Color Matters, In Fact and Fiction

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I think I’ve mentioned here already that my latest research topic is colorism. I’m looking at how color bias, more so than racism, is prevalent in almost every culture on the planet. When I was doing the research for my book, Hair Story, the concept of the color complex was always rearing its ugly head, so now I’m ready to focus on it. But I’m not just working on the pigmentocracy of Black America, I’m looking at colorism in Asian, Latino and White communities in the United States as well.

Eventually I hope to turn this all into a book, but I’m still in the early research phases. And as such, I’m reading. A lot. Generally when I’m working on non-fiction, I only allow myself to read non-fiction. It keeps me focused. But it just so happens, before I even knew for sure that I was going to write about colorism, I picked up Isabel Allende’s latest novel, Island Beneath the Sea.

Island Beneath the Sea
Color Matters in this Book

The book is epic in scope and details the last days of French control of Haiti and the subsequent wave of French immigrants who settled first in Cuba and then in New Orleans. The story is told through the eyes of a ‘mulatto’ slave named Tete. Over the course of the story, even though colorism isn’t the focus of the book, it is the color of the skin that decides the fate of so many of the characters. Tete’s daughter, the product of a rape from her master, is so light she can pass for Spanish and is allowed to be educated by the Spanish nuns. Tete’s African lover is too dark to escape Haiti with Tete and chooses to stay and fight with Toussaint L’Ouverture. In both Haiti and New Orleans, the color codes are legal and enforceable. And obviously, the lighter one is, the more freedom one enjoys.

With this story swirling in my mind, I look at current events like the whole controversy over Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone in a new movie, with fresh eyes.

So, I’m allowing myself to be inspired and informed by fiction. I am using it as a portal into some of the issues around color that perhaps aren’t explored as much in non-fiction venues. I picked up a new novel today at the library that was written by a Chinese-American author. Coincidentally, the page I flipped open to had a page dedicated to the horrors of Japanese bleaching cream. Yes, I snatched it up.

So, dear readers, if you can recommend any novels, or movies, for that matter, that deal with color bias in the United States, please let me know. I’m so listening.


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10 Thoughts to “Color Matters, In Fact and Fiction”

  1. Anazette

    I actually read the “Island Beneath the Sea” two years ago and really enjoyed it. There’s another book that deals with slave life and skin color
    that I read when I was 17: “The Feast of All Saints” by Anne Rice. It
    deals with 19th century life in New Orleans regarding the skin class hierarchy amongst slaves,free persons of colors, and African/European mixed creoles. One area of the plot deals with the practice of white men during that time who kept free women of color as their mistresses,the provisions they made for the children, the houses they set up for them in New Orleans, as well as young free women of color being prepared to follow in their own mother’s footsteps and take up with a white male suitor. You really see that the free person of color label carried so much status for those in that class, but because of the one drop rule, they were never exactly “free” and Rice details how it was for both males and females of that class. It’s a pretty lengthy book, but I highly recommend it.
    It was also made into a feature film starring Jasmine Guy, Gloria Reuben, Peter Gallagher, Victoria Rowell, and Ossie Davis.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thank you so much for the suggestion. I am going right to the library to check out the Feast of All Saints, but does it have vampires in it? I’ll still read it, but I want to be prepared. And then I’m going to try to find the movie. I love Jasmine Guy. Seriously, you made my day.

      1. Anazette

        Great! Hope you’re enjoying the book! No, this book doesn’t have a single vampire. 🙂

        1. Ms. Meltingpot

          Grr, I haven’t been able to find the book, but I’m still looking.

  2. Wendy

    After reading your post, I started singing Nelly Furtado’s “Powerless”.

    Paint my face in your magazines Make it look whiter than it seems Paint me over with your dreams Shove away my ethnicity
    Burn every notion that I May have a flame inside to fight Is there just what is on my mind Without offending your might
    ‘Cause this life is too short to live it just for you But when you feel so powerless what are you gonna do So say what you want, say what you want
    I saw her face outside today Weatherworn, lookin’ all the rage Took her passion and her gaze And made a poster
    Now it’s moccasins we sport We take the culture and contort Perhaps only to distort What we are hidin’
    ‘Cause this life is too short to live it just for you But when you feel so powerless what are you gonna do But say what you want, say what you want, say, say, yeah
    Hey you, the one the one outside, are you gonna get in, get in Hey you, the one that don’t fit in, how ya, how ya gonna get in Hey you, the one outside, are you ever gonna get in with your Broken teeth, broken jaw, broken mojo
    Yeah, this life is too short to live it just for you But when you feel so powerless, what are you gonna do
    ‘Cause this life is too short to live it just for you But when you feel so powerless, what are you gonna do ‘Cause this life is too short to live it just for you But when you feel so powerless, what are you gonna do
    Say what you want, say what you want Say what you want, say what you want Say what you want, say what you want Say, say, say, say, yeah
    Life is too short, just for you Feel powerless, gonna do

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      I love this! Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Carina Odenyo

    Interesting article from Great Britain.
    Greetings from Carina in Sweden (who has followed your blog for a long time!)

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thanks so much for this link. Such an interesting story. I think I may have to write about it here. I am a big doll fan. And now that I have a little girl, am thinking about dolls even more.
      Glad you’re still reading the Meltingpot!

      1. Carina Odenyo

        My favorite blog! 🙂

        1. Ms. Meltingpot


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