Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tameka Raymond's HuffPo Op-Ed on Colorism Is A Must Read

I noticed a few people were discussing this essay on various social media platforms yesterday but I just got around the reading it. Wow! The soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Usher Raymond certainly has her head on straight as far as recognizing the intra-Black racism, petty jealousies and assumptions by strangers goes. She took great pains to make a definitive argument of the larger psychological issues as well as the added attention due to her celebrity status. She laid it out and offered her own introspection of how that negativity has affected her.

We've been discussing the underlying pathologies that motivate many African-Americans here and at other forums for quite some time. I can't recall the last time I've read a thorough examination of these by another AA person who wasn't a) a blogger trying to encourage other black women to free themselves b) an academic or infotainment hustler c) a man. So I cheered that this message will likely get more attention - but unfortunately it will likely be due to the pop culture consumption of various parties and not from a concentrated effort by those trying to free their minds. Still I hope that something sticks. I've pulled some quotes which I found particularly poignant that I'd like more blacks to evaluate in detail:
I am a dark-skinned African American woman with features that reflect my ancestry. It is a fact that many African-Americans are often mixed with an array of other ethnicities (as am I), which allows for the spectrum of our features to be as distinctive and special as we are diverse. Why is it felt that the more diluted our traditionally African features become the more aesthetically acceptable we are considered?
That all-too-familiar disdain and lack of racial or ethnic pride amongst African-Americans has not been resolved. We must also be careful about not mislabeling the potential self-hate of an individual versus the choice to devalue others. This manifests itself in familiar patterns by the way some black men pursue white-skinned women and how black women who don't know each other can be at odds with one another just because. People who are engaged in adversarial interactions cannot coalesce to form networks that would elevate larger groups. So the focus remains on external aggressions (i.e the white racism argument) instead of recognizing how so many undermine each other.
Often dark-skinned women are considered mean, domineering and standoffish and it was these very labels that followed Michelle Obama during the campaign for her husband's presidency and which she has had to work tirelessly to combat. I was appalled when I heard a Black woman refer to Michelle Obama as unattractive. The conversation turned into why President Obama picked her as his mate.
This is bigger than Michelle Obama. This is the manifestation of that colorism, hueism, skin shade hatred and black on black racism that does more damage today than its historical origins. It is also specifically targeting black women, African-American women who are unabashedly black with recognizable African features. It is used to shame them and make them more compliant for abuse. Like the street harassment I discussed in yesterday's blog post. Yes, we know it was part of the "Master's Tools" to create division amongst slaves and maintain control over a much larger population who could have easily risen up and slaughtered their captors. Psychological warfare is dirty and brutal. As I've written previously SLAVERY IS OVER. There is NO EXCUSE for blacks to take this practice, magnify it by thousands, add more depravity on top of it and then say that white people started it. I also touched on that hack piece by a hack writer who attributed an anonymous quote to disparage browner-skinned black women.
As I began to delve into further research on this topic, and the more I read, I concluded that many of our people do not like what they see in the mirror. There is an adage "hurt people, hurt people". If this is true then we must examine the root of negative words and judgments that are passed on people. Perhaps we show progress in our wallets and lifestyles but not in our mind set. I nearly lost my life over something as superficial as having a flatter mid-section and trying to adapt to society's traditional definition of beauty. I truly believe that everyone has a right to delineate what they deem is attractive, but we must not confuse perceived "attractiveness" with authentic "beauty." It is important for African Americans, especially, to realize that true beauty is a spiritual element that lies deep within an individual's spirit.
I appreciated Mrs. Raymond's candor about going to such lengths to be considered attractive and acceptable. It's one thing to follow a strict regime to be healthy and at one's best. Chasing eternal youth and the appearance of external perfection is something else entirely. I thought about how Dr. Donda West, Kanye's mother lost her life while recovering from a similar surgical procedure. Despite her education, financial resources and residual celebrity - or perhaps because of it - she felt something was lacking and tried to address it externally. She also had a browner skin shade and noticeably African features. Not that plenty of other women don't choose to go to such lengths as well but I can't help but wonder would the drumbeat of disdain be less fervent if others accepted themselves as they were and encouraged others instead of tearing them down?

I also watched the documentary about Lisa Lopes (from TLC) that aired on VH-1 yesterday. Ironically she had been filming herself, friends and family for a project and it ended up being her legacy after she was killed in an auto accident. It was packaged beautifully and was very compelling. Her candor about her struggles and insights she offered gave me a different perspective. She was a flawed but brilliant woman - like so many of us. So when I see certain black women in the spotlight I observe how they are treated by others and what standards apply. It isn't pretty. Still I admire the efforts by many to live their lives on their own terms and not some self-imposed double standard of acceptable "black" behavior that is often demeaning anyway. I hope Mrs. Raymond's essay gets through to some black women who would have otherwise not heard its message of uplift.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Fiath,

I enjoyed reading your post and I also read Ms. Raymonds essay but I have a slightly different take on the issue. The one part that I strongly disagree with you on is where you wrote that skin shade racism does more damage today than it did in the past.

I personally don't have any issues with skin color, and I never have. I attended a high school with a significant number of black students and I can honestly say that most of the women that guys(including me) fawned over were dark skinned. I'm not sharing my personal experience to sweep the issue under the rug or to pretend that it doesn't exist, I'm just saying that not all black people are obsessed with skin color.

This is evidenced by the fact that people actually TALK BOUT IT! As if it's something that can or needs to be changed. It's framed as a problem that needs to be addressed in a progressive way. This is in stark contrast to how most communities treat colorism, where it's not even recognized as a problem and people just accept it as it is.

I don't know if you've ever met anyone from the Dominican Republic or India but I can assure you that AAs are NOT more color struck than some of these people. If an Indian guy is giventhe choice to date or marry a white woman, a lighter skinned indian, and a dark skinned indian, 9 times out of 10, the Indian guy will chose the first or second girl. And guess what? They won't feel guilty over it either. They don't care whether it's unfair or whose feelings it hurts. To them, colorism is just a natural part of life...something that's so deeply embedded into their culture and society that they don't realize or care how it affects women.

I mentioned the above to make a simple show you that things could be a lot worse.

Sure, I've heard black men publicly make colorist statements but almost every time it occured, there were more than a few black men who stepped in to remind these(usually dark skinned) men that what they were saying was offensive and indicative of self-hatred.

But again, that's just my personal experience. No one can say with absolute certaintly that the majority of Black men are OR aren't color struck. Some might look at the OOW rate and tout it as "proof" that the majority of black men are chasing women of other races, but I disagree with that.
I think the OOW rate is due to a form of black male self hatred, as are most of the black communities problems, but I don't think colorism is the primary cause of it. Even if it was, most black men are well aware of the fact that women of other races and ethnic groups aren't dying to marry or give birth to their children anyway.

I'm not suggesting that AAs shouldn't continue to adress this problem, just that we've made significant progress when it comes to colorism, if nothing else.

Sorry for the long post.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

kmhfeb86: You are free to have your own opinions but since you stated you personally don't experience the things written about and confirmed by the author of the essay who has had negative experiences, you don't have the right to dismiss it.

We're also discussing experiences of African-American women. What goes on with Latinos/ Caribbeans/South Asians is not the topic at hand. Though that skin shade racism exists there as well and amongst all formerly conquered peoples.

It would be great for some of these black men who defend black women would be more active in these forums because the silence is louder than a mouse pissing on cotton from what I've seen.

As far as your opinion that things could be worse, I will counter that things could be and SHOULD be much better. Most of the gains made during Civil Rights have been completely squandered. It is going to continue to spiral downward as long as people continue sticking their heads in the sand.

Nia said...

In all my thirty-something years I personally have never seen or heard of a black man speak out against another black man when he expresses his "preferences", i.e. practices colorism. And I witness a lot of colorism around me, including within my own family.
I find, on the contrary, that when black men practice colorism, it is generally accepted as something to be expected and it is never questioned, and in many cases it is encouraged.
I even know of (so-called) Good Black Men™ who say that it is acceptable for them to have "preferences", but they just shouldn't communicate them out loud.

Bianca Reagan said...

Thanks for writing about this! I linked to it on my blog. Where are my chocolate chip cookies?

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Nia: You'd be hard-pressed to find pushback on this racialized sexism because so many black men are ashamed of themselves and they benefit from keeping black women confused and doubting themselves. That's why getting away from all of those who support this is a must.

Bianca: Welcome and thanks for stopping by. Yeah it's a little today for cookies but enjoy a cyber delivery!