Part of my book is an entire treatise on white supremacy and racism. I have written enough material on the subject to satisfy a doctorate dissertation, if I were a candidate. In the weeks and months to come, I will share with you some of my favorite excerpts from this chapter. So let us start at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
I attribute the concept and prevailing attitude of white supremacy to be the cause and at the root of all that is wrong with the world. It influences the law and the legal system (certainly), as well as human relations, self-awareness and image, beauty sense, art and culture, the media, the field of entertainment, history, education, language and communication, economics, science and technology, commerce and advertising, public health, the Government, crime, drugs, religion and morality, even matters of life and death, virtually every aspect of our society. If you don’t believe me or you disagree with that statement, then you are one to whom this discussion is intended. Most Caucasian people don’t realize that they are inherently privileged, and they take so much in life for granted.
(# …I Don’t know if I’m black or white… #)?
Let’s begin by recognizing that the published definitions for the words black and white are at the very heart of racism. This is how white is still described in my latest edition dictionary: “honest, decent, marked by upright fairness, spotless, morally or spiritually pure, innocent, without malice or evil intent, harmless, favorable, auspicious, fortunate, notably ardent, passionate, politically ultraconservative, counterrevolutionary.” Oh, really! That’s rather biased, don’t you think? It sounds a lot like me, for the most part, but I’m not white, am I?
Now check out what these white lexicographers say about black: “thoroughly sinister, evil, wicked, harmful, without any moral goodness, hopeless, sinful, dirty, dingy, soiled, indicative of condemnation or discredit, very sad, depressing, somber, pessimistic, dismal, gloomy, calamitous, full of sorrow and suffering, marked by ruin or desolation, disastrous, boding ill, characterized by hostility or angry discontent, sullen, inexcusable, indicating censure or disgrace, connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil, characterized by grim, distorted or grotesque satire.” My goodness! You see? We didn’t have a fair chance from jump-street. But I’m not any of those things, so then, am I black?
Most of those descriptions must be referring to human characteristics. They wouldn’t be talking about snow’s being honest and moral or a lump of coal’s being evil and calamitous. So it seems that they are more about symbolic and metaphorical concepts rather than matters of light frequencies. But why are all the descriptions for white positive traits and all the ones for black are negative? What’s up with that? For white they neglected to include, “bland, square, having a poor sense of rhythm,” as in, “She is so ‘white.’” If they would dare print and perpetuate such irresponsibly-biased tripe in a dictionary, which is an important, universal learning tool, no wonder that people, black and white, grow up with pre-conceived notions about the races.
Let’s consider the source for a moment. Lexicographer Noah Webster [1758-1843] lived during a time when white men were already running the country and black people were regarded as not even human. His publications for standardized grammar, spelling and English word definitions were the dominant references in American schools for generations. As with the Bible, many word meanings haven’t changed or gotten upgraded in subsequent editions. In this particular instance, with regard to black and white, it seems that these new dictionary editors (all white, no doubt), apparently haven’t bothered to revise those definitions to reflect modern times, either.
Plus, we have these words and phrases with negative connotations, such as the black arts and black magic, blackball, Black Death, blackguard, Black Hand, blackhearted, blackleg or blackquarter, blacklist (of course, a “white list” contains approved or favored items), blackmail, black market, Black Mass and black widow[er], denoting a multiple spouse killer. Unfortunate day events receive a “black mark” against them, to wit: Black Sunday and Black Thursday. Black September refers to the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes, and the “Black Sox” World Series of 1919 was when team members of the Chicago White Sox accepted money for throwing the games.
Similar to a blacklist, the legal profession has a “brown file,” in which a superior court justice accumulates arbitrary blunders and misjudgments done by another jurist to use against them to effect a bench removal or reassignment. The word denigrate, from the Latin, meaning to blacken, has come to mean “to cast aspersions, defame, belittle,” in other words, “to negrofy.” Angel-food cake is white, while devil’s-food cake is dark. I am pretty sure that no self-respecting person-of-color would have given those pastries those particular distinguishing names.
Do you think that this is only old-time thinking? There is a computer game out just a few years ago called Black & White, which has a two-fold premise in its game play. The protagonist of the Black game is an evil, malevolent god figure, while the White game’s god is kind and benevolent. With certain electrical connections the negative wire is the black one. Film noir (the French word for black) is characterized by dark, somber moods and cynical, pessimistic themes. If a film has sick or “dark” humor, it is called a black comedy.
A bête noir (black beast) is a person or thing that is disliked or feared, therefore avoided. Of the many varieties of kryptonite that have been created for the Superman franchises, someone came up with black kryptonite, exposure to which turns Kryptonians, including Superman, evil. And an already evil, malicious person is said to have gone over to the “dark side.”
Since all the male actors in old western movies are white, we have to have some way to tell them apart. So the good guys all wear white hats (except for Hopalong Cassidy) and black hats are usually worn by the bad guys. In the famous Chariot Race scene in Ben-Hur virtuous and benevolent Judah drives four white horses, while the evil villain Messala drives a team of black ones. Black Bart is a bad guy, even though he’s always depicted as a white character. The evil “Black Prince” Pendragon from Jack the Giant Killer (1962) was played by white actor Torin Thatcher. In the 1998 remake of Death Takes a Holiday the writers chose to name the character of personified Death “Joe Black,” although the very white Brad Pitt was cast to play the role. There are other white movie characters named Blackie. So I guess it’s okay to name somebody Black, as long as they really aren’t. I don’t suppose that actors Jack Black and the late Karen Black, for example, are/were considered evil people.
# …May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.#
Even the holiday classic “White Christmas” takes on metaphorical proportions, in that the lyrics reflect goodness and hope and positive sentiments, which translates to whiteness. The song is not just about snow, if at all. Elvis Presley sang about having a “Blue Christmas” while missing his true love during the holidays, and Black Christmas (1975 & 2006) are mad slasher horror films, no surprise there!
So, virtually anything and everything in the world that is bad or has negativity, just attribute it to the color black. Even an innocent, black cat is associated with witchcraft and sinister, superstitious beliefs, while a white one portends good luck, as if the animals themselves have anything to do with what color they come out, then have to behave accordingly. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, too, elicits imaginary fear and dread by its very appearance, just because it’s black. I mean, it’s just a harmless bird. I don’t think that his poem would have the same menacing effect if he had used, say, a dove.
A film was released in 1947 whose cast is made up entirely of trained birds! It is called Bill and Coo, and the title characters are lovebirds. There are also songbirds and sparrows and jays and all different kinds of birds featured as well. None of the birds speak; there is a voiceover narrator to tell the story, but there are built sets, and the birds wear appropriate costumes for their particular characters. As all fantasy tales have to have a villain, who do you think they got to play it? Why, a crow, of course! They dubbed it “The Black Menace,” and all it does is stalk around the set “terrorizing” all the other little birds.
In any drama the character dressed in black, even if it’s an innocent creature, has to be the bad guy. The same can be said of the Star Wars villain Darth Vader. How seriously would anyone take him if his costume was all white instead of black? The Storm Troopers wear white “uniforms,” but they are soldiers, defenders of the realm, as it were, therefore considered good guys, I suppose. Moreover, although symbolic and proverbial that it is, since black is an evil, disreputable color in itself, it follows then that all black people must be, too. So with that thinking, when black actor Morgan Freeman portrayed God in Bruce Almighty (2003), of course he appropriately is dressed all in white when he reveals Himself to Jim Carrey.
Here is another for instance. Since most sheep in a flock are white, the designated “black sheep” in one’s family is the odd, strange, unconventional member, you know, different from the rest of the flock, so to speak. But this symbolic analogy is appropriate only for white people. A black family’s “black sheep” doesn’t stand out as anyone special, as they are all the same. It’s not a term that they would normally use. The expression is therefore racist, as it was created by whites to be used by them for their own appropriation. You’ll notice, too, that the expression carries with it a negative connotation.
In western civilizations, at least, black is the color for mourning and is often associated with death and morbidity, while white symbolizes purity and goodness. Waving a white flag at an imagined adversary signifies surrender or that they are the good guys who “come in peace,” and a “little, white lie” is not so bad. “The Great White Hope” is a white contender for a boxing championship held by a Negro. Their hope is that he wins back the championship for their own people. “White man’s burden,” from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, refers to the alleged duty of white peoples to manage the affairs of the less-developed nonwhite peoples. I guess it is considered a burden for affluent whites to help those who are less-fortunate than they.
Some other exceptions for white may be the white feather, which is a symbol for cowardice. Something said to be “white bread” or “vanilla” is dull, boring and uninteresting. A white elephant is an object of little or no value. White slavery, which is enforced prostitution, is not a favored activity except by its promoters and those who benefit by it. And “whited sepulcher,” a Biblical reference, pertains to a person who outwardly appears to be virtuous and holy but is inwardly corrupt or wicked, like some hypocrites.
I can think of only eight exceptions where black has a favorable connotation. “Black gold” is another name for valuable, much-coveted petroleum, the highest rank to attain in karate is a black belt, and when a business is profitable, its financial report is said to be “in the black.” The original “Black Friday” referred to a financial crisis in 1869, but now it has come to refer to the day after Thanksgiving, when many merchants make their first profits of the year with the Christmas shopping boom, thus bringing their businesses well into the black. Visa has now come out with an exclusive “Black Card,” which is made of stainless steel and has special benefits and privileges attached to it. Similarly, Dannon’s Oikos Greek yogurt now has a Black Cup variety that is so wonderfully special, as it contains no sweeteners and no fat (and probably no flavor either!).
TV comedian Soupy Sales had two sidekick puppets on his kiddie show, more than a half-a-century ago, named White Fang and Black Tooth. All we ever saw of them on screen, however, was a giant, furry paw. But in this case, Black Tooth was touted as “the sweetest dog in the United States,“ while White Fang was “the meanest dog in the U.S.” I expect that the producers did that on purpose, and I commend them for it. Then there is the beloved, although quasi-oxymoronic, literary horse name, “Black Beauty.“ A “black moon” is merely a darkened lunar phase, but not a bad thing, and the two occupations that don’t have a negative connotation in themselves are blacksmith and bootblack.
A little girl, attending a wedding for the first time, whispers to her mother, “Mommy, why is the bride dressed all in white?” “Because white is the color of happiness, Sweetie, and today is the happiest day of her life,” her mother explains, trying to keep it simple. The child thinks for a moment, and then asks, “So why is the groom wearing black?”
I believe that the only way for a white person truly to understand what it is like to be a person-of-color in this white racist society, is to be one, that is, to walk in his shoes for a time, but that is something that very few are inclined or willing to do. Reporter John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me, did it in the ’50s, and others have done it more recently. In the 1964 film, based on the book, Griffin’s character, played by James Whitmore, after he has darkened his skin with some kind of pills and skin treatment, really learns his lesson in race relations. He isn’t allowed to be himself but has to act and talk a certain way and relate to his own people differently. Surprisingly for him, he receives nothing but kindness, courtesy and helpfulness from every black person that he encounters during his journey of a few months. But from his fellow whites, all he ever gets is intimidation, condescension, abuse and cruel insults. Before too long, he becomes defensive, very bitter and distrustful toward his own people. He soon loses all self-respect and even the sense of his true identity.
Most of them just don’t get it. I wish that every single white man, woman and child in America (especially the politicians and law enforcement personnel) could be made black for just one day and go about their normal routine. That’s all it would take for them to know. And not everybody at once but one person at a time, so that they can experience the singling out and the solitary isolation as well. I’ll bet you that a lot of things would change in a hurry. I include the children in my little experiment so that they may be aware of the situation while they are young and impressionable, before they become indoctrinated and set in their racist ways.
One young white man, who appeared on “Oprah,” submitted to the same treatment as Griffin because he wanted to see for himself what it was really like. He said that his black friends were always complaining about racist attitudes, and he thought that they were exaggerating and that things couldn’t be as bad as they were making them out to be. Well, he found out first-hand that it was worse than he ever imagined. He had planned on doing his experiment for a whole month, but after just one week, he was ready to give up. Oprah made the point, “I’ve been black every day for 40 years. You were black for only a week and couldn’t take it.”
This guy and Griffin, too, both thought that the South would be the most appropriate place to do their research. I guess they didn’t realize that they could have found out the same thing in New York City or anywhere else up North. In fact, it might have been better for them to go to many different regions of the country and abroad to do a comparative study, to see how blacks are regarded in places other than just the South. By no means is the South the only place in this country where racism prominently prevails. In fact, the South just may have it more together racially, in some respects, than some Northern locales. And I say that from personal experience. See my blog, On the Road with Cliff for the enlightening details.
In Soul Man (1986) C. Thomas Howell made himself black in order to take advantage of a Harvard scholarship opportunity. Well, some of the other white students give him such a hard time, it becomes more trouble than it’s worth. You will note that Harvard is a Northern school, by the way. When Tommy’s professor, played by James Earl Jones, discovers his charade, he comments that at least the young man learned what it is like to be black. Tommy replies, “No, Sir, I don’t know what it’s really like, because when I’ve had enough, I can change back. It’s not the same thing, is it?” He’s right. We don’t have that option. We’re stuck with the way we are.
On that same “Oprah” show was a young black man who found out that white men are treated differently than blacks, when he tried the reverse procedure. The lesson learned from these experiments and trans-color impersonations is that their treatment by others is not based on actual reality. I contend that reality is a state of mind. Those white guys were treated as black people would be, but not because they were really black but because they were perceived to be black. It’s the same with fag bashers. It doesn’t matter if you are really gay or not, as long as they think that you are, you’re going to get the same treatment as they would give a gay person. That is what I find so irrational about any kind of prejudice. We are all regarded according to other people’s perceptions of us, rather than who or what we really are.
On one episode of “Touched by an Angel” the angel character of Monica, played by Caucasian actor Roma Downey, is turned black for a short period to teach her (and the viewing audience) an important lesson. She is in the South somewhere and is being chased by some “good ol’ boys” and is about to be lynched when instead of “Stop those men from killing me,” or “Take me out of harm‘s way,” she prays to her boss, God, “Please (to) make me white again!” “He” does comply just in time, but Monica gets the message. “Oh. I guess that request doesn’t work for real black people in that situation, does it?” She tells her fellow angel, Tess (Della Reese), later that a white person in that same situation would never have wished to be black. At that moment Monica thought that being white would solve all her problems. What she should have prayed for was that God fix the minds of all racial bigots in the world, teach them tolerance and to eradicate forever the notion of white supremacy in all humankind, instead of wishing to have her color changed. Color should never be an issue. It’s people’s attitudes that need to be addressed.
Besides black and white, you must also be aware of the symbolic use of other colors in our everyday lives. Different colors stand for different things and ideas. Among other things, the color green stands for inexperience, tranquility, jealousy and as of late, environmental awareness. Yellow stands for cowardice and sensationalism. Blue means sadness, melancholy, both Puritanism and indecency. Purple denotes royalty, profanity and an elaborate literary style, while red is suggestive of fire, rage and Communism. It was comic actor Martin Lawrence who hipped me to the following, in a scene from Boomerang (1992), when he pointed out that the game of Pool (or Pocket Billiards) has racist overtones. I will elaborate on Lawrence’s explanation.
First of all, the playing surface is green, or brown in some cases, which, in this particular instance, could represent the earth. The cue ball, which is white, is the main honcho. It controls the table and all the action of the game. In effect, it’s the Ruler of the Earth, okay? Now, the white ball’s function is to get rid of all the colored balls in its presence by knocking them off the face of the earth. Actually, the colored balls are merely a diversion for the white cue ball, because what it is really after is the black ball, in particular! And once “he” has conquered it, no, annihilated it, the game is over, with the almighty white ball remaining all alone on the table, ready to take on the next group of “coloreds” that invade his yard, which the green table could also represent.
The game is set up so that the white ball is always in charge, not any of the other balls. Another coincidence? I don’t think so. Why does it have to be the white ball in particular running the show? A solid black ball, or any other color for that matter, could just as well be the cue ball. There are no accidents. I’ll bet you that the inventor of the game, most likely some white gentleman, since it began in Italy, knew exactly what he was doing when he was making up the rules, even if it was a subconscious effort on his part. He was following his natural, white supremacist proclivities. It’s “symbolic racism” at its most blatant to me, however subtle to others.
And don’t tell me that the people who play Pool are not subliminally influenced by it. If TV-viewing and gratuitous violence can have a subconscious effect on our youth and the rest of society, as many now believe, then I think that repeated exposure to Pool can certainly instill in one the subconscious message of white supremacy. This holds a personal irony for me, though, because “Pool” was the answer to the question that won me $32,000 on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in 2003. By the way, and I ask this rhetorically, in the game of Chess that uses black and white playing pieces, why is it white who always moves first?
This type of disguised, symbolic racism is evident in our U.S. currency as well. Since, prior to Barack Obama, the country has always been run by white men, it would follow that our money should reflect that fact. It’s no coincidence there either. All our bills and coins have pictures of white men on them exclusively, excluding the now out-of-print Indian-head nickel. Now check out the penny. It’s a different color than all the other coins. And what color is it? Coppery, dark, “colored,” if you will. It has the least value of all the coins. Even if you have a bunch of them together, they are still worth less than the same number of any of the silver coins. People tend to disregard pennies and discard them. When lying on the street, people will just ignore them and walk over them. Some people won’t even have them in their possession, and some will retain them only to make small change. Like when someone makes a purchase that comes to $5.04, for example, and all they have is a five and a twenty-dollar bill. But they just happen to have four pennies to keep from having to break a whole twenty. So the pennies end up serving as “The Help.” Okay?!
Who is old enough to remember when Johnson & Johnson came out with those “flesh-colored” Band-Aid bandages? And Crayola even put out a color crayon called “Flesh.” Whose flesh did they use as a prototype? They certainly don’t match the skin tones of anybody in my family! That just shows their obvious disregard for nonwhites. A racially-sensitive manufacturer right away would have come up with a non-color-specific product, that is, a clear bandage that would adapt to everybody’s skin tone, regardless of their particular pigmentation. I learned that Crayola apparently got the word or became enlightened, at least, and subsequently changed the name of their Flesh crayon to Peach.
There is a form of pervasive racism in our society that is most prevalent and unavoidable, due to its intentional deliberateness. As I said earlier, white people take so much for granted, just given their mere being. I will admit that things are noticeably different these days, as far as exclusivity goes. Finally, some ad agencies and casting directors seem to be making a real effort to feature ethnic actors and models other than just white ones all the time. But all the while I was growing up, it certainly wasn’t that way. The racist campaign was very definite and undisputed.
Try to imagine what it’s like for People-of-Color—and I am including your Asians and dark Latinos here—to be part of a culturally-diverse society but our very existence to be constantly unacknowledged, when virtually every visual, humanoid image that we encountered in life, whether it be real or fictional, was, and still is in most cases, a Caucasian one. It was evident in newspaper and magazine ads, all comic strip and cartoon characters, every traditional fairy tale and nursery rhyme character (except Little Black Sambo), every model in most mail-order catalogs, every billboard and store mannequin, pictures on cereal boxes, sheet music and album covers (even if the performing artists contained thereof were other than white!), commercial toys and games, most dolls and action figures, the play figure in Operation, the Visible Man (and Woman), the characters in Clue, even the face cards in every set of playing cards that I have ever seen, most greeting cards and picture postcards (drawings as well as photographs), stamps and holiday postal seals, all currency, the faces on pinball machines, video and computer games, the Gerber Baby, Mr. Clean, the Quaker guy, Captain Morgan, Cap’n Crunch, the Brawny Towel Man, the Arm and Hammer logo, Betty Crocker, the Morton Salt Girl, Little Debbie, Swiss Miss, the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid, Mrs. Butterworth (although the human-shaped bottle container is brown glass, the commercials depict her as a white woman), Keebler Elves, People Crackers, Superman (and every other superhero), all angels, Howdy Doody, Father Time, Cupid, Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, Adam and Eve, Jesus Christ, God. Why does everybody have to be white?!
There are only a few exceptions, though racist some of them are. The most famous black commercial images are, of course, Aunt Jemima (pancake products) and Uncle Ben (rice), my objection to which I have already cited (see my Walt Disney article). But then, why isn’t our Uncle Sam black? Because Uncle Sam symbolizes the good old U.S. of A., and we all know that America, by all accounts, is a White country. Isn’t it? Aunt Jemima, by the way, has changed her logo image at least by losing the “’do rag” that she used to wear on her head.
Incidentally, it is not common knowledge that the original “Aunt Jemima” was a white woman named Tess Gardella, who gained fame in vaudeville performing in blackface! She played Queenie, a black character, in the original production of Show Boat on Broadway in 1927. There were a number of available and capable black actresses that could have done the part, but they chose to cast a white woman instead. Maybe they were concerned about our feelings. Calling a white person a nigger, even in play-acting, wouldn’t be the same as constantly saying it to a black actor. See my article entitled, Black History, Part 3: Racism via Show Business. Here are a few old commercial ads that I have come across, which are probably discontinued by now.
For that Dixie Boy ad, I appreciate their depicting a nice-looking, well-groomed black youth eating a grapefruit. I am so glad it isn’t a watermelon! There is at present Stubb’s Harvest (canned vegetables) in Austin, Texas, which uses a picture of its founder and manufacturer, a C.B. Stubblefield, a black man who resembles my own father, on the can. He would probably be an “Uncle” too, if whites had had their way about it. And Sylvia’s, a famous Harlem soul food restaurant, markets canned goods as well, with proprietor Sylvia Wood’s picture on the label.
The biggest surprise of all, however, was the promo ad card that I received in the mail from Gap (clothing) some years ago, which chose as its picture model a good-looking, dark-skinned, Afro-American man. Now, why did I have to wait 53 years to see that?! It’s been even longer for those who are older than I am. I am so impressed by their decision to do that, I would even shop there. Another similar ad was in a more recent TV Guide issue for Wrangler denims. And I see that Luvs is now putting a picture of a black baby model on their diaper packages. After all, black people have babies and buy diapers, too, don’t they?
But that is only eleven examples, compared to the many thousands of Caucasian ads and images that we all have encountered in life and still come across on a daily basis. Even now, for example, when I click onto a commercial website, which is accessible to everyone in the entire world with a computer or smartphone, I always encounter Caucasian representatives. “Let’s see now. Who should we use to represent this web page?” “Well, somebody white, preferably. I mean, who else?” I get so sick of blonde, white bitches always trying to sell me something. When this particular image is arbitrarily chosen over every other kind of person in the world, we have to look at it as being racist, white supremacy, I’m sorry. Also consider that out of those eleven aforementioned not-white examples, only two are female, and one of them, Aunt Jemima, is the old Jim Crow, dark, non-sexy, mammy figure—so there’s your sexist racism, to boot!
Although one can find them in basic black, but probably as a belated afterthought or special request, most of all dildos, inflatable dolls and other so-called “marital aids” (sex toys) are Caucasian “flesh-colored.” It’s as if white people are the only ones who employ them or presume that even all those who do use them, fantasize about or consider having sex only with other white people. But even that suggests that the racist designers of these items would prefer that their white consumers always commingle only with their own kind, even when they are fantasizing. Otherwise, they would have given us a choice of colors right off the bat.
It always used to bother me, even as a kid growing up, when I used to watch “Miss America” and the other annual beauty pageants on TV, that there were never any women-of-color competing. I didn’t know if it was because of discrimination in the industry or because no women-of-color ever competed in the contests. In the Miss Universe Pageants, for instance, which is already a misrepresentation, since the beauties from other worlds are not even represented. Where are Miss Venus, for example, Miss Hidalgo and Miss Iapetus? The contestants are touted as “the most beautiful girls in the world (!)” so the impression I got from that is that you have to be very young and very white to be considered at all beautiful. And anyway, the winners of these contests might not even be the most beautiful there are in this world. You have to be in it to win it. Maybe the most beautiful woman has never competed in any pageant.
There are over 40 countries alone that make up Africa, plus the Indian and island nations of the world, and with the 50 states from which to choose, up until just a few years ago, I don’t remember ever seeing a single dark face up there. I don’t think that it was because there were no black competitors. If the producers had wanted any, they could have recruited some. Did they think that colored people couldn’t possibly be considered beautiful? So beauty is exclusively a white thing then, and a white woman’s thing at that! It’s as if black people were not acknowledged as being attractive, at least by some white people’s standards.
My mother told me once that when she was working at Wilson Bros. clothing factory in the ’50s, she overheard one of her white co-workers say this about another employee, “You know, she’s actually rather pretty, to be colored.” So, they think they have a monopoly on attractiveness, and worth assessment, too, apparently!
Armistead Maupin relates in his memoirs that his well-intentioned, southern-raised mother, in her attempt to educate her son about race relations, when Armistead once referred to someone as a “colored lady,” she corrected him gently. “No, darling, she’s a colored woman. There are no colored ladies. Only white ladies are ladies.” Oh, I see. Thank you for setting him straight, Ms. Maupin.
When they finally did let black women participate for the first time, look at who they got—Vanessa L. Williams and Suzette Charles, both of whom are so light-skinned that from a distance they appear to be white anyway. The pageant officials can say that they have integrated the proceedings when they really haven’t. Your Miss 1990, Debbye Turner, is also a light-skinned Negress. Until they started featuring a wide variety of different skin tones, including your dark shades, nothing had changed, in my opinion.
Well, I am pleased to report that things have changed as of late, as more women-of-color are now winning the crowns in the major beauty competitions. I haven’t watched the telecasts of these pageants in a long time, and I have not researched all the contests that there are, as they occur everywhere, all over the world, not just here. But I did get wind of the most recent winners. In the last five years, we have had three black Miss Americas–Caressa Cameron in 2010, Nina Davuluri in 2014 and Nia Franklin 2019. In addition, Agbani Dareon from Nigeria was Miss World 2001 and 2019’s Miss Universe is Zozibini Tunzi from South Africa. So, things are improving, even though it took 90 years for them finally to come around!
At least ad execs are now making a conscious effort to feature ethnic variety in their casting choices. But how about when they place a black person in a certain setting, sometimes unlikely, just to be able to say, “Look, we got one!”? They go so far sometimes that it comes off as phony and contrived. I came across a travel brochure a while ago which made the choice to include an attractive Afro-American couple with small child in a tropical beach setting. My impression was that I appreciate the thought, but black folks aren’t the ones obsessed with the beach and sunbathing—y’all are! And to add to the contrivance, the models they picked were very light-skinned. Would they really be lounging on a beach in Florida? They certainly don’t need tans! I suppose it was thought that they would be more believable than a dark-skinned family doing it. You see, it’s still about color. It’s like what I said about the black Miss Americas who aren’t really “black.” Until they start implementing dark-skinned representation and more than one example in a visual image, then all it is still is tokenism.
Due to their lack of any real color, white folks have many colorful expressions that we blacks cannot relate to. Mark Twain is accredited with this racist comment when he said, “Humans are the only living species with the ability to blush, or have the need to.” What humans was he referring to, if not the few fair-skinned whities in the world? Since I can’t blush, you can’t tell when I’m embarrassed, not that I ever am anyway. Nobody has ever said to me, “Ha-ha, Cliff, is your face red!” or “I just love your rosy cheeks!” I don’t get tan lines. You’ll never see my varicose veins or my white knuckles! How could you tell if I was beaten black and blue, if I had jaundice or had eaten too many carrots? If I held my breath indefinitely, I still would never be able to turn blue. I have never been accused of looking pale. ‘My dear, I absolutely blanched when I saw her!’ and ‘Say, I’m just tickled pink!’ are things you’ll never hear me say—in seriousness, anyway.
My point in all of this is to illustrate that all those expressions and conditions which have to do with bodily color are suggestively racist, as they apply specifically to white people alone, and when any of them are used, it’s obvious to whom is being referred without saying so. The irony is that in most instances, black people and other non-Caucasian sects stay pretty much the same skin color all of their lives, while the whites are the ones who go through a myriad of shades and hues, depending on their particular situation, activities, mood, emotions, age and skin applications. So then, why are we the ones referred to as “colored people”?!
In fact, every person’s skin, including so-called white people, is some shade of something—even an albino, as white is a color, too. So in actuality, we are all colored people, which means that we all are the same, as far as our humanity goes. We are just all of different colors. There is a makeup application product on the market called True Colors and utilized by Caucasian women, according to the TV ads, which offers 33 different shades, but all are some shade of brown in varying degrees, none of which are white or any variation of white.
That again points out the absurdity and pointlessness of considering some skin tones to be better than or superior to others. People don’t use a color standard with regard to their pets or plants and flowers, which are living things. They don’t consider a white dog to be better than a black or brown one, for example. A dog is just a dog. Too, a white rose is not better than a black orchid. People’s preferences lie with the kind, breed, species or variety of plants and animals they choose, not because any one color is in any way superior to another. So why should it be any different with regard to people’s varying skin tones?
But racist attitudes often transcend color. I think that it is simply a matter of Caucasian people wanting to set themselves apart from others and establish some sort of exclusivity and hierarchy. So at some point in history they declared themselves to be “white” and everyone else in the world to be “colored.“ I just wonder, though, who made the universal decision that White would and should predominate over everybody else and then brainwash so many people to go along with that notion?
A quite satirical point was made in Pleasantville (1998). For those who have not seen the film, written and directed by Gary Ross, it’s about a teenage brother and sister (played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) who magically get transported to the set of a fictional, ‘50s TV sitcom of the same name via their own television set. Since the setting is before there was color, the siblings as well as everybody and everything are all in black-and-white, as they would appear on the TV screen. In the story the stunned siblings subsequently settle into their surreal surroundings by instilling a sense of free will into the other characters, who until then were all stuck within the redundant confines of the show. As each character begins to realize their true desires, they one by one change into full color. All the citizenry of Pleasantville are Caucasian—after all, this is the fifties—so when someone gains their real color, they are still white but now they’re “colored,” you see.
When there are only a few initial changelings, they are subject to discrimination and ostracism by their friends and even family members. Tobey is found on the street with a girl that has changed into color, by an as-of-yet-unchanged boy who disdainfully alludes to Tobey’s “colored girlfriend.” The people eventually resort to segregation when at a town meeting the unchanged whites could sit in the main level of the building, while the colored whites have to sit in the balcony with the others of their kind. There are public signs put up around town declaring, “No Coloreds.“ This little ploy even divides married couples and relatives. Things get back to normal only when the entire town becomes full color, therefore everyone is the same again. This episode again points out the absurdity of color discrimination with humans. Maybe someday everyone in the world will get the point.
There was a grade school experiment someplace where a teacher wanted to teach her students about the irrationality of human prejudice and discrimination. So she divided her all-white class according to their eye color—blue-eyed children versus brown-eyed children. By giving the blue-eyed children positive traits—they were nicer, smarter, better-looking, etc.—and the brown-eyed students negative ones, she caused great dissension among the two groups. All the blue-eyed kids began to think that they were superior to the brown-eyed kids, merely because they were told that they were. Classmates who had been best friends were now bitter enemies, and the brown-eyes were being persecuted and ostracized by the blues.
Oprah Winfrey did a similar experiment on her show one day, unbeknownst to her guests. She divided her studio audience members according to their eye color, but she made the brown-eyed people to be better than those with blue eyes. The brown-eyed group got special, differential treatment, while the blue-eyed group were either ignored, mistreated and disrespected by Oprah’s staff. Later during the show, when the disgruntled blue-eyes began to air their complaints about how they were being treated, it began to dawn on them what was really going on. They heard things said about themselves that they had said about other people at one time or another during their life, and vice versa. I think most of them got the message.
These exercises certainly pointed out the absurdity and unfairness of holding against each other how someone is born (like eye and skin color), things that we have no normal control over. I can understand then why we have white supremacist attitudes. In the same way, white children grow up thinking that they are superior to blacks (and everybody else) because somebody along the way apparently told them that they were. Why else would they think that? Caucasian babies don’t come into the world with the inherent notion of, “I’m almighty white, therefore the best, and don’t you forget it.” Children don’t initially understand racial distinctions until they are programmed to think a certain way, by their personal associations and by society at large.
And there always has to be an underdog. I am reminded of the Cantina scene in the original Star Wars (1977), now subtitled A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker enters the bar with his robot companions, C-3PO and R2-D2, one of the bartenders yells out to them: “Hey! We don’t serve their kind here. They’re droids. They’ll have to wait outside. We don’t want them here.“ Now the joint is filled with various specimens of other-worldly creatures from all over the known universe, and they still had to pick out one, single segment of society to discriminate against. Writer/director George Lucas is making a not-too-subtle social statement.
Is there any ethnic group in the world that has not been persecuted, mistreated, victimized, suffered some form of servitude or annihilated by the Caucasian race? They don’t seem to like anybody, including themselves! They don’t even get along with others of their own kind. Check out such films as Braveheart (1995), The Patriot (2000) and The Gangs of New York (2002) to see hordes of white men fighting and killing each other. The American Civil War had white Southerners fighting with white Northerners—in some cases, friends and family members on opposite sides. Various family feuds are no different. The Hatfields and the McCoys as well as the Capulets and the Montagues were all white folks. The white Romans hated the white Christians. We have your Irish Catholics who hate the Irish Protestants. Even in this country, during the mass Irish immigration to New York in the middle 1800s, Irish people, who were mostly Catholic, were treated almost as badly as the blacks of that time and were held in the lowest esteem by their European counterparts. Now I ask you, how can you get any whiter than a native Irishman?
And let’s not forget the Jews! As far as I am concerned, Jewish people are white, too, no matter what these anti-Semites and hate groups, such as the Klan and the Nazis and the Skinheads and whoever else, think about them. And we all know how they have been treated by other whites. This is one of the placards displayed at a Nazi rally: “Hitler was God.” They have said that the only mistake that Hitler made was that he didn’t finish the job of wiping out all the Jews. How can anyone support such hateful rhetoric? They complain that the Jews own all the big corporations and the media—the movie studios, the TV stations, the newspapers, the publishing companies. Well, so what? Somebody has to do those jobs. Why not the Jews? Nobody gave them anything. They have to work for everything that they have. Don’t begrudge them or resent them for being ambitious and enterprising. Get up off your lazy butts and start your own business!
So then, in order to alleviate their guilt, I suppose, and not accept any responsibility whatsoever, these postwar Nazi sympathizers have tried to convince the world that the Holocaust never happened. The Jews made it all up to gain special attention or something. Then tell me, where are all those 10 million missing people? They must have all evacuated Europe voluntarily and are still hiding out in uncharted Antarctica, perhaps? But why did they leave the surviving members of their families behind? Well, at least most of them got to take a nice shower before they left. I mean, denial is one thing, but idiotic denial is another. A sick joke of the day might have been: “Did you hear about the new German gas oven? … It seats twenty.”
But then, the Jews, too, have had ongoing conflicts with other Semitic sects just like themselves. At one time it was the Philistines, now it’s the Palestinians. Even Polish people (and again, you can’t get much whiter than that) for a long time have been the butt of cruel, demeaning jokes, created by other whites. It even became a fad movement in the sixties. Examples: Why does a Polock carry a turd in his back pocket? … For identification. How can you distinguish the groom at a Polish wedding? … He is the one wearing the clean bowling shirt. What does NAACP stand for? … Negroes Are Actually Colored Polocks. That’s right, insult both of us when you can, why don’t you?! But even that’s not as bad as what former Mississippi governor Paul Johnson publicly said the letters stood for: “Niggers, Apes, Alligators, Coons and Possums.” Then later, the Stupid Polock jokes were replaced with Dumb Blonde jokes, which all exemplify the naïve stupidity of blonde-haired white women, whom at other times have been socially revered. So you see, hardly anyone is exempt from Caucasian defamation.
A particularly provocative period in history when panicky, white people practiced paranoid persecution against other whites (and women at that) was during the Salem, Massachusetts witch hunts in 1692. Innocent women, girls and some men, too, without any proof whatsoever, were accused of being witches and sentenced to death. But even if any of those victims had been real witches, so what? They didn’t deserve to be executed. Witchcraft is a personal belief or religion. It’s been the same thing with other religious chauvinism over the centuries. Whoever does not follow the predominate faith of the region is deemed a heretic and must be put to death? What’s up with that? And these folks were Puritans, people who considered themselves fundamentalist Christians. Yet they indiscriminately murdered their friends and neighbors on no real evidence of any wrongdoing on the accused part. So they were no more than a modern day, vigilante lynch mob. How pecksniffian is that? (There’s a word for you.)
The German Nazis employed a similar campaign during WWII while they were rounding up members of various ethnic and social groups for encampment. It was especially problematic for the male homosexuals or those perceived to be thus. An innocent embrace or mere touch between two men, even a furtive glance was construed to be deviant behavior. Even if someone is not guilty of something, it is next to impossible to expunge an accusation.
Another notable time was 1951 when they began a campaign to ferret out all the American Communists, especially targeting the Hollywood film industry and blacklisting innocent people for no apparent reason. In actuality though, the objection to Communism was merely a convenient smokescreen for anti-Semitism and people of color. There was a manifesto published which spelled out the reasons why we all should be against Communism. Some of the claims made: “The Communists have existed for thousands of years, they are non-Christian, in fact, they persecuted and killed Jesus; they have taken over American art and culture by infiltrating the Hollywood industry and the entertainment media.” Excuse me? Are they talking about Communism or Judaism here? That would explain why most of the artists, writers and performers who were blacklisted were of the Jewish persuasion, or friends of Jews. People could exercise and justify their anti-Jew attitudes all in the name of anti-Communism.
Many black entertainers, too, were put on the “black”-list. Anyone who spoke out against racism or attempted to further the cause of civil rights for their people were deemed to be Communists, as if they needed an excuse. Besides Paul Robeson, other black entertainers put on the list were, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, actors Canada Lee, Rosetta LeNoire, Frederick O’Neal and jazz pianist Hazel Scott, who was married to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at the time. My friend and colleague, Bob DeCormier, who was neither black nor Jewish, was also on the list, probably because of his close association with Belafonte at the time. The politics-minded blacks and supportive whites, too, actually did get involved with the Communists, Socialists and other radical groups, because they were the only ones who were doing anything about segregation and other racist practices.
To accuse someone of being a Commie, they didn’t need any proof, only circumstantial evidence, and not even that most of the time. It was the same tactic that is used for crime suspects. Just pick somebody, anybody, and build your case against them. Just as it was in Salem, it became the convenient, perfect means for people to take revenge on their enemies and get rid of people they didn’t like. One actor doesn’t like another one, so he gives the guy’s name to the Committee, who then grills the second guy into providing other names for their cause until almost everybody is under suspicion.
Some would be offered a deal where they would be let off the hook if they gave up somebody else in their place. Director Elia Kazan, for one, did it to save his own ass. Friends of a person-of-interest give him a birthday party. So everyone who attends the party, as well as everybody whom he knows, must be a fellow Commie, right? You know, guilt by association. Who would willingly hang out with a known Commie unless they were one themself? It got to be where almost nobody was exempt. Alibis were useless because nobody was being accused of doing something at one particular time, only of being affiliated with an unfavorable political party. How can you defend your own beliefs and why should you even have to?
At the end of The Front (1976) when Woody Allen was being grilled by the Subcommittee to admit his own Communist involvement, he told them all to fuck themselves and walked out of the room! That’s what they all should have done, instead of giving in to those bullying scumbags. Unfortunately, that little tactic did not work for everyone. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had to serve some prison time for not cooperating with the Committee. The charge was “contempt of Congress.”
In 1953, when his own patriotic loyalties were called into question, playwright Arthur Miller rose to the occasion brilliantly with his analogous play The Crucible, about the Salem witch trials, which is a direct parallel to this other infamous period of American history. Even if McCarthy and his Committee didn’t actually put anyone to death, they did aim to destroy those people’s careers and squelch their livelihoods. What a harsh and unfair punishment to impose on innocent people where they are not allowed to work. Are they going to go after the Democrats next? The Libertarians? The Shriners?
So what if someone is a Communist? How is that anybody else’s business? Communism as a mere philosophy doesn’t condone hate or harm anybody. In fact, the American Communist agenda is supportive of all of the positive ideals of our society, like social equality, and are against discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, unemployment and war. It was the Communist Party that provided the defense for the wrongly-convicted Scottsboro Boys, for example. They are not trying to overthrow our Government, of which they are often accused. On the contrary, they just want to make the U.S. a better place to live. Can we say the same for those radical Republicans, for one, or their cohorts, the Tea Party members, who perpetuate war and are constantly infringing upon our civil rights? Why aren’t these same political chauvinists as gung-ho about exposing the American Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan, for example? Those people commit actual crimes.
Maybe their vehement objection to Communism is that they don’t want things to change for the better in this country. That’s why the negative social issues have not been eradicated. They don’t want social equality with regard to civil rights and economic class distinction. In case you are not aware, Abolitionists were regarded in exactly the same way when they spoke out against slavery in this country. So you might even deem me to be a Communist sympathizer. Well, maybe I am. But, so what? Who am I hurting? I would contend that someone who is out to overthrow our Government is most likely not a Communist.
So you see, white people always have to have somebody to put down, preferably, someone different than themselves, but not necessarily. They are just as content turning against others just like themselves, and they can always find something to get on each other about. In fact, and this applies not only to whites, in places where all the people are ethnically the same, they will use social class distinction and/or financial status to distinguish themselves. The nobility does not associate with peasants and the “common people,” for example, and your other people of wealth and position tend to look down on their servants and hired help. In Afghanistan it’s men against the women.
Even People-of-Color have been known to create factions based on their own skin tones (lighter versus darker) and the quality of their hair (straight = good, nappy = bad). The Negroes in my family and community were of all shades, and it never occurred to me to base anyone’s worth or likability on their particular skin tone. I truly have no color prejudices. I regard darker-skinned individuals the same as I do the lighter-skinned ones, but that apparently is not the case with others of the Negroid race. Dark-skinned blacks are made to feel inferior to light-skinned blacks. They are less attractive, less smart and less trustworthy and treated with less respect by some, for example.
Some situations utilized the “paper bag test,” where a casting director, for instance, would take a brown paper bag and put it up next to the face of the person who is auditioning for a show, and if they were darker than the bag, they usually would be rejected. Blues singer Bessie Smith lost a job that way, so when she later was putting together her own show and was auditioning people, she took the other tactic and required that they needed to be darker than the bag to be hired! She didn’t want any “high-yella bitches” in her show!
So maybe you share my wonderment and confusion about the ongoing animosity between the Tutsis and the Hutu tribes of Africa. These peoples are basically the same in color and appearance–they speak the same language, come from the same place and are of the same religion. But one tribe, it might have been the Hutu, got it into their heads one day that they were somehow better than the Tutsi. When the Hutu President of Rwanda was assassinated in April 1994, the Tutsis were blamed for it, although it has never been established that they had anything to do with it. But thus began a retaliation tactic by the Hutu militia forces, when they proceeded to massacre up to a million Tutsi citizens. So then, of course, the Tutsis had to fight back, and on and on it goes. I don’t know how they can tell each other apart, however–although the Tutsi may be generally taller in stature, but everyone is not the same height anyway–just as I don’t know how the warring Irish Catholics and Protestants discern one another. Check out my relating of Dr. Seuss’ story of The Sneeches in my Public Scrutiny and Self-Awareness blog for another instance of senseless discrimination.
What I find curious is that many whites don’t seem to be satisfied with their natural skin color. Why else would they spend much of their waking hours, especially in warmer climes, subjecting themselves to the blazing, radiant, carcinogenic sun, trying to darken their skins? In addition to that, they use sunlamps and spend billions of dollars every year on tanning products. You all seem to be suffering from “tanorexia pigmentosa.” I believe that’s why white folks age so much faster than we do. It’s that sun drying and wrinkling them up like that. Melanin (the pigment that makes black folks the colors we are) is good for the complexion. It counteracts much of those ultraviolet rays that are so bad for your skin. They now know about the bad effects of prolonged exposure to the sun, but would rather risk melanoma and other skin cancers for the sake of that much-desired tan.
So instead of giving it up or at least cutting down, they have come up with all these new sun-blockers and skin protection remedies. There is a TV commercial, apparently directed towards white people, which implores them to “Use Bain de Soleil (sunscreen) to protect your beautiful skin.” The sun has been there all the time; they never needed protection before. And if their skin is already so beautiful, why do they need to change the color of it and apply all kinds of emollients to it all the time?
There are even products on the market now that allow you to give yourself a tan indoors without the use of the sun. Endless Summer is a cream that contains a coloring agent, and there is one that you merely spray on your skin to darken it. Well, now! I thought that to be white was something that we all are supposed to aspire to. So why are you always trying to be darker than you are? It’s even a contest with some of you. “Look, Cliff, I’m almost as dark as you!” they will proudly announce to me. ‘Well, I’m so glad for you, Girlfriend. You keep right on trying, you hear?’
I don’t blame them, though, for being envious of our colors. Who wants to be colorless white? Apparently, you Caucasians don’t want to be, judging from your constant preoccupation with tanning, What is the Ideal Man for the majority of white women? “Tall, dark and handsome,” they request. Why not very pale instead of dark?
One example of thoughtless, clueless racism was when actor Caroline Rhea was on Rosie O’Donnell’s show one day endorsing some sunscreen products, and she said, without thinking, “It’s Memorial Day now, and everybody is going to be out getting a tan.” I immediately thought, Everybody? Who is everybody? Rhea’s comment was racist in the fact that she was referring only to the few pale whities like herself and disregarding all the many millions of people in the world who have no interest whatsoever in getting a tan or need one. Don’t include everybody in your own personal activities and attitudes. Speak for yourself. “It’s Memorial Day now, and I, for one, with my pale, white ass, will be out trying to get a tan.”
Here is an example of Caucasian hypocrisy with their current attitude of political correctness and feigned sensitivity toward our people when one of them dares to wear dark makeup in public in their attempt to impersonate a famous black person. Actor Ted Danson did it once on a date with Whoopi Goldberg and received a lot of flak for it. Billy Crystal was criticized when he did his Sammy Davis Jr. imitation in so-called “blackface” during an Academy Awards telecast. Even a white grade-school student was given the business when he chose to honor his idol Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a school play with dark makeup on his face. But it’s the whites who make all the fuss about it. We blacks, at least not I, are not offended by it. Those individuals didn’t do what they did with any malicious intent. They are only actors playing a part, like the white opera divas who play the Ethiopian princess Aida, which no one seems to mind.
The protesters are trying to link that gesture with the minstrel show conventions of long ago. That was a whole different thing, as what they did back then was totally unnecessary and carried with it a certain degree of ridicule, disrespect and exploitation. The people they depicted were generic and non-specific, a symbol rather than a real impersonation. Also, the makeup used nowadays is only shades of brown, not at all comparable to the actual black-colored makeup of the past. So it’s all right for whites to darken their faces via natural tanning or even artificial means when it’s for their own personal reasons, but they shouldn’t do it to play a character as part of their work or tribute to a specific person. Such hypocrisy! You bleeding-heart liberals need to lighten up, if you’ll pardon the expression.
The objection should be when a Caucasian actor is hired to portray an ethnicity other than their own, when there are always actors who could play the part authentically. The argument on the other side of the coin, from the whites’ perspective, is that actors should be allowed to play any character, regardless of their ethnic makeup or special qualities. That’s true, ideally, but the fact of the matter is, there are far more parts available to whites than anything else, and they can always find work, whereas parts written specifically for non-whites are not as abundant. Allow only black actors to portray Othello, for example, which they, in fact, have done as of late. Both Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier looked like white men in blackface, when they played the character back in 1952 and 1965, respectively. If the character is of mixed race, get an actor of the same mix to play them. There are several to choose from: Halle Berry, Giancarlo Esposito, Jasmine Guy, Boris Kodjoe, Lenny Kravitz, Lonette McKee, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Maya Rudolph, Roger Guenveur Smith, Jesse Williams, the list goes on. Or let Jackie Chan play Charlie Chan.
During a Southern wartime (WWII) blood drive, a black woman offered to give her blood for the cause and was told by the white volunteers there that they did not accept “colored blood.” Now, how ignorant can one be, thinking that human blood somehow functions differently in people of varying skin tones? It’s all the same. By looking at it, who can tell one person’s blood from another’s? If the blood vials are labeled with only the blood type, who is going to know from whom it came? The woman then informed the volunteer that her son was a soldier fighting for this country and asked, “If my son gets hurt, what kind of blood are you going to give him?“ (If any?)
What has further confused me about certain white people’s twisted mentality concerning color matters, after watching dramas about race-passing (Imitation of Life, Pinky, Show Boat), is the realization that racist attitudes are not even really about color. In those cases and also in real-life situations, a person can be as white as can be, but the knowledge of that person having just one drop of so-called “Negro blood” in their body makes them a full-fledged black person and therefore shall be regarded accordingly. Who decided that a basic thing as blood should be the determining factor of human hierarchy? I mean, who came up with such an absurd notion, and why did anybody in their right mind go along with it? It’s theoretical rather than factual, anyway. With blood flowing out of and throughout one’s body continuously, how can that all-so-important single drop be isolated, identified or even retained indefinitely? I mean, how stupid is that?! But these whites are the ones with the superior intellect, right?
The truth of the matter is, a person’s so-called race is determined by their genes, which is the result of ovum and sperm fusion, not by blood. If those whites were so smart, they would know that. Then, too, family relations are determined by their common genes, not by blood. He is not my “blood relative“ but my genetic relative. Blood in itself does not determine racial distinction, no more than any of our other internal organs and functions do. Blacks are discriminated against mostly because of their color, supposedly. So if I appear, on the surface, to be white, then what is your problem with me? It apparently goes beyond color, as with the persecuted Jews and other Caucasian sects. It’s simply just another way for certain whites to exercise control on somebody.
Another color issue which tends to be a regular annoyance for me as well as other nonwhites, I’m sure, is the frequent occurrence of mistaken identity. Although we do not all look alike, as they seem to think, white people just are not able to tell black people apart. Of course they could if they would just take the time. That is what is so maddening. They don’t bother to recognize our varying, distinguishing features or even what we are wearing. All they notice is our color, or rather, our approximate color. So if there is more than “one” around, they get really confused!
I played woodwinds in the orchestra for a high school production of Damn Yankees years ago in Brooklyn. The trombone player was another black man who did not look anything like me. He was much younger than I was, rather corpulent (I was quite slender in those days) and lighter than I am in complexion. But some white man approached me in the lobby during intermission and proceeded to compliment me on my trombone playing!
I was singing in a choral concert here in the City, and one of the works performed was written by a young black composer in attendance, who stood to be acknowledged when the singers had finished the piece. Now this guy looks nothing like me either. He’s taller than I am, bigger head, darker in complexion, and we were dressed entirely different. He was wearing a sweater, and I was wearing a tuxedo. But at intermission this white woman walked up to me and asked, “Are you the composer?” ‘I am a composer. I am not the composer that you heard from tonight. Did I change my clothes since you saw “me” just a few minutes ago?’ Stupid bitch! So she didn’t even notice our attire. All she saw was darkish skin.
At the Bard College Music Festival a few summers ago, I was eating lunch when a member of the orchestra sat down at my table and started talking to me as if he knew me. I didn’t know him. I eventually asked him, ‘Do we know each other?’ He said that we had met earlier and were discussing something, I don’t remember. I realized then that he must have spoken to either Roosevelt or Walter, the only other two black men in the chorus, and who none of us look anything alike, by the way. How could he mistake me for either of them? That would be like mistaking Danny Devito with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I’m sure nobody ever does.
I had a college friend named Dennis. When we were at Indiana University together, people used to confuse the two of us all the time. Other than our being music students, basses, black and both of us wearing glasses, that’s where the similarity ended. But we often reported to each other that somebody called him Cliff and somebody called me Dennis.
Of course, I am not the only one that has experienced such stupidity. On one of the cruises I was on with the New York Vagabonds, I was going back to my room after our show, when Joseph, one of the few black passengers aboard, caught up with me and told me that he had just been approached by another passenger who told him that they just loved his “Ol’ Man River” (one of my featured numbers in our show)! We both rolled our eyes in mutual amusement. This man is about six feet, four inches tall, darker than I, sports a gray beard and was wearing glasses. I am less than six feet, I have a black moustache, no beard and I was wearing my contact lenses. How could we two possibly be the same person?!
On another cruise was a black comedian named Rod Long, who resembles Richard Pryor in appearance. I don’t, by the way. The week that we were on the ship together, white people were constantly getting the two of us confused with each other. They thought I was he and that he was I. It got so bad and annoying for the both of us that during one of Rod’s standup sets one night, he proceeded to shame the audience by exposing them to their utter stupidity in confusing us all the time.
Sherri Shepherd (a former co-host on “The View”) reported on the show that when she was at the Academy Awards ceremonies in 2012, Bo Derek and John Corbett approached her, fawning and gushing and congratulating her on her Oscar win that evening. They apparently thought that she was Octavia Spencer! I mean, come on! Those two women don’t look that much alike! So even fellow actors, who should know better, can’t even tell us apart! I wonder if it would have helped their discernment if Octavia, Sherri, Viola Davis and Oprah Winfrey had all been standing there together?
Opera diva Martina Arroyo tells that when she and Leontyne Price were at the Met at the same time, she arrived to work one day and the doorman on duty greeted her, “Good evening, Miss Price.“ Martina sweetly replied, “No, honey, I am the other one.“
A similar thing happened to me, during one of my concert tours with Robert DeCormier. We were in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and after our show there was a reception for invited guests in the lobby of our motel. A white man who had attended our concert was trying to compliment the person (me) who performed a particular song that he liked in the show. Of the three blacks in the ensemble, he apparently couldn’t tell us apart, although neither of us looks anything alike. We are all different heights, sizes, ages and complexions. I had gone to my room to change before going back to the party. Arthur got there first and Kenn arrived just ahead of me. So just before I entered the room, I overheard Suzanne, one of the white altos, tell the man, “No, that’s not him either,” referring to Kenn, “You want the other one!” The other one? The other what? The other tenor? I am a bass. The other faggot? I don’t think that the clueless woman even realized what she had said, another instance of thoughtless racism. The mere fact that the man could not even discern us is something in itself. In the man’s favor, however, I can contend that maybe he was seated too far away to discern us clearly or his eyesight wasn’t very good. He could see dark skin but not specific features, perhaps. But that does not excuse Suzanne’s comment, however.
Sam Rubin, entertainment reporter for a Los Angeles TV station, was interviewing Samuel L. Jackson and mentioned a Kia commercial that aired during the most recent Super Bowl, which he thought Jackson had appeared in. But it wasn’t Jackson at all but fellow actor Laurence Fishburne! Well, Jackson was understandably annoyed and did not excuse Rubin or let him off the hook but proceeded to call him out on his stupid blunder. “You are the entertainment reporter for this station and you don’t know the difference between me and Laurence Fishburne?! We don’t look that much alike. There is more than one of us doing TV commercials, you know. I am not Morgan Freeman either (or James Earl Jones or Dennis Haysbert).“ Rubin was totally embarrassed and did apologize for his gaffe.
Asians, no doubt, have the same problem. In fact, Korean-American comic Margaret Cho says that she gets it all the time herself. She’s been mistaken for every female Asian celebrity that anybody knows, regardless of their specific nationality. A woman came up to her one day and asked her how she liked making Charlie’s Angels (mistaking her for Lucy Liu, who is Chinese)? She jokingly told her, “No, I am the one on “Grey’s Anatomy” (Sandra Oh, who is Korean). Margaret has performed for audiences who don’t know her, and has been booed as soon as she walks out on stage. She says, “What, are you all still mad because I broke up the Beatles (Japanese Yoko Ono)?” See there? Take people’s ignorance and humorously use it against them.
[Related articles: Black History, Pts. 1-5; Some Racial Observations and Assessments; Stereotyping and Profiling, Racial and Otherwise; Walt Disney, a Racist?…]