Monday, January 11, 2010

Color Coded Culture

The issue of light skinned/dark-skinned has found itself at the center of today's national political debate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently made comments about President's acceptability as an African American candidate stating that he is a light skinned African American who does not speak with the "Negro dialect" unless he wants to.... This comment was made as then Senator Obama was gearing up for his electoral run.... And now, America is up in arms about this comment and the subject was fodder for the Sunday talk shows and headlines are ablaze with accounts of Senator Reid's subsequent apology to President Obama and the various civil rights leaders. Folk are calling for Sen. Reid's resignation as Majority leader and the pundits are speculating that the remarks may have put his re-election bid in peril.

But why does Sen. Reid owe Black America an apology? His comment only places a longtime cultural dialogue onto the mainstream stage. We all know that the "general market" is less intimidated by the light skinned African American. The light skinned African American has always been more accepted by the mainstream.  The light skinned/dark skinned battle has raged within our culture for centuries. In slavery, the light skinned black was the recipient of generous favor - often given the opportunity to gain education, own land and maneuver around with less scrutiny than that of the darker brothas and sistas. The issue of "passing" was a persistent benefit in the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Even now, the one that is light skinned with "good hair" is yet and still a preferential choice when identifying a more "favorable" black person.

We don't need the mainstream to apologize. We already know that the light skinned person is more accepted. This is not news. So many studies and analyses have been conducted to prove the point and a gargantuan effort to overcome the stigma darker blacks have contracted because of this has been part of the fabric of our culture for years. The notion that the light skinned one is somehow better than being dark has wrought seemingly irreparable psychological damage on our people. We have been conditioned to perceive the darker skin as bad, dishonest,  and somehow less valuable than the light skin.... 

The black elite contains more light skinned people than dark. The lighter black person rises to the heights of corporate promotion and opportunity while the darker one faces a more intense discrimination. Sometimes no matter the education, pedigree, experience... if you're black, step back...

We don't need the mainstream to apologize because we have perpetuated this self hate on ourselves for centuries. Back in the day, the standard for color-acceptability was the brown paper bag test. If you were darker than a brown paper bag, then you were too dark and would not be accepted into certain segments of black society. Daughters were prevented from dating brothas who were too dark because the darkness was a preventative from getting to the upper echelons of mainstream America.

On a global scale, the stigma of dark skin has catapulted skin lightening creams and cosmetic procedures to the top of the beauty industry. We have been duped into thinking that being dark is somehow bad.... The hair weave and pressing comb have provided an escape from our naturally nappy hair. All over the world, the notion of dark skin light skin and good hair, bad hair has caused us to be ashamed of who and how God created us....

While Sen. Reid's observations are probably politically incorrect, he was only thinking what we know mainstream America thinks of us. And that is that the light skinned black is somehow more acceptable and less threatening in their eyes than the darker black person. Even Vice President Joe Biden made comments to the same, stating that "finally we have a mainstream African American, who speaks well...."

When President Obama was running for his office, an article appeared in Advertising Age, a marketing industry newspaper. This article examined the marketing strategies of the Obama campaign and expressed a perspective as to why even hardened racists would vote for him. The prognosis of the piece was that President Obama's complexion makes him "acceptably black" and therefore white folk would be comfortable enough to hear his message and place a vote in his favor..... They called it the Halle Berry test.

It tickles me to hear light skinned blacks express outrage at the remarks of Senator Reid. They are the same ones who teased and ostracized dark skinned blacks in the 'hood, in church, at college.... There are still black organizations that only admit and support light skinned blacks. In the not too distant past, and in some cases this may still stand, but you could always tell the girls who pledged Delta from the ones who pledged AKA because the AKA's were always lighter. This collegiate fact was spoofed in Spike Lee's School Daze('Your just a jigaboo, tryin to find somethin' to do... you're just a wannabe, tying to be better than me....) We still find light skinned black families who caution their daughters to stop dating a dark man based on their own sensitivities about skin color within our race.

It is ludicrous for Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele to get on national television and call for Harry Reid's resignation and deplore the remarks. It's fairly obvious to me that this light skinned consciousness is the same consciousness which allowed him to rise to the political heights to which he has attained? I bet he has been told of the paper bag test... I am sure he has engaged in this cultural self hate. I wonder how many times in his lifetime has he looked around his neighborhood and identified people as "too black"

Naw, Harry Reid doesn't owe me an apology. We already know how white folk think of us. He has only brought to the light a secret that has plagued black culture for centuries.... there is an internal battle within the culture. The battle of light and dark. politically incorrect? probably. But we can't get so up in arms about it because let's keep it real-Long before he spoke, We were already a color coded culture....


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