Sunday, September 12, 2010

Black People, the Color Wars, and Ultimate Whiners



I came across an old song today that reminded me of colorism issues in the black community, and again I remind my fellow African-Americans that other people of color have similar dysfunctions. Ask someone observant from India about it, for instance, and they'll tell you that some of their people favor lighter skin.

Curtis Mayfield (June 3, 1942 – December 26, 1999), opens the set in the embedded video with "We the People Who are Darker than Blue," bemoaning colorism and lack of unity in the black community back in the day. He makes one brief statement, referencing the matter in the same context I recall it, and then moves forward with musical allusions to Africa, the mother of us all.

I recall colorism within a dysfunctional social system snaking through the black community and overall favoring lighter skin, which is why I'm glad Field-Negro occasionally mentions his wife, who grew up in Louisiana, as did I, and recalls the old-school hang-ups. I'm glad because what she has to say corroborates what I have to say (He's commenting on some drama with the singer Fantasia who thinks she was mistreated by the media because she's dark-skinned with "more African" features). Otherwise, to hear some people tell of our past today you'd think no light-skinned person was ever favored. Any favoritism is discounted by their recountings because some of our lighter-skinned members say the hatred they felt from darker-skinned members outweighed any benefit they may have gotten from being born with lighter skin and straighter hair in a society favoring such hair and skin. Furthermore, they think that if a lighter-skinned black person was ever favored, they are no longer favored today. (No comment on the Fantasia drama b/c I don't follow her.)

I hate it when people try to rewrite history and current events so they can feel good about themselves and their mommies and dadies (Yes, I see you Haley Barbour), which is why I'm also glad I have friends who will tell the truth who grew up with light skin and curly or straight hair and will admit that their lives had a bit of both rain and sunshine connected to skin color. Sometimes they were hated for their lighter skin color; sometimes they were loved. They don't deny, however, an awareness of bias in their favor in the world, either in their families or in certain social settings.

I agree that colorism affects people of color in ways similar to the way Zora Neale Hurston observes it in her play Color Struck. It's a terrible thing, a double-edged sword jutting from a traveling merry-go-round gone wild. Scars for everyone! What's more terrible is that while that play was written in the early 1900s, we still have people struggling with the scars of colorism today.

Consequently, I come across light-skinned black people between the ages of 45 and 60 who say that during the era of black pride, mainly the late sixties and early 70s, they were put down for having lighter skin, a trait over which they had no personal control, and some of them are still carrying a lot of baggage and anger toward their darker brothers and sisters for that rejection. Some of these wounded souls blame darker black people for everything from their never feeling accepted to never finding true love.

Being neither very light nor very dark, I experienced neither side of this specific tribulation long enough to carry its deep psychological scar, meaning I'm not aware of being ignored, favored or rejected by other black people because of my coloring. I have run, however, into a few people who revealed assumptions about me based on my being a little lighter than they were and speaking in a way they labeled "proper" or "white," but these encounters were so brief that I brushed them off or they happened late enough in my life that I was equipped to calmly analyze the dysfunction rather than internalize the insult.

So, I just have regular black folks stuff--issues with white supremacist propaganda and practices in general, issues with being fat in a thin-loving society, and since I'm female, some gender-discrimination baggage, too. I listen to everybody's whining and occasionally I want to slap black, white, brown, and yellow; fat, thin, skinny, and voluptuous; rich, poor, and comfortably oblivious; cat ladies, dog ladies, and gentlemen zookeepers; progressives, intellectual liberals, conservatives, the self-proclaimed tasteful, and all the culturistas.

Generally, I'd like to have a global altar call for humanity, including me, with a conversion line where prior to reaching the altar, God (in my world, God exists) gets to swat us each upside the head until we experience whatever epiphany required to make us treat each other with greater compassion and respect, and afterward, we fall on our knees destined to never forget again our own stupidity. In this vision, we arise, eternally embracing the practical lessons of forgiveness and love, and go forth healed.

But wait! Isn't life supposed to accomplish this end?

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