Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Color Still Matters

If you’re white, you’re alright
If you’re yellow, that’s mellow
If you’re brown, stick around
If you’re black, get back
Old saying in the African-American community

For two days, I sat in auditoriums filled with a kaleidoscope of black people--a living document of our mixed heritage. The first night I was at DuSable Museum and the audience was made up mostly of adult women waiting to watch the Dark Girls documentary. Not widely advertised, the movie had been listed under the museum’s events and spread via social networking and word of mouth. Due to overwhelming demand for another showing, in less than 24 hours, one of the auditoriums at Ice Theaters was filled to capacity. The second night was still mostly women, but also sprinkled with men and children. Standing room only, a makeshift bench and folding chairs were set up to accommodate the overflow. And we all wanted the same thing: understanding and healing around an issue that has plagued us far too long.

A woman in the audience at Ice Theaters said when she’d heard about the film, she thought that the issue was archaic. She said she wondered why we’re still talking about it in 2011. I shook my head at the thought. This subject matter is not archaic, but real and relevant and we need to talk about it. The fact that it’s been taboo for so long is why it has become a more insidious issue. It’s like a poisonous vapor permeating our being. And it’s time to talk it out and toss it out of our psyche.

Every day, I see the harm our silence is costing us. When I first became a teacher in the 90s, there was a beautiful young dark skinned girl in my class who told me that her color was a curse, and that nobody could tell her otherwise because no one else was as dark as she. I had light complected boys who felt like they had to fight to prove their “blackness” much like our President has to do today. I had another girl who hated another student because of the texture of the girl’s hair. In a heated argument, she yelled at her, “So what you got Indian in your family!” A group of girls threatened to cut the face and hair of a light skinned classmate because of something she had no control over. The stories are endless. Our children have learned to hate themselves from us.

Much of what’s wrong with our youth is an innate sense of self-loathing from the internalization of eurocentrism. What we fail to accept about perceived ideas of standards, is that if we have a superior standard, then we must have an inferior standard. So, if Europe is the pinnacle of all that’s beautiful then the antithesis of that would be Africa in a world where only white and black exists. Colorism is a by-product of racism, but it lives and breathes because we have not made peace with our past.

One of the experts in the film said that we are the keepers of our soul, and it’s time for us to become better care takers. We owe it to ourselves and our children.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article Ms. Gates and, I agree with you. In order to move in a progressive direction, we have to talk about it. Self-hatred in our community is more prevalent than in any other race and it's time we start asking ourselves some questions. What relieves me though, is that not all of us view ourselves in this negative light. It takes years for some of us to break free of the stereotypes, and hackneyed generalizations of how others view us; but when I did, the realization I came to was sweeter than honey. Black is GORGEOUS. I can say that and mean it. I attribute some of this self-actualizing to people who offered words of encouragement along the way. Thank you Ms. Gates for always letting us know we were beautiful --- whether we knew it or not. ~Terria.