Rejecting Self: The Skin Tone Game

All Black. All beautiful.

This week a fellow Howard Alum posted a photo album on facebook that, within the HU community, went viral.  The pictures, featured in LIFE magazine, gave readers an inside look at Howard University’s student life in 1946.  One couldn’t help but to look at these pictures and to be proud to be a part of the great legacy of Howard University. However, I couldn’t help but notice the stark colorism in the women whose pictures were featured – fair skin, wavy hair.  From a historically black institution’s standpoint, I can understand, though I don’t agree, the need to change perceptions of Black America by emphasizing black students that were in line with mainstream America’s standard of beauty.  From the photographer’s standpoint, I can understand the inclination to capture the images that were most striking to oneself aesthetically.  It wasn’t until I read the entire LIFE article printed in 1946 that mentions the discord amongst students due to the color hierarchy on campus that I realized that the huge disparity in regards to the skin tone of featured women was not done haphazardly.  While almost 60 years later, I am very proud to say I didn’t experience or see any disparity based on hue, I believe within the greater Black Diaspora it is still a very relevant issue in daily interactions and dating.

Geez, where do we start?? In the interest of brevity, I will only focus on dating attractions today.

A week can’t go by without someone tweeting, facebooking, or conversing about their skin tone requirements about the people they are willing to date.  Everything from men saying they want a yellow/red women to women rejecting men because they don’t want to have dark skinned children.  Or it is the complete reverse.  Women will completely reject lighter skinned men and only date the darker hues as to suggest reversing the hierarchy makes everything much better now.  While preferences are warranted, the automatic dismal of a person because they are not your “type” in regards to their hue prior to getting to know them is still prejudiced.  It is just the worst kind- the one against ourselves.
The thing that is wonderful about being part of this Black Diaspora is because it envelops so much diversity from language, religion, to hue.  With the exception of religion, we have no choice what language we learn to speak initially or our shade of brown designated to us.  The only choice we have is the type of person we want to be.  And honestly, there are only two choices: one that loves self or one that rejects self.  When I look at another black person, I am innately inclined to them, regardless of hue,  because I recognize they are a piece of who I am.  So when I reflected on the men I have dated, I have absolutely no preference whether he is a lighter hue or a darker or any one in between.  And I won’t say I look beyond their hue because I don’t.  I see it just like I recognize their blackness.  I choose to acknowledge and embrace it as a part of who they are and ultimately of who I am.  The only commonality that shapes my “type” is the man that made the choice to love himself and thus his people and all of their beautiful hues.

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5 Things Black People Need To Learn How To Do…Now

“You know how to swim, right?” my friend asked as soon as I entered the house.  “Yes,” I replied, “I am a mermaid. Why?”  I immediately think a swim party is in the works, instead she begins to express her frustration about a story she had read about earlier that day about 6 people, black people, that drowned in Louisiana at a family reunion. I shared her sentiments and was deeply saddened and frustrated.  As opposed to the rapid violence terrorizing Chicago streets, this tragedy could have easily been prevented.  As a result, I composed an immediate to-do list for black people to learn.
1) Swim: The history of black people not learning how to swim can be traced back to slavery, as slave masters feared that slaves would escape if they knew how to swim.  Some even thought that slaves, if they knew how to swim, were capable of swimming all the way back to Africa.  (I know,right?!!) For the slaves, memories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and stories passed from one generation to another created an innate fear of large bodies of water. However, since then, blacks have learned to read, write, and run, all of which at one point all were also forbidden. There are and will always be exception to the rules, the rebels- the leaders. But at this point, what is the hold up on learning how to swim?? It is time. Drowning is usually preventable. Get lessons for you and your kids. The babies can learn how to swim as early as 6-24 months. When you teach them how to walk also teach them how to swim.

I refuse to believe, that we will let our children drown because we don’t want to get our hair wet…

2) Think Critically: The drowning mentioned happened at a family reunion with people watching helplessly. Deep sigh. We have to learn to look beyond what we can’t do and focus on what we can do. Black people, at times, seemed to be crippled by fear and unwilling to exercise their learned skill set to create new methods to achieve a desired result.  For instance, if no one can swim, take off your shirts and tie them together to form a rope to throw in the water to pull the children out of the water. Grab some tree sticks, form a human chain, call 911 ask how to float, I’m sure there is an app for how to swim, take the table clothes to pull them in, grab the spare tires out of the cars and throw it out there for them to float on until help arrives. All possible and feasible solutions as supposed to do nothing.
Beyond that, we as a people need to stop taking information as is, without investigating the source, the motive, and the purpose. One of my favorite professors in college handed a student a book and asked him to demonstrate how he reads books to the class. The young man look puzzled and then proceeds to open up the book and flip through the pages until he reached the page where the story began.  The professor asked him why he skipped through the first 10 pages or so.  Like most of us, the young man thought the information prior to the beginning was useless.  But perhaps that is the most important text in the all of the book.   It gives the year published, which would be cross-referenced with world and local events of that time period, it gives city published, it gives publisher which should be researched to see what type of media are they known to put out and for what purpose.  So with all of the background information it is easier to process and assess the information being presented in the actual story. So when President Obama and his administration were sent a sound bite of Shirley Sherrod speaking on white farmers, the source, the motive and the purpose should have been researched and assessed before acting.
3) Travel: The world is bigger than your hood, your city, your state, and your country, and Essence Festival.  Move around, visit, and try things you never tried before.  While I am on the fence in regards to the sushi wave that has hit the black bourgeois, it does expose black people to other cuisines that once were unappetizing to the masses.  Traveling allows us to see how other people operate, live and thrive.  This serves a two-fold purpose: 1) it puts things that don’t matter in the proper perspective and 2) it makes you recognize and value your strengths.
4) Live within means: Black people will go through great lengths and money to appear to have it all together meanwhile bills are past dues, car in repossession, and bank account on negative, but we look good.  The fact is  for most of us, living within our means does not include savings.  It means spending as much possible until the next check comes in.  You work hard, so pay yourself first.
5) Open businesses: I am talking about legitimate, “you need a permit and business license to operate” businesses.  When asked, I always say one of the reasons I left Texas is because so many people were content with getting a “good” job and making $60,000 for the rest of their lives. That was the definition of success or making it.  And while the money is not a huge issue, the complacency in working for others, specifically white people, until you can’t anymore just seemed to resemble slavery too much for me.  And while I am not self-employed as of yet, it is something I am not only aspire to but making moves towards accomplishing.
My grandfather washed cars.  It is what he loved to do and he did it well. So much so that when he opened Miller’s Auto Polish and Detail Shop in downtown Dallas, he was the first black business to open up a shop in that all-white area.  He was also the only car detailing shop in the area.  He had no degree, I am not sure if he even finished high school.  But he had a business mind that kept his business open until he was no longer physically able to run and manage it.  My grandmother did hair.  She also had no college education, but when she decided to open Miller’s Beauty Salon she knew it would do well.  And it did.  It was open for business until the day she passed.
But that was two generations ago.  The next generation, more educated in a westernized system, exchanged their family inheritance for 401K’s and health benefits and taught my generation to do the same.  It has been a detrimental exchange economically, educationally, and politically.

There are and will always be exception to the rules -the rebels.  The leaders. Let the recovery begin.

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