What must they sacrifice to win?  And what would it mean to win a contest that, if only for a moment, puts you at the top of the black girl hierarchy?  Is this the kind of victory you celebrate?  In these moments black girls turned women forget about the beauty and diversity of skin tones in the family, they dismiss their light or dark skinned sister or best friend, and find themselves needing to prove their worth—their beauty—on a stage where only one can win, and in fact everyone loses.   Why does one person’s beauty have to be at the expense of someone else’s?

National Pretty Brown Girl Day, which was celebrated on Saturday, is attempting to avoid what contests like the Battle perpetuates.  The need for a day to celebrate “pretty brownness” is evidence that our society doesn’t value and celebrate it on a daily basis.  We need to start challenging that–by devoting days to celebrating black beauty, in all of its many manifestations.  Perhaps by loving on each other (when no one else will bother) will help to dismantle the cultural cues that say only one version of black is beautiful.

Sex, Scripts, & Single Ladies

23 Jun

I’ll admit it.  When VH1’s scripted dramedy Single Ladies premiered a few weeks ago I had very low expectations–so low, in fact, that I forgot it was even coming on that night. It wasn’t  until I logged on to my Facebook and saw a bunch of statements like, “OMG!” “He said what?” “Stacey Dash is how old?” “Why does LisaRaye always play herself?” that I realized the show was on. So, I flipped the channel to VH1 to see what all the buzz was about. To tell the truth, it took me a minute to even find VH1 because a channel whose claim to fame is messy-ass shows like Basketball Wives and Love and Hip Hop is generally not on my radar.

Anyway, my first impression of Single Ladies was that it was an over-the-top soap opera in the vein of Dynasty and Melrose Place, replete with rich, beautiful people and sudsy, paper-thin plot lines. And while I thought it had the potential to be some escapist fun, the raggedy acting, flat characters, and reliance on tired stereotypes had me giving the show the side eye. I will say I had great fun Facebook-critiquing it and decided to keep watching the show for the moment, if only for sociological interest…okay, and the eye candy, too, let me not front.

April, Val, and Keisha out on the town. Is it wrong for me to wonder if April shops at the same wig shop as Kim Zolciak?

My Facebook friends ran the gamut of reactions to the pilot episode. Some vowed that Single Ladies took two hours of their lives that they can never get back. Others decided that they would stick it out, at least for a few more episodes.

In thinking of my own mixed reaction to show, I decided to check out what critics had to say. Let’s just say that reviews have been less than kind, to say the least.

Hank Stuever at The Washington Post wrote:

This is a series for people who found “Sex and the City” too quick-witted and “The Wendy Williams Show” too intellectually stimulating.  It’s the TV equivalent of a beach read with no words.

I’ll admit it. I died and was later resurrected when I read that. Ooop!

Brian Lowry at Variety wrote:

Although VH1 bills “Single Ladies” as a romantic comedy, this hourlong show is really a soap–basically a scripted version of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” seeking to fill a niche among African-American women largely abandoned by broadcasters since “Girlfriends” went off the air. Still, it’s not a particularly inspired serial, replete with tired situations, stiff dialogue and male characters possessing less dimension than those populating “Sex and the City,” if that’s possible. It’s not easy for a series featuring beautiful women to harbor zero appeal among men, but these “Ladies” thread that needle.

Hmm. I can get with the first part of the comment, but I must admit that one-dimensional male characters were the least of our concerns in Sex and the City. You mean to tell me that those women went all around NYC and they couldn’t find more than like three people of color to put in the whole series (Sonia Braga, Blair Underwood…who was the third, y’all? Help me out…). So, no, the fact that we did not learn Big’s first name until the last episode of the series has not kept me awake at night.

By the same token, of all the critiques to make about Single Ladies, and there are plenty to make, the lack of fully realized male characters is not at the top of my list.  Because the show is a soap, the scenarios are definitely over the top.  Still, having lived in Atlanta for five years, I know that the dating scene there is often off the chain, with folks doing the most and achieving the least, much to  many sisters’ chagrin. Case in point: I dated a beautiful, smart, and gainfully-employed brother who thought the same stupid shit as Val’s sexy chef did in episode two: giving head is just not “manly” but receiving head is “natural.”  It’s true, folks, there are still people out there in the twenty-first century who think black men shouldn’t do cranial maneuvers! It is not a myth like unicorns and leprechauns; they actually exist. (Yes, I know there are brothers who do it and do it well, but y’all might want to take your fallen brethren under your wings, ’cause they are tripping).  So, seriously, I’m not hating on the show because some men (read: some straight men) ages 18-45 don’t like it. #kanyeshrug

How about the fact that the show only has one token gay male character, when we know good and hell well that Atlanta has a vibrant and diverse queer community? How about the fact that almost all the women on the show can pass the paper bag test? Riddle me that. Now, I’m not suggesting that a soap opera on VH1 has to be all things to all people. But with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit productions at the helm, I think it’s fair to ask for a bit more. C’mon, Khadijah, we need ya!

At the end of the day, I do find the show interesting on a few levels. Real talk, sometimes after teaching and writing all day all I want to watch is something that doesn’t require a lot of brainpower. I also do enjoy seeing a city I love represented, especially as I toil in the confederate wilderness of Alabama. Looking at Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy makes me vow to drink more water and get more sleep because they make 45 look really, really good.  Some of the situations that the women have encountered around men and dominance have been surprisingly interesting. In fact, I had a great conversation the other day with my girl Crunktastic about the whole dinner scene with the pompous professors, which tickled me especially as a sister with working class roots who went to Emory for graduate school.  Despite the fact that all the profs were caricatures, I did think the class dynamics of the scene was fascinating and I definitely laughed out loud when the words “hypersexualization” and “objectification” made it onto the show.  Let me mess around and find out that some folks at VH1 have taken women’s studies…

Bottom line for me: the show is not great, but it does prompt some interesting questions about race, class, gender, and sisterhood, in addition to having a slew of foine—yes, foine—guest stars and an easy, breezy plot. I’ll be watching, with a crunk feminist critical lens of course, for now.

What is your take on Single Ladies?

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

9 Jun

My melanin proficiency has often led to color complex(ion) issues brought on by my country (rural) upbringing in a community (and country) fascinated (via the hegemonic influences of beauty) with my yellow-skinned sister with looooooooooooooooooooong hair and generally ambivalent with me (and my dark skin and short/er hair).  They (the adults and other children in my life) always knew my sister was beautiful but for me it took time, years, deep long looks and depth of consideration to finally determine that I was cute, ish, beautiful even for a dark-skinned girl.  I have often pondered the implications of those terms of my beauty, put on me by society, community, and sometimes my self  (I told you I had color complex, read complexion, issues that resulted from what I was taught to find attractive and desirable).

It is hard to love your black (beauty) when you know Black men who exclusively date nonblack women or who refuse to date dark-skinned Black women because they are not “beautiful.”  The Psychology Today article that accused black women of being ugly hit close to home and pushed me back to so many moments of insecurity that I thought I would explode in rage.  I had thought (read hoped) that we had made strides past the paper bag test and expanded, culturally, what constitutes beauty despite the unspoken preference for red bones.

But this is not a critique of societal hate of black girls (though it could and perhaps should be) but rather a prelude to a preview.  The documentary Dark Girls is directed by Bill Duke and will premiere in October at the International Black Film Festival (check out the trailer below).

When I saw the preview (I wish the title was different, by the way, Dark-Skinned Girls perhaps, but Dark Girls implies something sinister that makes me sad) I sat with my tears and remembered my own sadness and memories of growing up a dark (skinned) girl in a space that prefers something/anything else.  The stories were so resonant with my own memories that I was reminded about how important it is to tell and hear your story in a chorus of others.  I felt validated by the confessions and emotions brought forth by the women included in the showing, many of them unable to recall their feelings of inadequacy and shame without tears.  As I watched and listened I realized that my struggle(s) are not over and that despite my best intentions and awareness, there is still the little dark skinned black girl in me who wishes to be different.  Acceptable. Lovable. Beautiful (as quoted in the introduction to the film).  For so much of my life no one seemed to notice that/if I was beautiful at all.

I have the kind of beauty that moves slowly and sneaks up on you—in those few seconds when you are still trying to decide what you think of my face you realize that the thing that made you unsure was not my features, but my skin.  I know it, I see it, I recognize it in the eyes of women and men 30 seconds before they speak (or don’t speak, depending on the situation).  But I have grown into my beautiful.  After years of looking past my own pretty, I finally found it was there all along.  It is a subtle, disarming, vulnerable, newly-confident beautiful that I inherited from my mama’s cinnamon skin (which she got from my grandmother’s Native American/light as White legacies) and my father’s sepia-shade sprung forth from his light skinned, heavy-tongued mother and pecan skinned and dark eyed father (all of their children were the color of Hennessy).  I used to find solace in knowing that I coulda been light-skinned, and that perhaps I really was on the inside, under the curious layers of dark brown skin that showed on the outside.  As a dark (skinned) girl I spent hours in the mirror imagining how different I would look with light skin (I wonder if light skinned sisters have that same wondering).

This documentary is important because it seems to speak to the silenced (and hurtful) experiences of a group of women who fail to consistently hear their worth (Psychology Today anyone?)  It is time that someone starts telling dark (skinned) girls they are beautiful, because of, not in spite of their skin color.  It has taken me years to combat the colorism in my own life but I think it is time for a shift in the narrative so that little dark (skinned) girls don’t have to wait ‘til they are grown to get self esteem– and so that as they are growing up and dealing with the prejudices of being dark-skinned they do not suffer in silence or isolation.  I wish someone would have been there to tell me it would be all right.  To remind me/show me/tell me I was beautiful.

I am not sure how the documentary ends but I look forward to seeing it.  I imagine (read hope) that it finds a way to affirm and re-imagine beauty for dark (skinned) Black women so they (we) can see themselves (ourselves) as beautiful.

But just in case the documentary fails to affirm dark-skinned girls (it is not clear if it is merely a collection of narratives or a larger commentary on how to re-frame our gaze), I wrote a short poem to celebrate dark skin.  I call it,

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

she waited

patiently

and in silence

never admitting

out loud

that she secretly wanted to be

light

skinned

brown but in a lighter shade

she would say it out loud

but in whispered tones

“make me white-like

damn near transparent

so that these people can see through me

instead of just past me…

make me

beautiful!”

like the color of the earth  I already was

but

this skin,

this house to my soul

is only almost pretty

they say

and if I weren’t so dark

I might be worth

lovingwantingfuckingstayingbeing

but instead I am just

tolerated

in the dark or in secret

or worn on your shoulder

like

an unnecessary accessory

creating your celebrity

because

i

am

dark

er

than

you

teach me how to love

myself

brilliantlyBrownBlackMahoganyEbonyqueen-like

BronzedCocoaButterDreamChild

the color of fire

in the middle of its escape

skin and eyes round

and regal at once

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

the color of coffee with no cream

dark like the bittersweet chocolate of my dreams

caramel-coated coquette

honey dipped and full of vigor

full lipped and full bodied

full

dark-skinned and exquisite

majestic even

with your brown-black self!

Black is beautiful

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

We are beautiful

More Musings on Melanin (or lack there of)

26 Aug

Artistic rendering of three black women's faces light and dark

“Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.” -Patricia Hill Collins

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” -Audre Lorde

*Mic check*  Is this thing on?  *Dodges balled up brown paper bags*

Hello, all.  First, we’re really grateful for the lively discussion our little polemic has engendered.  We’ve been monitoring the discussion both in the comments section and in Twittropolis, but wanted to let things marinate before we posted again.  (Besides, Moya B. felt ill and Summer had a not so awesome Monday, so we’re just now getting our act together.  Dissertations, after all, cannot write themselves.)  Now that a good few days or so have passed, we’d like to take some time to address some of the more salient points we’ve noticed in the comments section, and also perhaps clarify some things we said in the original post.  We hope this conversation is understood to be just that: a conversation. We are not shutting down light skinned folks for speaking on or about race as it relates to their color; we are asking, however, that these discussions become more nuanced, which, in our estimation, includes pot calling kettle a lighter shade of black.

1.  @Carolyn asked: Light Skin Privilege Checklist? Are you serious?  Yep.  We’re serious.  Admitting privilege is hard but it’s absolutely necessary for liberation. Part of what constitutes race is skin color and phenotype; racism cannot function if you cannot recognize this difference, and subjugate accordingly.  It’s what racial hierarchy is based on.  So, let’s be honest about the color spectrum that exists in between the stark polarities of black and white: one’s proximity to one or the other can play an incredible role in how hard knock one’s life is.  As many have noted in the comments section, we didn’t invent colorism three days ago, and dark skinned black folks are not the only ones who acknowledge this reality.  To argue that light skinned privilege does not exist, that all black people are treated similarly regardless of hue, vehemently denies the validity (and the existence) of all that inspires this age-old skin tone conversation.  Denouncing the existence of light skinned privilege requires one to believe that skin color does not affect how one interprets the racialized world and vice versa.  And that’s just not true.  It’s not.  If you don’t believe us, google it.  Or pay attention to Soledad O’Brien’s entire career.

Plenty of (black) people don’t want to acknowledge the ways that we are privileged above others, and we understand that.  Part of the difficulty of living in a society that constantly espouses punditry that articulates clearly demarcated dichotomous stances is that it leaves no room for gray area, and to occupy such a space is dangerous.  In such circumstances, admitting that one has a certain set of privileges causes others to question whether or not one is at all oppressed.  Admitting that one has privilege, then, often results in having to constantly prove that one is oppressed in other ways.

Furthermore, one of the most humbling experiences is learning to accept the piece of the oppressor within ourselves.  For instance, by virtue of having a non-disabled body in an ableist world, intentionally or not, we are granted certain privileges in our movement through it. We may not have actively done anything to to be granted that privilege, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist–or that we don’t benefit from it through no real “merit” of our own.  Yet acknowledging and understanding our privilege is only part of the work.  Are we willing to leverage our privilege for the sake of each other? Huey answered yes.  So did Angela…and Audre. Will you?

2. In her initial comment to our post, wheelchairdancer wrote that her blog was an “attempt to speak to the whiteness of the disability rights world while maintaining [her] ground as a mixed race woman.” Word. The non-disabled black woman feeling like she could step to wheelchairdancer and that she owed her an answer to  a question is a clear example of ableism at work. But part of what wheelchairdancer seems to be claiming is that disability whitens all the time which, if we may go down the troubled road of personal experience to prove this point, is not always true. Moya’s great-grandmother was a chair user, but her disability did not whiten her because she was dark skinned.  In other words, the fact that wheelchairdancer’s racial identity was questioned seems to have less to do with the wheel chair and more to do with her skin tone.  Disability can only “whiten” if one’s skin allows one to be interpreted as such.  It should be noted, that in her comment, wheelchairdancer identifies as mixed-race.  This identity marker alone requires the benefit of light skin.  Mixed-race folks who don’t look mixed-race don’t necessarily benefit by calling themselves that.  What allows one to identify–or even be mistaken–as mixed-race (and therefore not black) is light skin tone.

3. Thanks to both excerpted authors for trying to engage a dialog rather than shut it down, but a brief word on context and why we chose these blogs.  Our quick and dirty understanding of taking something out of context is when the reader, in this case, infers something from the text that was not intended.  So, in a sense, we did take both redclayscholar’s and wheelchairdancer’s words out of context.  All sarcasm aside, neither one of us thought that either one of these personal ruminations on what it means to be light skinned was attempting to forward deliberately a kind of “Woe is light skinned me,” rhetoric.  But that was never our real point.  Our purpose in deconstructing what was conveyed in these narratives was not to hate on a kind of light skinned melancholia.  Rather, we were interested in the kind of blowback, the implications of constructing these narratives in such a way that privilege is obscured.  What does it mean and what are the stakes of telling a story about the trouble one receives from blacks about being light skinned, without disclaimers or acknowledgment that in general being light skinned is a privilege?

As we said in the original piece, we don’t deny the realities of oppression light skinned black people are experiencing. In other words, light skinned black people are oppressed.  But, as the two epigraphs suggest, oppression does not forgo privilege.  Axises of privilege are not independent of each other; they inflect each other–and, if we are all being honest, we know this. This is why we talk about race, class, and gender.  If class didn’t affect blackness, for example, James Evans would have been the 70s version of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable.  We are asking that we examine race more deeply to see the ways that white supremacy works through each other, intraracially. We must be willing to articulate those differences, that privilege.  If we, as black people, are unwilling to talk about and own the little bit of privilege some of us have amongst each other, how do we expect white heterosexual men to do it?

Besides, light skinned black people aren’t the only black people who are tested about their allegiance to blackness.   Queer people, quirky black girls, black people who play rock music even though we invented it, etc. are perpetually having their blackness questioned.  Our work, if we are committed to blackness, is to proclaim that we, too, are black.  But we need not do that by being appalled by another black person with the audacity to question us.  We also needn’t minimize the aforementioned inflections of blackness–class, gender, sexuality, skin tone–to stake our claims in the muck of monolithic blackness.  We should do the opposite; we should talk about those inflections and nuances of blackness not only as privileges, but rather as that which comprises a richer notion of blackness that has always existed.

4. Yolo made some really fantastic points in his comment, and no one responded to him.  Y’all should read it–again.  (Shout out to Effie and Tasha Fierce for hearing us and to Jah and Crunktastic for holdin’ it down while we got ourselves together)

5.  As many others have said here and in the world (but it feels so good when you rinse and repeat), privilege and oppression are not mutually exclusive. Black people’s reconstructionist visions of 40 acres and a mule silenced the rights of indigenous peoples in their land, just as the Cherokee refusal to recognize their slave descendants silenced another sector of the black community.  If we accept that white supremacy works differently among different racial ethnic groups of color, why do we then imagine that it does not work intraracially? To repeat, part of the way “race” plays out in our community is based on skin color.  SB1070 is about targeting people who look like illegal immigrants, usually of Latino (we know, totally an American construction) origins. As The Daily Show points out, no one is getting riled up about Canadian anchor babies. Irish, Italian and Jewish people have had access to whiteness in large part because of skin tone. Similarly, the hierarchies within other people of color communities speak to these realities as well. As black people who are in relationship with other people of color, we have witnessed the ways in which light is right operates in racial groups other than our own.  It is imperative that we examine this reality amongst ourselves.

6.  Finally, although we’ve spent all of our time here discussing the role oppression has in the construction of black identity, to be clear, we are not arguing that black subjectivity is solely comprised of being denied certain privileges.  That would be a really foolish thing to do, and they would kick us out of grad school if we believed such hogwash about Negroes.

*Drops the mic*

Sincerely,
Two jigaboos (tryna find something to do)

P.S. We didn’t invent the privilege checklist. Check out the OG White Privilege Checklist and another one that has engendered a similar amount of venom as folks dispute the co-constitutive nature of privilege and oppression, the Black Male Privilege Checklist. We’d also like to remind everyone that pretty privilege is a long documented phenomenon. For more on it and more great TV time enjoy The Bubble episode of 30 Rock (h/t to @superfree)

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Huey Newton Complexes

23 Aug

A Different World character Freddie Brooks sits in the Lap of her boyfriend Shazza Zulu in Afrocentric attire. They are both biracial and light skinned.

Whatever does one mean by the phrase, “Huey Newton Complex(es)”?  So glad you asked.  A Huey Newton Complex is a rather snarky, yet awesomely witty way of describing a light skinned person crunk about (their) blackness in ways that, perhaps, obscure other realities that may indeed inflect (their) blackness–like gender identification, sexuality, economic class, or skin color. The one drop rule notwithstanding, Huey Newton Complexes goad light skinned Negroes into stringently proving and deploying their blackness just in case one raises an eyebrow around the melanin content of their skin; hence, The Black Panther Party and Shazza Zulu (aka Freddie Brooks’ boyfriend), for example. Just in case you haven’t perused the colored section of the blogosphere lately, know Huey lives–and not just through a cartoon character: light skinned girls are not having the best week ever. Apparently their blackness is perpetually being questioned, and they’re fed up.  A few blog entries posted last week by light skinned black women struck us as particularly emblematic of light skinned women being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

It has always been fun for me to experience the myriad ways disability “whitens” me as I go about life in the mainstream (i.e., white, non-disabled) world. Essentially, the way this works is that the cultural perception that disabled peeps are childlike, always in need of charity and/or help usually overcomes the threat posed by my race. I’ve always thought of it as a kind of “fuck you — your racism deserves to be subverted by my disability.” I’ve never had the experience where disability whitens me in/before an African-American eye.

I emerged from the whatever it is in Philadelphia — metro? subway? SEPTA? — and pushed past the bus stop. An older African-American woman reached out to me: “You white?” I was so shocked that I stopped and told her how rude that was. In so doing, I was, of course, rude myself. She got irate, because she thought she was giving me a compliment. [breathes.] This pissed me off. So, I stopped to tell her what I thought of that perspective. Bad idea, yes.

And another:

I tried my damndest not to join Alpha Kappa Alpha because of the stigmas attached to it. But, you can’t run from who you are. I feel like a neo defending my honor when I say this but I joined because of the women who lifted me up – and they were light and dark complected…and about their business.

For one of our townhall meeting conversations, I helped organize a panel to talk about the role of intra-racial relations and identity. We opened with the notorious “paper bag test.”  I took it.  I failed. And the room was wide-eyed with amazement.   Even some of my chapter sorors gasped.  I don’t know why. I got some melanin. Chuch.

As brown skinned ladies invested in our blackness, we’re happy that our lighter sistren are not only identifying as black, but finding blackness in themselves and loving it fiercely. Light skinned black women are saying it loud and proud, “I’m Black damn it!” Still, there’s something especially perturbing about the way in which these versions of a commitment to blackness are delineated.  In other words, what we’ve tracked in these posts and other sources is a kind of “Woe is (light skinned) me,” rhetoric that implicitly negates the privilege embedded in commencing and participating in such discourse.  Such personal narratives, though valuable, seem unwilling to divulge fully the way that being light skinned traditionally works both intra- and interracially.

Being black, or simply being non-white in a world built on white supremacy, is rough. But when we ignore the ways that difference inflects our own relationship to marginal status, we miss nuances that are important in shaping our individual realities. It’s a similar rhetorical move we implicitly employ when we use the term “people of color” without acknowledging the realities of involuntary immigration, language, model minority status, alienation from land and traditional practices, ability, sexuality, class, and yes of course, skin color. The vagueness of a term such as “people of color,” although ostensibly an effort to semantically unite those who must endure white supremacy in various forms, simultaneously jettisons the inherent differences upon which white supremacy is based, namely racial/ethnic/skin hierarchies, under the guise of “unity.”  The term “people of color,” then, is covertly dishonest, and inevitably forecloses the space wherein we might discuss the hierarchy within the hierarchy.  Woe is hypodescent!

To be sure, amplifying the differences in discussions of the ways that folks are oppressed does not play into the master’s hands, but rather compels us to be diligent and rigorous in our critique of (intra)racial strata and how they affect our lives.  Similarly, light skinned black women discussing their very real experiences of oppression without examining the way that (skin) privilege informs the type of marginal status they endure within and beyond the black community prevents a power analysis that is necessary for liberation. Furthermore, attempting to silence that privilege by not footnoting it at the very least is a rather indirect refusal of the agency one is granted by embodying the fact of light skinned blackness.  What further exacerbates this narrative decision is the anger projected upon the dark(er) skinned interlocutors in each of the aforementioned blog posts; the response by the storytellers suggests that questioning a light skinned person’s connection (to blackness) is somehow irrational, thereby treating the most blatant aspect of the colorism/interracial narrative–intraracial division predicated on skin tone–as a kind of imagined source of division, to say the least.

In order to further facilitate a nuanced discussion of blackness, namely as it pertains to skin privilege, we’ve started a light skin privilege list that we invite light skinned sisters to make on their own.  We all know that the real number one is admitting you have a problem–or are one. Word to DuBois, O.G. light skinned cat.

Light Skin Privilege Checklist

  1. In most situations where I am with other people of color, white people will try to communicate with me first.
  2. I am more likely to appear in the media, especially if my skin affords me the designation “omniracial.”  (Hello, Beyonce.)
  3. People will think I am pretty. full stop.
  4. I am more likely to get a promotion than my darker skinned counter parts.
  5. I can write blog pieces about my skin color and not reflect on the privileges that are associated with it.  (Wallace Thurman notwithstanding, literature, films, blogs are littered with primary and secondary textual analysis of the meanings of light skinnededness.)

… And the list goes on.

We invite all readers of (all shades) color to check out Moya and Lex’s effort last year to get skin privilege/POC diversity conversation started at the Love Harder Blog.

*”We” are Moya B. and Summer M.

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : add to ma.gnolia : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers

%d bloggers like this: