Thursday, May 22, 2008

Anti-black racism still alive, and as insiduous as ever

It just struck me today (well that is not exactly true, I have thought this for years, but just roll with it): the problem is not just difference, the problem is - LITERALLY - "blackness"... Well, no, that is not exactly right either. Maybe more accurately, it's hair type... I don't know. Well, a combination of both. Let me explain.

I was reading the following - and very interesting - article on the Huffington Post today, about:
Who Is Bobby Jindal? The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

"...But in an interesting development, the same quarters that have raised doubts about freshman Sen. Barack Obama's national security bona fides seem relatively unconcerned about Jindal's potential place on a ticket headed by a 71-year-old whose heath has been the subject of focus by the media..."

And it got me thinking: There really hasn't been as much of an issue with Bobby Jindal being a potential VP for John McCain, even though he is darker, and of Indian-descent (and I mean from India) - and that is just GREAT!!! And the VP is a heart-beat away from the Presidency (something that is made even more critical with John McCain's old age). Yet, we saw a great deal of resistance in Appalachia towards the similarly hued Barack Obama, specifically because he identifies as a Black man. That, and the whole foreign-sounding name, but I contend that if his name was Bill O'bummer, the situation would still be the same.

And this has to do with many realities. Part of the reason skin color is the problem, is the long history of denigration of people with darker skin by people with lighter skin, in many places in the world; particularly the long history of vilification, demonization, and/or animalization of melanin-endowed Africans (and Aborigines) by melanin-deprived Europeans.

With the European conquest of the world, and the control of world media by the West, the prejudices of Europe came to create, regenerate and/or reinforce the prejudices and complexes across the planet (including in Africa itself, but that is another, long and complicated story), thus generating our current situation, in which, consciously or subliminally, the world has been forced to internalize the tall White European male, and the skinny white blonde female model, as somewhat of an ideal to aspire to.

As a result, and for other related reasons, such as the rise in social status and safety that comes with "White-washing" in this West-dominated world:
  • some Africans (and people of African-descent) bleach their skin, relax their hair and wear weaves,
  • some "mongoloid" (for lack of another term in my head, if you know one enlighten me) Asians mess with their eyelids,
  • some light-skinned Black people tried to "pass",
  • some Asians, Arabs and light skinned people of African descent carry parasols to stay as light-skinned as they can,
  • thick black women are under-appreciated,
  • a lighter skin is considered a mark of greater beauty and status than a dark skin in many places around the world,
  • some Jews (as well as some Latinos of European-like pigmentation) worked hard to be integrated in the domain of "Whiteness" in the US, with varying degrees of success, etc, etc.

But I digress. All this is to say that the racial issue is still real, and more internalized and insidious than we give it credit. And it has raised its head in the US campaign for President in a special way, and I am tired of people trying to dismiss it, instead of dealing with it. As a dark-skinned, Black man, I am not, nor do I feel, inferior to any person who happens to be born in an area in which his/her ancestors developed less melanin. Yet there seems to be a number of people out there who think I am, without ever even meeting me, simply on account of my African-descent. That is simply outrageous, and I keep on wondering why this is not addressed more vocally, more passionately, and with more seriousness... by White people who claim not to be racist.

And that is when I start wondering: what makes me different from White people, Asians, Melanesians, etc? I am so used to focusing on all the things we have in common (that is my way to survive the daily small denigrations, like being followed around Dillard's), that I don't often ask myself that question. What is it that, besides History, makes it so that people of African descent seem to be more vilified and denigrated - and by more sections of humanity - than any other group in the world? Why is it that it seems like so many humans seem to feel they have more in common with every other section of humanity than they have with Black people? I mean there has to be a reason!

I thought it was skin-color at first. I mean it seems like the most obvious one. But then again there are Indians who are as dark as I am, even darker; and although they may be less-considered in their country because of their skin, it is still not the same kind of abhorrence. What did I ever do to the world to be considered inferior, evil, lazy, useless, demonic, corrupt, or cursed, by default, simply for being born with a higher level of pigmentation, under the radiant sun of the motherland? Why should Obama be so vilified today, not for the evil of his actions, but for the origins of his Y chromosome? Aren't we human too? What was it that bothered some White people so much about us, that they would consider any other race before they would consider Black people?

I couldn't find an answer, so I decided to have fun with this, and came to the conclusion that it has to be the hair. It is the one fundamental difference between Black people and the rest of the world. So different in fact, that Don Imus used it as a racial epithet ("nappy headed h@#$") with the consequences that we know. Our hair creates a very different experience of life. Just ask any Black woman you know. Or even better, asked any mixed woman, with a white mother, who had no idea what to do with her hair because she inherited so-called "bad-hair".

I will always remember a White female friend of mine who asked to touch my hair, and compared it to carpet hair (if she wasn't a woman, I am not sure I would have been so gracious in my response to her). I mean it is quite distinctive. Most people, even the straight-haired Japanese ladies, can go to any hair-salon in the US, France, Australia, South Africa, and even Congo, and they are relatively sure to have their hair treated properly. But for a Black woman, it's a whole different ballgame She has to find a specific hair-salon, with people (generally Black people) who specialize in Black people hair. The same is true for men. I mean the fact that we often cannot share a seat at a barbershop must be the reason why we are vilified, right? right?

Help me out here!!