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Archives for : Color Complex

Same Family, Different Colors: A Personal Story

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

If you have the time, please pop over to Newsworks.org to read my latest parenting column on what it means to be a member of a family with many colors. I will continue to blog over there on Newsworks about these issues in 2016, in anticipation of my new book coming out this fall. By the way, Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families

Same hands, different colors. My Family.

Same hands, different colors.

is already available for pre-order! You heard it here first. Thanks for reading as always.

Peace!

#TeamLightSkin vs #TeamDarkSkin Take it to the Beach

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

My thoughts exactly.

My thoughts exactly.

If you’re regulars here, then you know I’m working on a book called Same Family, Different Colors that explores colorism in the United States. I’ve been working on the book for quite a while now, and have been completely immersed in the world of colorism, so much so, I didn’t think anything could shock me when it came to color-based discrimination. But I was wrong.

A colleague told me today about a case of the color wars that had me shaking my head and sucking my teeth. For real. Not only was I shocked by what he told me, I was shocked that the incident hadn’t come up in all of my research for this book. I guess my Google alert doesn’t capture all.

In a nutshell, the popular African-American radio host, Tom Joyner hosted a Caribbean cruise this past spring where one of the planned events was a massive water gun fight where guests were split into two teams. Yep, you guessed it, TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin. For the record, TeamLightSkin won. What was most shocking about this color based competition is that it wasn’t the first time it was held. Apparently Joyner has some sort of TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin battle every year on the cruise. Reportedly, this is his way to make light of a very dark situation. (Puns intended.) I guess he’s trying to normalize the conflict between African-Americans on either end of the color spectrum by openly pitting the two extremes against each other.

I’m not sure I believe in this type of healing. When you consider the ubiquity of social media, where images are shared without context, one could easily assume that Joyner, who is himself melanin challenged, was simply fanning the flames of conflict between these two groups. So, despite his good intentions, if I were him, I might rethink this act of subversive, reverse psychology. Instead, I’d retire the TeamLightSkin vs TeamDarkSkin labeling and instead support TeamAllShadesofBlack.

What do you think dear readers? Is Joyner doing the right thing with these annual battles? If the people participating on these cruises don’t mind, should I? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Peace!

Defining Blackness: My Take on Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal, she's not really Black, but she feels like she is in her head.

Rachel Dolezal, she’s not really Black, but she feels like she is in her head.

It’s not as though there hasn’t already been enough written about Rachel Dolezal, the White woman from Montana who has been passing for Black for the last decade. Still, I feel I have to add my two cents to the raging controversy over this woman’s actions. Actually, I have more than two cents to add and I don’t really want to say a lot about Rachel, as much as I want to talk about identity politics in general.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that Rachel Dolezal belongs in a Gillian Flynn novel. If Gillian Flynn wants to write a sequel to Gone Girl, where the main character fakes, not her death, but her race, thanks to Rachel, all the lies, trickery and fake hair machinations have already been figured out. And I’m sure Gillian would write a far better ending than the real Rachel has so far, which has been to offer lame excuses for her preposterous lies. The woman claimed she was born in a teepee, was beaten like a slave and that her adopted Black brother was actually her own child. Those are the lies we know for sure. As the saga unfolds, I am sure more lies will surface. And then of course, there’s the big, enormous lie about her being Black. And that’s the big, enormous lie I believe we should discuss.

Coincidentally, the day before #NotBlackRachel-gate erupted, I had just seen the documentary film, Little White Lie. In the movie, filmmaker Lacey Schwartz explains how she grew up believing she was White, despite the fact that she had brown skin and kinky hair, unlike either of her parents. As it turns out, Schwartz’s mother had had an affair with a Black man but never told her daughter, her husband or any of her family members. What makes the film and Lacey’s story so compelling is that despite her obvious Black features, everybody in her family and mostly White community bought into this “little white lie.” When she entered high school in a more diverse community however, Black people immediately caught on that this girl had to be Black, but it still took four more years for Lacey to learn the truth about her heritage.

As I work on my current book, Same Family, Different Colors , I am constantly learning how significant skin color and hair texture can be in determining a person’s identity. One can be too dark to be considered beautiful and Asian. A person can be too light to be authentically Black. And yet, even though simple gradations of skin tone can alter the way a person of color is treated within their own community and by society at large, people like Lacey Schwartz and Rachel Dolezal seem to suggest that skin color is irrelevant when claiming identity. And if not irrelevant, it certainly is not the main determinant in racial categorization.

Lacey Schwartz has brown skin and curly hair, but for 18 years lived as a White person and experienced the privilege that Whiteness confers. Even today, living as a Black woman, she still feels she maintains some of that privilege. Rachel Dolezal changed her hair and darkened her skin but not in an extreme way, but just enough. But I would posit that it wasn’t her external appearance that guaranteed that people would accept her claim to Blackness. It was simply because she claimed she was Black. She said it, she claimed it, so people believed it. Black people come in all shades so why couldn’t she be just a light-skinned Black woman? As Schwartz proved in her film, even if it’s hard to believe, people generally don’t question a person’s stated racial identity. Look at the actress Rashida Jones, the author Lise Funderburg, or hairstylist and entrepreneur Anthony Dickey. They don’t read as Black, but they all have a Black parent. So, why couldn’t Rachel be one more? That’s the world we live in today.

I don’t care to try to get inside of Rachel Dolezal’s head to understand why she did what she did. But I also don’t think it’s very odd for a White person to want to be Black. Everything Black people do is imitated and appropriated by people all over the world. Our hairstyles, fashion, music, language, religious expression, even the narrative of our struggle is co-opted and embraced by others. Despite the fact that we are publicly abused, shamed, demonized, and killed on city streets, there is no other culture in the world more imitated than Black American culture. I get it. I get why someone might feel an affinity to Black culture and want to not only admire it but claim it, be a part of it, be embraced by its members, not just be an ally or a friend. In other words, not be an outsider looking in but a member of the tribe. Who wouldn’t want that? But at the end of the day, as I learned in the first grade, we don’t get to try on different ethnic identities like new fashion trends.

To me, if Rachel Dolezal had a lifetime membership to a tanning salon, permed her hair, married a Black man named Tyrone, sang in the church choir at the local AME church and named her children Jamal and Kenya, that would be fine. It would be clear she felt most comfortable in the Black community but she would still be White. And honestly, some people might assume she was part Black simply because of her actions, and in that way, without lying on any forms or inventing ancestors that don’t exist, Dolezal could have passed for Black as many people do today who either have ambiguous features or because of their lifestyle. But there is a major difference between committing yourself to a community you feel an affinity for and co-opting a culture and living a lie. You can’t invent a history without expecting the truth to come and bite you in the ass one day. Lies are just lies and they destroy families and other people’s lives. Just ask Lacey Schwartz. The “little white lie” her mother told destroyed her nuclear family and the close relationship she had with her father.

At the end of the day, I think Rachel Dolezal is an interesting character who probably has some mental health issues she should take care of. But I do understand a White woman wanting to be Black so badly, she’d lie about it. Personally, I thank God all the time I came wrapped up in this fine brown packaging. But if there is a takeaway from this whole episode, a teachable moment if you will, then it is to ponder the fluidity of racial categorization and identity markers. I’m not saying that we need to find a different way to define Blackness, because in my mind that’s pretty damn clear. You have to be born Black to be Black. And Black is not about the color of your skin, it means you have “recent” ancestors from Africa. That’s scientific. But from a visual standpoint, it is hard to detect Blackness and even though White Westerners have been trying for hundreds of years to qualify it, quantify it, and put us into a box, they still haven’t figured it out yet. Rachel Dolezal thought she’d figured it out, but clearly didn’t get the memo about Blackness requiring real Black people in her family tree.

What do you think dear readers about this whole thing? I’d love to hear your takeaway. Got my pencil so I can take notes.

Peace!

Me and Toni Morrison: On the Same Page About Skin Color Politics

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Toni Morrison in Philly, signing my book. #Authorswoon

Toni Morrison in Philly, signing my book. #Authorswoon

Have any of you read Toni Morrison’s new novel, God Help the Child? Not only have I read it, I had the chance to see Ms. Toni give a reading from the book here in Philadelphia and of course got her to sign my book. It was magical getting to meet her in person and to hear about her inspiration and ideas for writing this particular story.
My copy of Toni Morrison's latest, God Help the Child.

My copy of Toni Morrison’s latest, God Help the Child.

Dear readers, I don’t know if you know this, but God Help the Child is all about a dark-skinned Black woman, Bride, who was rejected by her light-skinned mother and how that rejection informed the painful trajectory of her entire life. The book begins:

It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me. I didn’t do it and have no idea how it happened. It didn’t take more than an hour after they pulled her out from between my legs to realize something was wrong. Really wrong. She was so black she scared me.”

That could be the opening to my new book too, Same Family, Different Colors, only it wouldn’t be from the mouth of a fictional character, but rather a confessional from a real woman. Bride’s story may be a creation of Toni Morrison’s imagination, but sadly, mothers reject their children every day, even in the year 2015, because they’re too dark or too light. Depends on the circumstances. And, it’s not just Black people who exhibit these skin color prejudices. The stories I’m collecting from Latino and Asian-American subjects include the same experiences, with the same language of rejection and despair.

What gives me hope however, is that for every story of parental neglect or sibling jealousies that I am recording, I have another one where shades of skin color difference in the family made no difference. Without giving anything away, God Help the Child ends with hope as well. Toni Morrison isn’t the happily ever after type and neither am I, but I think we both see potential for something different from the tragedies of our collective past when it comes to skin color breaking up a family. Maybe our books and the countless other new media projects on this topic will prove to be a catalyst for that change.

What about you, dear readers? Do you come from a family of different colors? Did it make a difference in your upbringing? How? I’m totally listening and taking notes.

Peace!

Yo, Is That Colorist?: Australian Newscaster Praises Light Skin Twin

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

Lucy and Maria, more than just colors.

Lucy and Maria, more than just colors.

I think you all know I’m working on a book called Same Family, Different Colors where I’m looking at skin color variations in nuclear families and how those skin color differences affect family dynamics. Often times I’m hearing stories about minute variations between brown and browner, but every now and again there are extreme skin color differences that are impossible to ignore, both inside and outside the home.

Recently, a set of twins in the UK have made headlines because one twin has brown skin, brown curly hair and for all intents and purposes presents as Black. Her twin sister, on the other hand, is very pale with red hair and presents as White. While it is never okay to make anyone feel like a circus side show, it would be naive to suggest that the way the DNA was at play in these two girls is anything less than amazing. And as such, they’ve been in the news a lot lately, not to mention all over Facebook and other forms of social media.

Most recently however, they appeared on an Australian news program and the host made what seemed to be a remark that implied that the lighter twin was the lucky one. You can watch the video clip here and read more about the ensuing outrage.

What do you think dear readers? Was news host Samantha Armytage out of line? Was she being racist or colorist? Maybe she’s just stupid and insensitive? Or perhaps all of the above? Will we ever know? Do we even care? What I care about is that sisters, Maria and Lucy, get out of the spotlight and go on and live their lives in peace. Of course, I’d also like to talk to their parents for my book. I’m sure they have many stories to tell. But of course, I’ll be good and leave them alone. Funny thing is, the UK is chock full of Black/White twins so there’s probably somebody who’d like to talk to me. And more than likely, another set of twins will be born there soon enough supplanting Maria and Lucy’s fame, allowing them to happily become yesterday’s news.

Peace!

Essence Magazine’s May Book Picks: A Meltingpot Dream

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

It's all about the books in this month's issue of Essence.

It’s all about the books in this month’s issue of Essence.

When you think of Ms. Meltingpot’s favorite things, you know books, Black hair, and multi-culti family life are all on the list right? Well, it’s like Essence magazine Books Editor, Patrick Bass was thinking only about me when he chose what books to feature in the May issue of the magazine. Seriously, I think he created this list just for me.

While I would read everything on the three-page spread dedicated to books, the two standouts that I think you too, dear readers, will enjoy are Loving Day by Mat Johnson and Finding Samuel Lowe by Paula Williams Madison. Loving Day is a comic novel about an interracial relationship gone wrong and Finding Samuel Lowe is the true story of how the Black/Jamaican author goes in search of her estranged Chinese grandfather (Note, there is also a movie about this amazing family).

But there’s more. I did say this month’s picks were tailor-made for me, right? That’s because there’s also a book about Black hair featured in all of this literary goodness.

Miko Branch, one of the two masterminds behind the Miss Jessie’s hair product line just released her first book, Miss Jessie’s:Creating a Successful Business from Scratch – Naturally. The book is part memoir, part start-up how-to. This issue of Essence features a personal essay by Miko, the younger of the two Branch sisters, where she discusses for the first time publicly, her sister’s battle with depression and untimely death. The book was finished before Titi Branch died so the story really is both of theirs and Miko is determined to tell it along with the importance of speaking out about mental illness.

So, I’m off to the book store, dear readers. Does anyone want to meet me there?

Peace!

“Black and Blue and Blond:” Meditations on Color and Family

Happy New Year Meltingpot Readers!

I hope all of you are looking towards a productive and positive 2015. I am.

I know I kind of disappeared for the holidays, but in addition to playing Santa Claus and trying to make the season Merry and Bright, el esposo had surgery and is not allowed to walk without crutches for another four weeks. Hello single motherhood! Still, it was a great holiday filled with love and family.

And speaking of family, here’s a really wonderful essay penned by the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams about his coming to terms with his daughter’s pale skin and blue eyes. Yes, Williams is Black. Actually, he’s biracial, but still, he’s Black. So, it’s complicated and colorful and you should read it. And if you really enjoy his work, you might want to tune into The Mixed Experience podcast tomorrow morning at 9:00am hosted by my friend, Heidi Durrow. That’s Heidi Durrow, the woman who founded Mixed Experience History Month and the Mixed Race Film and Literary Festival. Tune in or download it if you can’t catch it live.

I’ll see you here again on Monday when I’ll be sharing my bloggy resolutions for 2015.

Peace!

An Adorable Children’s Book That Tackles the Color Complex

Tackling the color complex for the kiddos.

Tackling the color complex for the kiddos.

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

I think you all know I’m working on a book about colorism in families and right now I’m in the research phase. That means I’m deep diving into all thing colorism related, specifically how colorism manifests in African-American families (I’ll be moving on to colorism in Latino families next.). So, imagine my great delight in stumbling upon this wonderful children’s book called, Same Difference by Calida Garcia Rawles. The book is about two little brown cousins, one dark and one light, who learn a positive lesson about color differences. The story is told in verse and is simple but sweet and the illustrations are lovely. But don’t take my word for it. You can watch the author read the book to a group of preschoolers in this video. Enjoy!