Stirring the Mind into Thought

Are you lighter or darker than a paper bag? I know I am darker than one. Well, this has been a supposed skin tester for the black community for decades. If you were lighter than the paper bag, you were considered better, but if you were darker, you were not good enough. This tester and continous others in our race goes back to the days of slavery, when the house slave versus the field slave dichotomy started. What some black people do not realize is that when the words “house” and “field” are removed, the word “slave” still remains. Even if they were able to get in the house, they still were not free and still treated like a slave. All of us were victims. In the eyes of the racists, all of us were still “n***ers.” Emmett Till was light-skinned and he was still murdered for whistling at a white woman and Rosa Parks was light-skinned and she was still sent to the back of the bus. Just as the fake “Willie Lynch” letter mentions, the tactic of using skin tone to was meant to divide us as a people and to keep us weak, but after slavery, we still kept dividing except this time by our own hands. We constantly attack each other; lighter African Americans call darker ones “tar-baby,” “you pretty (or handsome) for a dark-skinned person,” “mandingos or hos” (dumb muscular guys and over-sexual women), “jigaboos,” “ghetto,” “loud” and “too black,” while darker African-Americans call lighter ones, “whitey,” “light bright, damn near white,” “high-yellow,” red-boned,” “uppity,” “wannabes,” “think they all-that,” “must be mixed or biracial” and “not black enough.” With these terms, black people are showing themselves to be no better than the oppressors who discriminated against us!

However, we do need to acknowledge that a lot of the division stems from somewhere and on several instances from our own people. Everywhere I witness this conscious and subconscious thinking of many African-Americans and the effects of it. We have lost that idea of “Black is Beautiful” and “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” includes all African-Americans, not just light-skinned African Americans. Our media shows it, from the leading ladies in Hip-Hop and RandB music videos (usually bi-racial, light-skinned African American or of another race) to the mouths of the actual artists (Yung Berg and his comment on how he does not do “dark butts, Lil Wayne mentioning how they like lighter-skinned females in lyrics) to who gets the most face-time on magazines, shows, movies and other medium (usually lighter-skinned African-Americans). For example in our pop culture, who are the women are most promoted – Tyra, Beyonce, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys, Rihanna and other lighter-skinned beauties. But do we see darker-skinned beauties, like India Arie, Angela Bassett, Gabrielle Union, promoted as much? One of the only dark-skinned females who is promoted a lot is Naomi Campbell, but mostly for her bad behavior. For music videos with darker leading ladies, I have to go to reggae artists (Tarrus Riley, Gyptian, Richie Spice, Buju Banton) and a few neo-soul artists are the only ones to show their appreciation for African women of all skin tones. In lists for the top beauties, very few, if any, dark-skinned beauties make the lists or are high on the lists. Even worst, magazines sometimes airbrush photographs of African-American women to have their skin appear lighter, although some are already light-skinned. Other incidents have included: 1) parties offering lighter-skinned women free admission (reminiscent of the fraternities, sororities and social clubs that admitted people who were lighter than a paper bag), 2) thinking darker-skinned black men are only good for sexual and criminal activities (and other stereotypes of black people), 3) casting calls for only lighter-skinned people in photo shoots or commercials, 4) a lot of white and lighter-skinned black dolls, but few darker-skinned black dolls (and with natural black hair), 5) in some workplaces, lighter-skinned blacks discriminating against darker-skinned blacks (Applebee’s incident:;-Dark-Skinned-African38.aspx), 6) treating skin color like a trend (light-skin is in and dark-skin is out), 7) not befriending someone or teasing someone because their skin tone is different from you, 8) lighter-skinned people having to prove that they are black enough and the list goes on.

These constant negative reinforcements are not helping. Black people look different and we need a greater representation of that range. More and more darker-skinned African-Americans are using skin bleach creams and skin whiteners to try to make their skin lighter, foregoing realizing the dangerous effects of using these products just to achieve a standard of beauty. Go to a local store in any black neighborhood and one of the products listed are skin whitening creams. Some mothers even put these creams on their own children! In our world, some are actually believing that lighter-skinned is automatically more beautiful, no matter what the female actually looks like (she could actually be ugly and some will still say she is more beautiful than a dark-skinned woman). “You’re pretty to be so dark” just reinforces the idea that some people think dark skin and the features that usually accompany it are naturally ugly and that is not true; there is more than one type of beauty. Unattractive and attractive people exist in every color. Stop using skin tone to define beauty! The sad problem is that this notion has spread worldwide, from countries in Latin America and the Carribean (which is leading to the Latin Americanization of America) to countries to countries in Asia (India has a big market in skin lightener creams) to countries in Africa. Skin bleaching is now a billion dollar business and many people feel as if they have to do this in order to get ahead in life, even if it kills them, and commercials (see them below) and other media encourage this practice.

Why have we internalized the hate that has been put on us? It is foolish of us to perpetuate an idea that was not even ours to begin with and was done against us. There is enough hatred in the world, why do we have to be so divisive and increase that hatred. Outside forces should not determine how we feel about each other and ourselves. If you are lighter-skinned person who gets better treatment at times, you should not let that be a reason for you to feel better than a darker-skinned person. As for darker-skinned person, you should not let how others feel about you determine how you feel about yourself and try to gain confidence in yourself. That is their thinking, but it does not have to be yours. We need to have more acceptance of ourselves and the full range we have in skin tones as a whole before we can get any acceptance from any place else. It is up to us, not the media, to break the cycle of self-hatred. In order to be stronger, we need to come together as people and support one another! Let us stop the cycle!

Colorism in the Black Community

Skin Whitening Commercials:

Skin Bleaching in Jamaica:

September 6th, 2009 at 7:43 PM and tagged , ,  | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

How many times have I heard someone say that and “I am not racist, I voted for Barack Obama,” or any other line similar to those two. One of the worst phrases regarding race that was ever created is the term “color blindness.” Unless someone is actually blind, there is no way that one cannot see what color another person is. I cannot actually go up to someone of another race and say “I have no idea what your skin color is,” because it is most likely obvious. We use skin color to describe everybody in so many situations that it would be impossible to say that. Yes, people often use it to say that they are not racist, but to me that term just refers to another kind of racism. Our society is so focused on race and pretends that it is not at the same time.

In our society color blindness does not equal color acceptance. It is a type racism that allows you to ignore or be oblivious to actual problems of race, refuse to have honest discussions about race, and be way too politically correct (it is about respect, not oversensitivity). Moreover, the “colorblind” term allows our culture to be more of a melting pot than a salad bowl. What do I mean by that? A melting pot means that I have to blend in and dilute my own individual characteristics and culture to the point that they are hardly recognizable; on the other hand, a salad bowl would be people coming together, still keeping their own individual characteristics and culture and would still be acceptable to mainstream society. However, our society expects you to fit perfectly into the mainstream mold and when you do not, you are punished or ostracized. It is not like seeing any color, it is a form of whitewashing (for lack of a better word).

Instead of honestly talking about the issues of race, such as not all races are on an equal level (despite many thinking this way and feeling that we are in a post-racial society), and that most of the problems in our society stem from the residual effects of a systematic social racist structure not individual flaws within a race, we like to tip-toe around it and do all we can to avoid it. James Baldwin said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Admitting our racial/cultural prejudices and stereotypes and recognizing the social problems that still exist would help us to move on.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, a sociology professor, stated how racism still exist minus slavery and Jim Crow laws and with civil rights legislation: 1) the increasingly covert nature of racial discourse and practices, 2) the avoidance of racial terminology and the ever-growing claim by whites that they experience “reverse racism,” 3) the invisibility of most mechanisms to produce racial inequality, 4) incorporation of “safe minorities” to signify the non-racialism of the polity or the racial agenda in the discussion of political matters avoids direct racial references, and 5) the re-articulation of some racial practices characteristic of Jim Crow period of race relations. Avoidance of saying the race or skin color of a person in front of them (I have stupidly done that before) or taking some sort of racial terminology out of context and saying it is racist (e.g. a guy used the world “tribal” to describe indigenous people and they hounded him) are two examples. The claim of “reverse racism” is incorrect because if you are in the privileged group, you do not have a racial system that is meant to keep you down and racism usually refers to a structured system. Yes, any race can face prejudice or discrimination, but most of what minorities do are reactionary prejudices and discrimination. “Safe minorities” are those who look less menacing to mainstream society, i.e. I would not be one of them, especially with my darker skin, my locs and with most of what I am saying now. Other examples are how politicians often do not have in-depth talks about race, most times it is superficial, how there is an informal segregation that exist in housing and neighborhoods and how many schools are still segregated and minority schools are often inadequate.

These days, racism is hard to see. Immediately, we label things as being racist that are not really racist but just the truth at times and things that are racist we label as just another normal thing. I feel we jump to conclusions way too fast and do not think the situation through. Some people explain the cause as an economic, education and any other reason besides thinking about or wanting to think of underlying reason of race. Yes, I would love for everybody to be equal, but in the real world, not the abstract world, not everyone is on the same footing (that is for those who think affirmative action is “reverse racism”). Some of us need a little boost to get to the same level (but that does not mean one should act like a victim), while others tend to forget or pretend to forget the past and current discrimination and its effects, as if they are actually blind!

As far as racism goes, we have come along way since the days of slavery, Jim Crow laws and other overt forms of discrimination. However, the day when true color acceptance has yet to come. When we get to the day that we can look at people, notice their physical and cultural features that define race and ethnicity and not have any stereotype or expectation attached to it, it will be nice, but probably far into the future. What we can do now is, according to Bonilla-Silva, “make visible what remains invisible” and take the dust out from underneath the rug. We are all humans, but we are all different, too, and the “colorblind” ideology implies that everyone is the same, which we are not. Until we realize that and come together as people with both sides working hard and keeping it in mind to achieve it, we will not get the change we hoped for. Yes, it will hurt and it will not be easy, but that is the only way. We are all part of the problem and we all need to be part of the solution.

August 27th, 2009 at 5:33 PM and tagged , , ,  | Comments Off on Color Acceptance Not Blindness | Permalink

If you know me well enough, you would know how that I find categories, labels and generalizations of any kind irritating. I know it makes our lives a little simpler, but it also can prevent us from getting to know somebody, treating people on an individual basis, coming together as a people and letting some people be if they do not fit into a specific category. Although there are so many exceptions to the rules of these categories, labels and generalizations, we still judge someone if they do not fit into it or act accordingly. All of it creates greater confusion and greater divide. This is my first topic for this post and I will be covering racial categories and labels.

The first set of categories that I do not like are “races.” Does anybody actually know what “race” means anymore? First, it was based on physical differences, then they have added on cultural differences, now people are adding on personality differences. I get that we do look different, but those differences are just phenotypes from genes that are not even hugely significant and make up less than 1% of all of our genes. So, I see “races” as a way to divide humans on a physical or superficial basis and give meaning to something that should not have an overly important meaning. In addition to that, many of the terms for races are misnomers. In the past, a term for African-Americans was “colored,” which is funny because everybody in the world has color to their skin, even “white” people. Now, why do I put quotes around “white?” Well, “white” people are not really white; they range from peach-colored to pink to very light pink. I knew this from the time I was young when I used a peach crayon to draw “white” people not a white crayon. As for “black” people, we are not really black either, we are brown-skinned (sorry to all the people who call themselves brown). Even the darkest “black” person is brown, just dark brown like the color of my eyes or my hair, which from far away looks black. The same goes for other races, for example, using yellow to describe Asians, when in reality they are more beige-colored. Actually, our range of colors have a similar base to one another: brown, red, tan, beige, peach, pink, etc.

Furthermore, other racial terms, most often used in America, such as African-American, Caucasian-American, European-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American and Middle Eastern, are confusing too. What if you were born in African, you are not “black” and you come here, are you an African-American? No, the government would consider you of European descent. However, what if your family has not been in Europe for centuries? The same goes for if you are of another “race” born in another continent. Asian-American often is used as a term to describe someone who looks typical Asian, which probably means someone from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Still people forget that Indian and Middle Eastern people are Asian too. Also, the term Middle Eastern did not seem to matter to most people until after the events of 9/11 and the Iraq war (most people though they were white, or Indian). The Hispanic group is the strangest racial group, considering it is not a race, but an cultural/language group, closer to an ethnicity. Ever wanted to know what Caucasian meant? It actually came from the area “Caucasus,” a southeastern European region, including Georgia, Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has now come to be incorrectly used for anybody who is “white” and of “European” descent, although it should be used for anybody who is has that skin color phenotype. Caucasian also is part of the earlier, generalized descriptions of race, which were Caucasian/Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Malayan/Oceanians, Ethiopian/Africanoid, and American (Blumenbach).

This leads me into my discussion of the term biracial. How often have you heard that a bi/multiracial kid feel out of place or that they do not fit into any racial group perfectly? As if someone whose immediate family is the same race is better than a biracial person. What I’ve notice is that barely anyone is completely, 100% one “race.” Almost everyone, especially in our world, has some mix of races (or a similar gene) within them. I always notice how one person who says they are not biracial can look identical to someone who is biracial, so it has to be in their lineage somewhere. From what I can tell, very few people, unless you live in a homogenous society, is pure anything.

Now, onto racial phrases that I personally cannot stand. Phrases like “afrocentric,” “ethnic,” “exotic,” “too black,” “acting white,” and “acting black” are said without any though about how ignorant it sounds. Terms like “afrocentric,” “ethnic,” and “exotic” always gives me a feeling of being the “other,” “an alien,” “strange,” “an exhibition,” or “animal/pet-like.” Why is it if I am wearing my hair naturally, or wearing and doing something that is related to the African culture that I lost, it is all of a sudden “afrocentric,” as if everything I am doing is related to African culture. Also, non-white races are often labeled as “exotic” or “ethnic.” The word “exotic” reminds me of the safari or jungle; it makes me think of wild animals. When someone says it, I want to say “I was born here in America; I am not from some far away land” or “I am not an animal!” “Exotic” also represents to me an over-sexualized image of a person and not seeing them as a regular human just like you. Next, “ethnic” makes me laugh because it is derived from ethnicity, but some people make it seem that “white” people are the default race and have no ethnicity at all, but they do! The other phrases reinforce the idea that some people think culture and physical appearance are the same. “Too Black” is often used by some black people to tell another black person that they are not hiding enough of their physical features or cultural traits of being “black.” But what does not makes sense to me is how am I any less or more “black,” no matter what I do, I am always going to have this skin color with my kinky hair, big nose, big lips and other features related to being “black,” unless I change it drastically. So, my reply will always be, “Well, I am Black! Why should I have to compromise who I am naturally in order to make someone else feel more comfortable?” Finally, “acting black” and “acting white” are ridiculous phrases because someone’s race or mainstream culture/ethnicity does not determine how they will be as an individual person. Yes, I speak proper English and I am educated, but that does not mean that I am “acting white.” Stop implying that a “black” person cannot be educated nor speak proper English. The same goes for anybody else that embodies a different culture than one that is usually expected to have because of their looks. No one said that any culture belongs to a specific racial group; sometimes people grow up in an environment or society that is different than the norm.

In the end, it would be hard to change any of this, especially when government continues to enforce race categories for census and as long as racism exist. But maybe one day, as time goes on, things will change and more people will open their eyes. It has happened before and it might happen again.

August 25th, 2009 at 9:03 PM and tagged , , , ,  | Comments Off on Think Outside the Box: Categories, Labels and Generalizations | Permalink