Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Scandalousness of Scandal – Part 2

I’m a Gladiator! Scandal is definitely my guilty pleasure TV because I make sure that I don’t schedule anything on Thursdays so that I can watch the episodes as they air. So, when a friend of mine texted me recently on a Thursday and he said he’d talk with me later, and I reminded him that he had to talk BEFORE or AFTER Scandal; my girl friend and I talk about the show  during the commercials. 

My guy friend doesn’t like Scandal. An afro-centric militant black man, he doesn’t like race mixing between us and our former enslavers. So, the storyline of Olivia Pope and the President getting it on is a taboo topic for him. We get into this discussion about real-life interracial coupling, and he shares his disdain for Blacks who date Becky or Brad (his names for white people). And while black on black love brings a smile to his face, he is also accepting of blacks having relationships with people of color. 

And while I get his point of solidarity as it relates to oppression and people of color, the unique position of the history of African Americans in this country, can make inter-racial dating even with other people of color problematic because too many black folks are still fascinated by “other.” This disturbing fascination with people who “look mixed, look better” continues to rear its ugly head as pretend that color doesn’t matter. In too many instances, it does.

I teach writing to middle school students. And the population is evenly split between African Americans and Hispanics. Recently, we were working on descriptive writing, I asked them to write a description of somewhat they thought was attractive, and I stressed that I wanted to see what the person looked like, so the students needed to describe physical characteristics. 

I was blown away that in 2013, paper after paper specified some variation of “light skin” “nothing darker than caramel,” “black” or “too dark”. Most of them wanted someone with “pretty eyes” meaning blue, green, grey or hazel in color. Some African-American students even went so far as to say they wanted someone Puerto Rican, Mexican or mixed so that they’d have pretty children. A lot of the boys wanted blonde, blue-eyed girls. Here are some actual excerpts from their papers.

Light skin – the color of a pale person with a tan. He has green eyes that’s kind of hazel. Hair is black, silky and smooth. 7th grade girl African American girl
Long, blonde shinning gold hair. 7th grade African- American boy
. . . Have to have pretty eyes. They would be either green or blue. Hispanic 7th grade girl
They have to have . . . good hair cut with like waves cause boys with nappy hair ugly. 7th grade African-American girl
I like girls that have light skinned, blue or hazel eyes nice attitude, dimples and long hair.” African-American Hispanic boy 7th grade
I would like for him possibly have beautiful blue eyes . . . not boring brown eyes. Hispanic girl 7th grade
And it’s sad to say that our children learn this from us. I recently ran across the following status of an African American woman on Face book looking for a hook-up: “I like a man who is confident, responsible and goal oriented. . . Physically - I prefer men at least 6 feet tall, light skinned and average builds.”

I believe that we love who we love, but I also know that who we are attracted to is dictated by society’s standards. And as long as we think white (and anything close to it) is right, brown skinned black girls and women with dark brown eyes don’t stand a chance against the exotics. The only difference between those of yester year and those of today is now they have to have big booties—an asset that until recently was deficit or black women and girls . . . but that’s another post for another day.

We may come in every shade from alabaster to ebony, but until we stop looking for validation elsewhere and learn to love all of ourselves—colorism will continue to be a problem even in our coupling with other people of color.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Happy Birthday Barbie!

Some of my Barbies
Wow! The icon Barbie doll made her debut 54 years ago today! And like a fine wine, Barbie has definitely gotten better with time! I loved dolls and I grew up with Barbie and her counterparts. I had Barbie, her boyfriend Ken, PJ, her black friend Christie and Christie’s boyfriend Brad. Barbie and Company was an essential part of my childhood.

 I had all types of dolls. I had baby dolls to play Mommy and Barbies to play Grown Up. I had Julia, the African-American nurse from the TV Show Julia's character. Even though the character was a widow, I borrowed my neighbor's GI Joe when Julia needed a date. I entertained myself with  Barbie and friends well into my teen years. And alas, when I had to give her up along came the doll house of doll houses—the Barbie Dream House. Lucky for me I had nieces who had their own share of Barbies.  So, when they got a Barbie Dream House I could play along under the guise of playing with them—wink, wink--much like those of you who are dragging kids to the movies so you can see the remake of the Wizard of Oz. 

I’ve followed the backlash against Barbie--women who refused to let their daughters play with Barbie because of her unrealistic body measurements, and women of color who didn’t allow their daughters playing with white Barbies—all of which is supposedly tied to self-esteem and body image. Then there was the recent Face book campaign to push Mattel to make a bald Barbie to appeal to those young girls have lost their hair to cancer or alopecia. I understand the criticism against Barbie as an adult, but as a child, Barbie was simply Barbie. I played with Barbie and I don't think I suffered any damage to my self-esteem because of my doll play. 

This Barbie-under fire concept is akin to the feminist rejection of girls' infatuation with Princesses, and while I get the ideology behind the not wanting our girls to be damsels in distress waiting for a man to rescue them, I have mixed feelings about it. But I'll save my thoughts on that for another time. Today is about Barbie.

Barbie is no stranger to controversy as it is something that has followed her from the beginning. When she debuted, she was a departure from the baby doll and represented a different kind of woman who didn’t have to settle for being a homemaker and mom. Barbie was single, childless and very much independent. Barbie was and is me. 

Like Barbie, I neither married nor had children. And the substantial sized rack held up by the small back, and the small waistline is definitely me. Over the years, I always wondered why Barbie had everything but a good bra. Sure, she has some cutesy lingerie, but a bra that lifts and separates is not to be found among everything Barbie. But I understand. As a woman who looks like Barbie from the waist up, I know how hard is to find a bra that fits and perhaps that is why Barbie doesn’t have one, but more realistically because unlike me—she doesn’t need one. She is the first of her kind with a boob job, so hey! there you go.

Even now, I still have an affinity for Barbie as evidenced by the collection of Black Barbies fighting for space in my house. And I’m not the only one. There are Barbie dolls for adult collectors with numerous of sights for collectors to buy and sale Barbies. I recently watched a clip of  Barbie Man , a man in Florida who owns more than 2000 Barbies! Barbie has been around for a while, and with so much that comes and goes, it's nice to be able to hold onto a piece of something that marked the innocence of my childhood.

There are  feminists, reading this and shaking their heads. Yes, I am a feminist and I will not turn in my feminist card because there is no one-size fits all brand of feminism. Barbie and feminism represent the complexity of life, and I embrace that. So, Barbie is alright with me. Happy Birthday Barbie!