The Color Complex…Still

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 American Africans 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-reflecting. We're damaged, no doubt. There's no way around that fact. You can see it in the way our grown sons walk like toddlers all over again from letting their pants sag so low. 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.  If you're a school teacher or counselor, you can 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 because we ourselves are shallow? Because if you're paying any attention, African and Caribbean women are developing skin cancer as a result of bleaching their melanin. Their obsession with imitating western culture is that deep and that serious. Added by the fact that some brothas play a key role in this dis-ease because of their preference for light-skinned women. 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 flavored lye is hijacking your brain cells.

Traditionally African American universities we now hold high were known to bar dark-skinned Blacks from attending.

Look, I’m not trying to push my views on anyone here. People—Black people—have the right to paint their hair purple if they want to. 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 some money. But here's why I'm pushing this book. First, none on my students have heard of it which should tell you that education is not about empowerment but falling in line. It also talks about some of the burdens our grandparents had to put up with. Like 'the paper bag test' where your skin shade had to be close enough to the color of a brown paper bag if you were to be allowed into a school or social club. Or 'the beige door test' where dark-skinned 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 respected educators who pushed the division in order to preserve light-skinned 'culture'. Even W.E.B. DuBois' Talented Ten were all mulattoes, with the exception of the dark-complexioned token, Phyllis Wheatley Peters. And we already know about neighborhoods that became famous for their 'pretty Blacks', including parts of Harlem, NY and Atlanta, GA. Traditionally African American universities we now hold high were known to bar dark-skinned Blacks from attending. 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 different 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 Black parents were too busy surviving or assimilating if they were immigrants like mine were. I sometimes 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? If there are tensions, do they say to themselves 'At least I'm still White’? 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 Black hand?

‘White’ people have the luxury of just being, while we're still battling out our labels. The ones placed on us and the ones we adopted for ourselves. My father, who would be considered a mulatto, was disowned by his family for marrying a dark-skinned Black beauty who had Dionne Warwick's high cheekbones and Dianne Carrol's sophistication. To dad, 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 paternal lineage caused a rift in the family. It’s that pervasive in our community. A by-product of institutional race-ism that is as American as apple pie and as us as Hot peas and butter/Come n get your supper!