Days Black People Not Re-Enslaved By Trump

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

RE:Light, Bright and Still Black (Unconventional Wisdom)

On occasion people write about being a "light skinned" black person or about not being an "African-American". They usually all make the same mistake of confusing the sociological and region specific definition of "race" with it's genetic counterpart which is better referred to as "breed." The most annoying part is when people who are otherwise extremely observant and intelligent, lose their cool when confronted with the clear contradictions used in their discussion of the subject matter. The latest of this would be the Black Snob.

Black Snob posted a piece entitled: Light, Bright and Still Black (Unconventional Wisdom) . It starts badly:

I didn't know I was "light-skinned."

Or should I say, I'm not light-skinned but people have informed me one way or another of what I am based on what they are. I am, in fact, not lighter than a paper bag. I am not cafe au latte. I'm a rich, reddish brown that's lighter than most black people, but too dark to be truly considered among the what traditionally was viewed as light-skinned -- which for me is damn near white.

Now the first and major contradiction of the post is that if you've seen her Twitter icon, she is in fact light skinned. How she looks herself dead in the face and comes away with such a clear contradictory conclusion is not for me to explain. BUt her explanation does clue the reader in to how this tortured thinking manages to surface.

The Snob doesn't give us an age range for the "I didn't know" declaration but given the relatively brief experience I've had with child raising in which the child was quite a bit lighter than both of us (his father is light, his mother is not), at 4 he was very much aware that he was light skinned, and made a point of stating that he wished he was darker. I point this out to really put a lie to the oft repeated notion that kids don't notice skin color (among other things). They may not make commentary on it, but they do notice these things. And yes, people (and kids) will gladly point out your differences to you if the situation calls for it (teasing etc.) irrespective of color since for every "yella" joke, there are multiple "You-so-black" jokes, the contradiction of which ought to be a study in and of itself. For the life of me I cannot understand the logic of dissing a black person by saying their momma is so black as if a black person's momma was not supposed to be black. But that's not the point here. What The Snob sets out in this paragraph is to define "black" as some amorphous thing all of which is relative to "white". Note her references to paper bags, the milky coffee, the "too dark to be" references. They all define "blackness" as a thing relative to whiteness. Ergo she is black because she fails to fall into the category of whiteness.

By doing this she simply re-affirms the concept of a white pureness, untainted by blackness, and of a blackness that is a mix of everything. Something that could easily be written by a Grand Wizard of the Klan. Not that she's Klanish, but the sentiment is almost as old as the country itself: blackness as a "mongrellzed" and "bastardized" and "unrefined" group wholly apart from pure whiteness (of Teutonic, Aryan or Saxon descent). As if to re-enforce her commitment to this white supremacist definition of whiteness The Snob continues:

All of this though is irrelevant as no matter what you look like, in America, if you're black you are black. This isn't Brazil or some other South American country where there are a billion color based delineations to separate the blue black Wesley Snipes-ish brothers and sisters from the Wentworth Miller-Grady Sizemore's of the world. This is America, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an unapologetically black man, is a dead ringer for white man and former Republican Bob Barr. Did Wright get any sort of pass for his negrotude because he was two steps from passing? Or for that matter, does any black person?

Lets take the initial sentence:
All of this though is irrelevant as no matter what you look like, in America, if you're black you are black.

Well in America as oppose to Brazil, which she contrasts, there is the idiotic and thoroughly white supremacist idea of the "One Drop Rule". The entire purpose of the One Drop Rule is to re-enforce the concept of white purity and prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment, to ensure that white peoples bred property (that being the babies the 'masters" created) were still property, capable of being bought and sold. The One Drop Rule was not created by black folk for their own benefit. It wasn't created to create some manner of black unity. No it was simply a means of legally enforcing a racial caste system. A system that exist until this very day and remains unchallenged by the very people it has been created to marginalize. Let's look at the Brazilian system:

The Brazilian system was motivated by the ideas as the American one. However because of the vast numbers of Native Americans in that area of the world and the relatively small numbers of whites, that area of the world had to develop a system that included natives and the varied "breeds" you'd come across. Also, Portugal and spain has a history with black folk prior to the slave trade that reflected in varied "kinds" of white people there that are clearly mixed. So it is unsurprising that they would institute a system that placed higher value on those who were higher up the "white scale" and that recognized varying levels of mixture. The motive was still the same: white on top and black on the bottom. except in this case there is a significant incentive to "move up." by "breeding up" as it is put, because it had (and has) a direct relationship to one and one's children's ability to move up in society.

Mind you, in America the same thing operates, but on an largely unspoken level, an idea that occasionally breaks cover in Hip Hop interviews and songs disrespecting black women and such "sly" references to the innate beauty of light skinned babies. The relatively high premium placed on light skinned African-American women is undeniable. The common wish of African-American women to have girl children with "good hair" (you know, for combing) is well known. So is the common hope that the babies aren't too dark (whatever that means). But I digress and besides The Snob does cover some of this ground in her piece.

This is America, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an unapologetically black man, is a dead ringer for white man and former Republican Bob Barr.

Well Rev. Wright, isn't black. No offense intended and he knows it and has commented upon it which has been aired a number of times. But what is more important is that it is entirely possible that Bob Barr isn't exactly all that "white" either since we do know that every now and then those able to pass, did so, in which case their children would be labelled "white" upon birth. And there are a lot of white families with cases like that. Many simply do not know it.

it's just an assumption that light made right for you, even if in the eyes of most racists you were no different from your darker brethren.

Well actually recent research underscores that which we've known for a long time: Light skinned "African-Americans" are assumed to be more intelligent than dark skinned African-Americans. That includes racist, who have always enjoyed pointing out that the brightest "negroes" were mixed, as well as other black people. I won't even get into the fact that aside from sports, most of the earliest black "firsts" were those who were not so black. Think that an accident and I know a couple of bridges across the East River I'd like to interest you in. Even Good Morning America's latest Doll Experiment showed how early the ideas of negative references to blackness develop in children.

But in any case let me get at the heart of the problem with The Snob's piece: After spending so much time delineating the issue of colorism in African-American communities she still doesn't get it:

I've had arguments with people who did not believe I could be "fully black" with hair as long as mine.

Well see I'm not going to get into singular phenotypes, but the long relatively straight hair is, generally a dead giveaway that one is mixed. You'll note I said "relatively straight" not "relatively curly." had I used the latter term then I would have made straight hair "normative". Other dead giveaways are hazel eyes, green eyes and light skin and generally...generally, narrow noses. It's not hard to tell. Look, the fact is that the vast majority of African-Americans originate from West Africa, from the Ngola region (current Angola) up through Senegal. We know what these people look like. Those are the originals. You wanna know how far off the mark you are, just do a quick comparison (and pay no attention to body shape or height). The fact of the matter is that while all black people are African-American (generally speaking), not all African-Americans are black. African-Americans are in a sense an ethnic group in America which I think directly contradicts the claim made be The Snob. It has a shared history and a general shared sub-culture in America. That is the reason why a Rev. Wright, Adam Clayton Powell, and Thurgood Marshall can be considered "black" as in African-American just the same as Clarence Thomas, even though many of us would prefer to relieve ourselves of him.

Unlike the claim made by The Snob, that "lightness" is some random scale, it isn't. There are clear genetic codings that are responsible for it that are directly tied to ones parentage and lineage. What is random and mutable are the attitudes that The Snob discusses. These attitudes are also my reasoning for being more and more clear about who and what is "black" and "white". Had those things been clear, such thing The Snob experienced would never have happened. Why compare skin color with a white classmate if you both understand and acknowledge that you both share common and recent ancestors? But The Snob doesn't quite get it. If she had instead of writing:

Trapped by my own fate of being born black and loathed by some for it. There is no better. There's only different.

she would have written: Trapped of my own fate of being born mixed and loathed by some for it. There is no better. there's only different.

That 4 year old who wished he was dark? I never fell into telling him he was black. That would have been telling him to lie to himself. Rather I let him know that there was nothing wrong with him. He's different and that it was OK. We loved him just as much. Hopefully he'll not be writing a piece like The Snob. Or if he does it won't get defensive about what people rightfully observe but instead simply state what it is, is what it is. He wont add to the confusion, rather he'll just tell it like it is. And we'd all be better off.