Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Color Complex

A good writer not only reads, but also gets other writers' perspectives in order to expand her or his skills and mind. This time around I'm reading the color complex. A look at how african americans still play skin shade politics with one another. I'd add that Hispanics play it too, big time. But this book focuses on Black Americans and where the glorification of light-skinned Blacks and the pulling away from anything African comes from. The obvious reason, of course, is the Willie Lynch doctrine that stipulated exactly how wealthy White men should go about pitting shades and age against one another in order to control the slaves. But what makes this book stand out for me is how the writers leave out the usual culprit and focus instead on our own isms, how we perpetuate them through our words (she's darkskin but so pretty), our music videos (always a lightskin with long hair and if darkskin, must have a long weave or wig), our parenting (giving a 6yrld a perm), our grooming (perm for females/texturizer for males), our miseducation (he ugly like an african) and our dating (I only date this shade/that shade or I mess with this shade but marry that shade). I think y'all know by now that I'm all about accountability when it comes to us as a people, and I welcome books and discussions on how we as a people tend to avoid serious self-reflection. We're damaged, no doubt. There's no way around that fact. You can see it in the way our sons walk like toddlers all over again in search of a definition for true maleness, since we men apparently dropped the ball by chasing the bling instead of the wisdom. You can see how sick we are by the lucrative bizness in hair weave and wigs, often times over-exaggerated with accessories covering the real person; and the males tolerating it (they won't tell you but they tell me). and if you're a college educator or counselor, you see how our sons and daughters pay more attention on appearance rather than on their grade point average, while students from other cultures wear jeans yet have higher gpa's. are our youth's self-esteem so shot that they need to emulate what's on their tube in order to feel empowered? Or are we producing shallow children cos we ourselves are shallow? I'm just asking, cos if you're paying any attention African females aren't braiding anymore. Now they're syntheticasizing and for whom? Other females or Black men? Cos I think brothas play a key role in the dis-ease. We might not be conscious of it, but we do have our preferences and they usually come down to skin shade and hair. Some of us may be too busy texturizing, so not sure if there's even time and space to notice anything when the smell of flavoured lye is hijacking your brain cells!

Look, I don't have the answers. I have mine to apply to my own life. But I don't have The Answer to our collective pains. My job is to put the conversation out there like a brave fishing rod and hope I get back some wisdom; maybe even cause a few to put down the hype and save soem money. But here's why I'm pushing this book. First, none on my students have heard of it whcih should tell you that education is not about empowerment but falling in line. It also talks about some of the sick sht our grandparents either used to push or had to endure. Like 'the paper bag test' where your skin shade had to be close enough to the color of a paper bag if you were to be allowed into a social club. or 'the beige door test' whereas darkskin Blacks had to have their own churches if they're complexion didn't have the right connection. Our own education system decided who got taught to become professionals and who was pushed towards agriculture, all depending on skin shade, with fraternities and sororities not only pitting letters against letters, but supporting the color codes.

The book even quotes ol' timers, respected educators who pushed the division in order to preserve lightskin 'culture'. Even W.E.B. DuBois' Talented Ten were all mullatos, with the exception of the dark-complexioned writer, Phyllis Wheatley Peters. And we already know about neighborhoods that became famous for their 'pretty Blacks', including parts of Harlem, NY and Atlanta, GA. It's all in the book naming the schools and universities you now hold high as establishments that used to bar darkskin blacks from attending. Famous learning grounds like Spellman, Howard, Fisk, Hampton, Morgan State, Wilberforce were all part of the sickness. So no wonder little Black boys and girls would sing that song we now sing in differernt ways--

white is bright
yellow is the color
brown stick around
black get back!

We didn't realize what we were saying. I know i didn't. It was just playtime and I don't remember anyone telling us to stop that nonsense and why. All we knew was that Black was bad and White was good. And so the point was to be as close to 'white' as possible. We were just kids. We didn't realize what we were doing to our psyche. And my parents, at least, were too busy assimilating.

I wonder if 'white' people also have a color complex; if there're tensions between brunettes and blondes, red hair and brown hair. And if blondes have more fun, then why are they often portrayed as dumb? Is it cos they don't have to do much to get jobs and mates or just plain hatin'? If there are tensions, do they say to themselves 'well at least I'm still 'white'? I would. Just like the question, who the hell would 'choose' to be gay-bashed? If there was a choice, who would pick not being able to get a cab or have a cashier give you back your money by placing it on the counter instead of touching your open hand? Who would want some sht like that?

I obviously was affected by this book, personally. See, my father, who would be considered a mulatto, was disowned by his family for marrying a darkskin Black beauty who had Dionne Warwick's high cheekbones and Dianne Carrol's sophistication. To my dad, my mom was da sht! And to me too. The way she'd command a room with her class and poise. She emulated the same elegance our first lady gives off, and yet my father's people saw it as a step down for him. So much that my coming out darker than my aunts and uncles were hoping caused a riff in the fam. I'm sharing this with you only to show you just how damaging Black folk can be to other Black folk. I'm sahring this with my sons and daughters, especially, to help them see what they're teachers and profs aren't encouraging them to explore, and that's how we ourselves keep the madness going. Remember when Obama came on the scene? At first, we didn't think he was Black enough until he started winning votes. Now, we don't think he's Black enough cos he don't act like Al Sharpton. Uh, hello!!! He ain't and never will be Al Sharpton! A call that I had to wake up to recently. Nice guy, but he's not Rakim, so let's just get over that. And we really need to stop calling him 'Black' and dismissing his mother's kisses. If bi-racial sounds too sterile, then let's at least allow the man to simply be himself.

I think that's the gist of it. 'Whites' having the luxury of just being while we're still battling out our labels. The ones placed on us by our haters and the ones we adopted for ourselves (dog, playa, bitch, nigga). Don't act like you don't know. And that's not the 'white' man nor Spellman's old guard calling it. That's you, me, us and our questionable pride.

Since my father didn't have a color complex, he taught me to date value and substance, not skin sahde. So I can also share with you that I've dated all the berries from moon to sun and back to moon. I've even dated 'white', though I admit always feeling like I was being objectified within the perimeters of John Shaft and Mandingo. They meant well, I guess. But it always seemed like I was expected to act out a role-- the angry Black man, the thug, the street messenger, the complex god, the Black panther type. But not me, the person behind all the mystic.

In the end, love is love when you can find it or it finds you. But this on-going bizness of hating the molester who provides us with financial aid is nothing compared to the way we lynch one another in subtle to obvious ways. That may be part of the collective fallout, but it doesn't excuse the unwillingness to check ourselves by watching our language, noticing how we judge one another, paying attention to what our preferences are and making the proper adjustments. Basically, making melanin less of an issue and who the person is/how they treat us the focus. I'm just sayin...

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