Thursday, July 9, 2009

Complaints about Black Self-Hate and CNN's Adoption Story

When I read Lainad's post at BlogHer that references part of a CNN story about the rise in single black women adopting children, the part that says some of the women are using skin color as a guide, I cringed. I shook my head thinking how I had recently written "Blue-eyed Black People, Colorism, and Our Continued Dysfunction."

Near the end of the blue eyes post, which talks briefly about the history of colorism with social strata in New Orleans, I wrote, "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."

In my comments on Laina's post, "CNN Reports That More Single Black Women Are Adopting - But Who Are They Taking Home?," I said, "I'm wondering, are ready for a child if you're not ready for yourself? They're treating dark skin like it's a physical handicap." And to another person's comment I responded, "India also has colorism issues. It seems that areas colonized by Great Britain carry this burden more often to me. In Asia the self-hate and desire to look like the conquerer comes out in weeping over having slanted eyes instead of round."

Colorism is one more bad effect of racism and the promotion of white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes as superior. It is not the focus of the CNN article, which seems to be connected to CNN's Black in America 2 special. The article is about single black women adopting in general and mentions in briefly that some black women show a preference for babies with lighter-skin:
Yet, there are some single African-American women who are not emotionally ready to adopt an African-American child who is too dark, some adoption agency officials say.

Fair-skinned or biracial children stand a better chance of being adopted by single black women than darker-skinned children, some adoption officials say.

"They'll say, 'I want a baby to look like a Snickers bar, not dark chocolate,' " Caldwell, founder of Lifetime Adoption, says about some prospective parents.

"I had a family who turned a baby down because it was too dark," she says. "They said the baby wouldn't look good in family photographs."(CNN)
Again, if you're black and reject a child because it has a darker skin color, are you ready for a child at all?

From what I read at BlogHer.com, it appears some people, per Laina's post, see this desire for fair-skinned black children and the adoption officials saying some black women are not emotionally ready for darker-skinned children to be a sign that the adoption system is broken. They're seeing it through the same lens as stories of white people being challenged about adopting black children. The two issues are not the same to me. I don't think the adoption officials are the culprits here.

It may be true that the adoption system is broken, but I think the adoption officials witnessed that some black women are not ready for darker-skinned children. Unlike the issue of white people adopting black babies and facing opposition from some black social workers who believe a white person can't give a black child what he/she needs to survive in a racist culture, I strongly suspect the adoption officials in the CNN story determined that some black people are not "emotionally ready" for dark-skinned children after hearing comments from some of the black people who wanted to adopt. I think some of the women were honest enough to say they didn't want a dark child.

If you state such a preference, wouldn't it be insane for the adoption official to o.k. your adopting a dark-skinned child? A "color-struck" person adopting a dark-skinned child is another Joe Jackson-environment waiting to happen, a child like Michael being told he's ugly.

Self-hatred is not a new story. Black self-hatred in particular is not new as my post on colorism shows. Oprah has even covered the subject people being "color struck" as "internalized racism." Here is a quote from her segment on the "complexion complex":
As a child, Tangela says she was teased and tormented by other African-Americans because of her dark complexion. Then, when she was 19 years old, Tangela found out she was pregnant with her first child. While most expectant mothers just hope for a healthy child, Tangela prayed for something more.

"I would just say to God, 'Please don't make my son dark. Please don't make my child dark,'" she says. "I didn't want him to experience what I experienced…being called names, being talked about."

When Tangela's son, Najee, was born with dark skin, she says her heart ached for his future. "I saw people looking at him as if something was wrong with him," she says. "That's the pain that I really felt, more so than my own darkness." (Oprah's show on skewed self image)
The mention of our dysfunction in the CNN piece seems to have angered some black folks who don't like our dirty laundry aired. However, the next paragraph in the story focuses again on Wendy Duren of whom it's written, "Skin tone didn't matter to Duren, the pharmaceutical saleswoman. She says she just wanted a child to love." Duren is the woman in the picture with the beautiful baby.

As for the black women who don't want a dark-skinned child, I wish I could see some of them. Do they want a lighgter-skinned child because they themselves are light and so they look for a child who looks like it could be their biological offspring? Or is it more of dark-skinned people drowning in self-hatred?

My criticism of the CNN story is that by including the brief section about skin color preference, it distracted from greater issues -- the many black children who have trouble finding homes period and the problems of infertility among some black women. The colorism issues probably could have been a story on its own to examine why some black women are showing this preference, but that story too would have angered many black people.

As with the first Black in America special, Black in America Part 2 already seems to be pushing some black people's buttons. One person quoted by Laina is mad that the CNN article mentions again the difficulty black women have finding single black men to marry. I lean toward these kinds of criticism, while valid in many respects, being a reflection of feelings of embarrassment in the same way we are sometimes embarrassed when a major crime causes a black suspect's face to be all over the news or when the latest ugly stats come out that our children aren't excelling in school. We know that many in white America hear the stats and the reports and conclude "Well, see, we told you. Those people are worthless." Some people think the reports themselves create a negative image of black people.

Some of us want the world to see only a positively slanted picture of black life, Black in America through rose-colored glasses. I confess that my first instinct upon hearing about the first Black in America special was, "Why? Why do we need a spotlight on us now? Why are we singled out this way?"

Soledad O'Brien, a woman of color who I think is the power behind the Black in America series, apparently listened enough to produce part two, which airs July 22, but it may be possible she can't win. The black experience is so diverse in this nation that no one black person is going to look at this special and see his or her Black America.

Since the first special, watching the fall out, I feel that if we really think CNN's series is inaccurate, then we should produce our own series and tell our own story in video in one spot, a black bloggers Black in America website special. With the Web being what it is, we don't need a TV network to broadcast our message. Yet I'd hope that if we did such a special, we would not make it a propaganda piece and promote the skewed vision that we have no problems, that all is well. However, I'm the same woman who wrote years ago that we must mother against the odds.

3 comments:

msladydeborah said...

VP,

What always bothers me about the complaints on these types of documentaries is the inability to own up to what is true about us.

You know and I know that the tone of your complexion and the texture of your hair is a major issue within our society.

No one is going to be able to produce an all inclusive documentary on the subject of Black people in America. No matter how extensive that film was-someone would be unhappy with the end result.

We are the ones forward this type of racism. It is a matter of fact. It might of started during slavery-but we are responsible for keeping it alive.

Good and plenty said...

I am the light skinned mother of a brown-skin child and I wrote a piece called "Praying for Brown" that is posted on my blog. I prayed that my granddaughter would be brown so that she would match her mother and not be teased as my daughter was by other people because she didn't match me in terms of color although we look a lot alike.
The problem with CNN and other news outlets quoting people is that, because they go for the sensational, they can pick out one anecdote and then apply it as though it is a true trend. I know people who've specifically only wanted to adopt dark-skinned children. One of the ways to not give power to the negative, self-hating ways of a few, is to stop giving them the power of the press. There is so much more acceptance of skin color, hair texture and facial feature diversity than ever and at the same time there are people who hate themselves for their features. This happens among white people, too. Depending on one's viewpoint, cosmetic surgery, hair extensions, etc., are freedom of expression or indicators of self-loathing.
Life is short. Let's elevate the positive and not accentuate the negative.

SjP said...

In watching the first Black in America series, I have to admit that I was amazed at all of the negative comments. Although, there were experiences presented to which I could not identify - there were others that hit home. I, like Deborah, don't think that a series on Black America will ever make everyone happy.

And the issue of skin color. Frankly, I never understood it. But, I saw a very good childhood friend's life ruined because her parents' hated her first love because he was 'too dark'. So, if there are those out there who only want 'light-skinned' children to have or adopt how can we ever get to a post-racial society if we perpetuate the this type of racism within our own ranks? And what are we saying/doing to our children?