March 26, 2011

Black - Stay Back - Brown - Stick Around

The rhyme which is the title of this post refers to a deep and abiding stigma surrounding skin color that originated, of course, in mainstream society yet continues to plague the African American community.  The infamous brown paper bag tests were insidious games of the early twentieth century in which little black children created clubs that only accepted children whose skin was lighter than a brown paper bag.  I have written fiction about this phenomenon, and it has been the focus of much social psychology for the better part of the twentieth century.  Black folks continue to perpetuate the tropes of slavery in which the light-skinned mulatto slaves were allotted some of the privileges of whiteness by doing the work of domestic servants and living in the plantation house in close proximity to whites.  While the dark-skinned slaves were relegated to slave shanties in close proximity to the other chattel and the field in which they toiled from sun up to sun down.  Through miscegenation, the whites in power created a slave class system predicated on skin color.

This is our history, our American history; however, it is regrettable that this history is still relevant discourse today.  It has been my hope that when we ushered in a new century, some things would become fodder for the history books.  However, colorism is still alive and prospering.

Right about now, the naysayers (most likely the colored folk who are reading this) are refuting this assertion.  They are most likely under 30 and believe they are the new "enlightened" generation of black folks.  Well, think again.

The Current "Hot" Female Celebrities

Yes, Rihanna is beautiful and talented.  In Rihanna's native country of Barbados, another country with a legacy of slavery, people like Rihanna who have at least one mixed-race parent are referred to as "people of color."  And in the African American community, Rihanna gets a great deal of privilege, I would argue, based on her white features.  And for those in deep denial, I will clarify what I mean by white features:  light skin, straight hair, and light eye color.

As much as I love Beyonce, she is yet another example of the colorism that runs rampant in the African American community.  This particular photo is the center of a recent controversy in which L'Oreal or Beyonce or both have been accused of "whitewashing" her photo.  The whiter that Beyonce appears the more appealing she is to the consumer (You).

Alicia Keys

Keri Hilson

Halle Berry

I could go on and on posting photos of light-skinned, "It List", "Hot" entertainers.  However, the list of brown or dark-skinned "It Listers" is quite short.  Either we are to believe that dark-skinned Black folks don't sing and perform as well as light-skinned ones, or we must accept that black folks prefer that light-skinned black folks entertain them and represent them.  Yes, represent them.  After all, the female entertainers I have posted above are fast becoming (if not already) beauty icons.  And indeed they are beautiful.  Lest we forget that while we are drooling and wallowing in our own psychological skin color baggage, there are dark-skinned beautiful, talented performers and actresses who couldn't get a gig if they paid someone to give it them.  It is as if there is a quota on dark-skinned performers.  One has to die before we let another in.  And right now, Jennifer Hudson is "The One."  I would argue that Hudson is just as beautiful and far more talented than many of the entertainers above.  

Jennifer Hudson

At the risk of sounding like Spike Lee, we really need to wake up.  Some would say that Hollywood (as in "white" Hollywood) sets these paradigms for who they will "let in" or not let in.  I don't believe that this is completely true anymore.  I believe that black people themselves have become the gate keepers.  Yes, whites created the white paradigm of beauty but black folks began to create a black paradigm of beauty during the 1970s when afros and natural blackness was the new beautiful, when "the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice" really meant something.  Black people have the power to shape their own images and identities, but they would rather remain stuck on the plantation steeped in the racism of the past.