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, black sheep 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 noire (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.
# …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” is a mad slasher horror film, no surprise there!
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.
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.
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. There is also the beloved, although quasi-oxymoronic, literary horse name, “Black Beauty,“ and a “black moon” is merely a darkened lunar phase, but not a bad thing.
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.
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, 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.
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 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 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, 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.
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.
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. 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 catalogues, 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), Howdy Doody, Father Time, Cupid, Uncle Sam, Santa Claus, all angels, 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, 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, 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 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.
When they finally did let black women participate for the first time, look at who they got—Vanessa 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 start featuring a wide variety of different skin tones, including your dark shades, nothing has changed, in my opinion.
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 recently came across a travel brochure 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 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 exclaims with disdain, “Oh, there you are, with your colored girlfriend!” The people even 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. 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 dissention 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.
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 likeability 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-yellah 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 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. 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.
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. 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, to name a few. Or let Jackie Chan play Charlie Chan. 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.
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? But these whites are the ones with the superior intellect, right? 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?!
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.
[Related articles: Black History, Pts. 1-5; Some Racial Observations and Assessments; Stereotyping and Profiling, Racial and Otherwise; Walt Disney, a Racist?…]