Monday, June 29, 2009

Blue-eyed Black People, Colorism, and Our Continued Dysfunction

And the blue-eyed black people debate continues at Field Negro. I wanted to save my latest response that's on a post that has nothing to do with colorism. I figure if I'm going to write that much on a topic, then I should say it at my own blog as well.

Field Negro's actual post is on voting rights, but it's become a post gone wild and way off topic in comments since one person who calls him or herself Field Negro G posted in the wrong section a response to someone talking about Michael Jackson's children and whether it's possible for black people to have blue eyes.

See my comments on colorism and New Orleans history below. I was responding to someone who said black people are so desperate for blue eyes that they are making bogus claims that blue eyes are common among black people. I never said that because I paid attention to genetics in biology, but someone else may have. As for my commentary below, I've said something similar somewhere else before but sometimes thoughts on a topic bear repeating. There are books written on this topic of skin color and colorism. What I say here is only a splinter of thought.

To Anonymous @ 10:12 p.m.--Just in case there's a misunderstanding, and since I can't tell if your comment is directed at me or at black people in general, I know exactly why we keep going in circles on blue eyes. I didnot say blue eyes are common in people of color or black people. I said they're unusual, to put it bluntly, rare.
However, I did object to misinformation that blue eyes are only possible in black people, meaning those identified as of African descent, as the result of disease. In addition, I made sure to identify the people of color of whom I spoke as those having white blood. It is the projection of a reader to assume that any writer is either proud of white blood or ashamed of it unless the writer says so. Many people are simply indifferent, feeling a focus on bloodline other than for purposes of understanding one's personal heritage, is unproductive, and a global focus on bloodline is frequently destructive, which was Hitler's hangup. Nevertheless, such discussions of ethnicity are necessary sometimes to put racism in perspective.

In my father's family, no one gets happy over light skin or light eyes or that his mother or some uncle could pass for white. They take pride that they chose not to pass. In Louisiana, a state that once enforced the one-drop law and had black codes forbidding women of color from wearing "finery and plumes" on the streets because it was believed such extravagance was the sure sign of a white male lover, (a state that) enforced laws such as no marriage between blacks and whites, not every black family is enamored of light skin and blue or green eyes popping up among its members. Some see it as nothing more than a reminder of a rape or somebody's mother being a paid mistress. Depending on lineage, light skin and light eyes may even be evidence of the traitorous deeds of a free person of color in New Orleans, some of whom owned slaves themselves.

On the other hand there were families so desperate to be light and stay light in order to retain social status in the Creole social clubs that they resorted to inner marrying. Take that however you like, but history's history. It's a complex and frequently painful subject.

Some of that history was discussed in comments on a post about Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at this link. One sister who identifies herself as light-skinned from a family that runs the gamut in color was offended at how dark-skinned blacks look down their noses at light-skinned blacks, in particular the phrase "light, bright, and damned-near white." True, it happens sometimes that some black people go out of their way to make a person of mixed race feel unwelcomed, but that reaction is almost as much an anomaly as black people having blue eyes. Frequently, we as a people are so afflicted in our self-hate that members of the race are more often not looking down the nose at lighter skin and blue eyes as much as they are looking on in lust. I am saddened that 40 years after "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," we remain as dysfunctional as ever on this subject. --Nordette Adams

Now, how about a little science to go with all this insanity? One person was smart enough to leave a link to what a geneticist has to say on the subject of black people and blue eyes at Stanford University, who says, "Yes." While it's uncommon, people of African descent, black people, can have children with blue eyes via recessive genes in their gene pool. All it takes is for both black parents to have had white people somewhere in their family tree, even somewhere way back in history.

This may also be a good time to invoke the name of Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winning African-American author whose novel The Bluest Eye tackled the longing of a little black girl to have blue eyes, a desire foreign to Morrison herself and to me as well.

New Post added July 9: "Complaints about Black Self-Hate, Complaints about CNN's Adoption Story from Black in America."


msladydeborah said...

My great aunt had blue eyes and a medium brown complexion. The shade of blue matched her complexion very well.

A postal carrier who worked in our neighborhood during my childhood had sky blue eyes and a copper colored complexion. He also had a spread of freckles.

There are also natural black blondes. And their complexions in the range of the darker skin tones.

Who honestly knows the full content of the X and Y chromosone bank? There is a possibility that at some point in time the family story comes back around.

There is a couple that my sons are friends with. Their daughter has a beautiful crown of red hair-neither one of them has one strand in their heads.

I site these examples because anything is possible. And a blue eyed black person is one of them.

Leigh C. said...

Reminds me of Adrian Piper's early work:

PPR_Scribe said...

Thanks so much for that Stanford U. link. That is one of the best lay explanations of dominant and recessive genes I have read in a long while.

field negro said...

Hi Nordette, thanks for your contribution to this discussion over at my place.

I learned a lot.

Mrs. Field is from "the boot" (Opelousas) so I am somewhat familiar with this debate.Still, there is nothing like reading blogs and the comments that follow to learn about new things.


Lovebabz said...

I am not one for race and color debates. Having so many different kinds of folks in my eyes,light eyes, light skin and straight hair included.

I think those that can talk intelligently about it...ought to. Otherwise mis-information...myths and lies continue to the next generation.

Southerngirl said...

Thanks for writing this Nordette. I agree with Babaz those with knowledge should offer it those with myths should keep them to themselves. The color issue is a long debated thing and it will keep being so as long as we continue to spread it.

This can go on for days and has so many roads it can go down. But As one of those people with a family of every hue of brown down to the bluest of black with every eye and hair color as well. Genetics is something we cannot really explain. My sons look more like my brother than either of their parents and my one son has his personality as well. My light skinned brother has a dark son that looks just like my light great uncle. I look more like my third cousin than either of my parents and the 2 of us look like we should be my great aunt's kids. We were fortunate enough to be village reared by elders who beleived that family goes above all else.
My thing with the light bright and damn near white comment is that I hear that a lot jokingly and not so jokingly from Blacks but my "n***" card has been pulled enough times that I know I am no where near white. said...

Hey there Nordette!

This is a good discussion to have!

As you know there are many blacks who are seething over my post on black self-hatred.

There are so many of our people who are astonishingly ignorant of our history ...and who want to argue and attack those who are knowledgeable about it...

*loooong sigh*

Keep on speaking truth to power!

I noticed that people online are wondering out loud if I am biracial!! *LOL* More slave thinking is surfacing each day! *LOL*

I banned one sista from my forum because of her persistent thread of black bigotry at HER OWN forum. I don't want to be associated with that sort of dialogue that is presented under the "guise" of black women's empowerment....

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Southerngirl: That's the way my mother felt about it from the standpoint of a darker woman. She loathed the whole "brown paper bag test" done by the old "black Creole" clubs in New Orleans. She felt that the all-white legislature during her day were standing by the 'one-drop' makes you black law and that should be a big knock on the head to black people thinking light skin made them "not black." She didn't think that law was right, but grasped the tragic irony of black folk trying to separate by skin tone instead of seeing that the discrimination of those who created the "one drop" law should unify us all. She was angry that some wanted to separate by varying shades of brown whether they wanted to do so saying dark skin is better or light skin is better. Have mercy! Talk about a people adopting the fallacies and practices of the oppressor. :-(

My father could have joined those "clubs." His hair couldn't hold a pencil, one of the test used to see if you were "white enough," and while not the lightest, he could have passed the "brown bag test." Instead, he nearly stopped speaking to a neighbor in the 7th Ward who was consistently rude to darker people and took pride in being a member of the Autocrat, etc. My dad, a country boy from Vacherie, La., who grew up around "Creoles" speaking broken French, didn't play that I'm light and you're not crap or the reverse distinction because that kind of nonsense would have split his family apart. Both my parents' families believe like your family does, "Family is family." If the black community would take this route of no distinction, we'd be even father ahead that "a black president." If the human race would stop making these distinctions, we'd probably solve poverty and global warming.

You put it well, your "*n****r" card" gets pulled anyway, and I say this goes not only for having lighter skin but also for blacks who think that because they've gotten high level degrees and money who decide think they're above being called "n****r." Nobody should call anyone that, but the word is a leveler. Now that's a discussion that would move us into a completely new issue. :-)

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

FN: I like that your post comments section goes wild too. LOL.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Leigh C., thank you for the Adrian Piper link. I took a look at her work. Striking.

PPR, Deborah, and Babz: Always a pleasure to hear from you ladies. :-)

Thank you all for your visits and comments.

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Hey, Lisa. I'm not surprised because you always write provocative posts that keep people thinking. That's a good thing! :-) Thanks for the visit.

Dallas said...

I recently photographed a beautiful model from the Barbados with dark skin with strikingly ice blue eyes (I don’t know if she suffers from ocular albinism), but it created a stunning effect. It has honestly prompted me to search for others with this phenom. See images below:

Rogue Williams said...

Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine of explains that the transformation has to do with the protein melanin. Melanin is a brownish pigment that adds color to your hair, eyes, and skin. At the time babies are born, melanin hasn't yet been "deposited" in the eyes' iris. Hence, they appear blue.

After about six months, eyes change color depending on the amount of melanin. If you have a lot of it, your eyes will turn brown or black. If you have little, they'll stay blue. And if you have no melanin, your eyes may appear pink.

Summary: We are all born with blue eyes... Everyone!

Vérité Parlant is Nordette Adams said...

Thank you, Rogue.
The link you intended to post is this one:; however, I suspect the doctor's question is in response to a question from someone of European descent because the premise of the question is that all babies are born with blue eyes.

People of African descent as well as many of Asian descent can tell you that most of their children are not born with blue eyes. The doctor made the typical error of addressing the entire population of the world as though it is white. And she ends her topic saying that blued-eyed parents rarely have a brown-eyed child.

Nonetheless, I hope we can all remember that race is a social construction not a biological one, and how we feel about various so-called racial groups today is driven by destructive propaganda.

Thank you again for your contribution regarding melanin because I think that melanin's influence on eye color still applies to explain why some fair skinned African-Americans continue to have blue eyes when it's understood that both their parents had the genes for blue eyes. The doctor's article also makes clear that humans are still learning about what causes certain eye colors.