Archive for the ‘black-on-black racism’ Category

“The Bluest Eye” (1970) by Toni Morrison is a book about a black girl who dreams of having blue eyes. A short but powerful book that you will not forget. I liked it better than “Beloved” (1987), though that was good too.

Here are some of the bits I liked best:

I destroyed white dolls… Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love. It was a small step to Shirley Temple.

But the unquarreled evening hung like the first note of a dirge in sullenly expectant air. … The tiny, undistinguished days that Mrs. Breedlove lived were identified, grouped, and classed by these quarrels.

Hating her, he could leave himself intact.

It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds – cooled – and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.

I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live – just to counteract the universal love of white baby dolls, Shirley Temples and Maureen Peals.

We had defended ourselves since memory against everything and everybody, considered all speech a code to be broken by us, and all gestures subject to careful analysis…

A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment.

We were beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. … Even her waking nightmares we used to silence our own nightmares.

… for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well behaved, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect, we switched habits to simulate maturity; rearranged lies and called it truth…

Love is never better than the lover.

This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers.

One part that I cannot find but loved is about how Hollywood stands like a giant above all of us, pushing its own strange ideas about not just beauty but love too, ideas that have no love or beauty in them. At one point the three girls are walking down the street and a huge poster of Greta Garbo looks down on them, a King Kong of white beauty.

I have had this book for years, but it was a comment by Miss Licorish to one of my posts (“There is absolutely nothing wrong with being black”) that got me to start reading it. Thank you, Miss Licorish!

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Colourism, or colorism, sometimes called shadism, is where light-skinned people are seen as more beautiful or just plain better than dark-skinned ones of the same race. You see it among blacks in America, the Caribbean, Britain, Brazil  and probably elsewhere. You also see it in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where it probably goes back at least 3000 years.

This post is about the American sort.

In America anyone who looks at least part black African is considered to be “black” – the One Drop Rule. To whites the big thing is whether or not you are are white. While they may favour light-skinned blacks over dark-skinned ones, they still see both as black and all that goes with that. “Black is black”.

Blacks, on the other hand, make a much bigger deal about the different shades, even within families.

Some dark-skinned blacks think the light-skinned ones have an easier life and hate them for it – and yet wish they were more like them!

Some of the light-skinned ones, on the other hand, feel their blackness is doubted and questioned, even though they experience racism too – though, yes, some are glad they are not so dark and may even look down on those who are!

All this is an effect of white thinking on black people: white is good, black is bad and therefore light skin is better than dark skin. It is a part of black-on-black racism.

On one level everyone knows light-skinned people are no better than dark-skinned people. But at another level people believe what they have been told since they were children in a thousand ways: that light skin is better.

And, yes, in some ways light skin is better:

  • Studies show that light-skinned blacks have more education and make more money. Some say this goes all the way back to slave days when light-skinned blacks worked as house slaves – because they were often the master’s children – while dark-skinned ones were field slaves.
  • Many black men prefer women with light skin and “good hair” over dark skin and natural hair, despite their lip service to black beauty. Thus the phrase, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Light-skinned women are more likely to get married. They also find themselves hated by dark-skinned women.

There has always been black men who truly love natural black beauty, all of it, over white beauty, even before the 1960s and the whole “Black is beautiful” thing. But, both then and now, they seem to be outnumbered by black men who prefer whiter-looking women.

But keep in mind that colourism can work both ways: sometimes light-skinned blacks are picked on growing up, being told that they are not “black enough”.

So how light is light? The most famous test is the brown paper bag test. In the early 1900s it was used to keep anyone darker than a paper bag out of paper bag parties.

But in practice it is not so simple. What is dark in Louisiana, for example, can be considered light in Georgia.

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All black Americans are racist. Well, at least 99%.

When your life is shaped by the colour of your skin it is very hard not to see the world in terms of race. In fact, to be race-blind under such circumstances would be unwise.

Some say blacks cannot possibly be racist because they lack power like whites to use their prejudice, their feelings about race, to hurt others. They do not control the police, banks, courts or newspapers. Racism is prejudice backed by power.

But blacks do have power. Not the power to affect complete strangers in large numbers like whites do, but they still have the power to hurt others.

You see that in hate crimes against whites and Asians, for example.

But most of their prejudice and hatred is turned inward. Whatever hatred blacks direct against whites and Asians it is nothing compared to the hatred they direct against themselves.

They live in a white world which tells them over and over and over again that they are no good. In a thousand little ways. As advertisers know, if you hear something enough times you begin to believe it. It is how the mind works.

So at one level most blacks are proud of being black and know they are just as good as whites. And yet at another level, deep down, there is that shame and hatred and doubt about anything black, laid there since childhood by American society.

This comes out in a hundred ways, directly and indirectly. In the self-destruction of drugs and drink. In broken marriages and broken homes. In young men full of promise who suddenly throw it all away. In feelings about light skin and dark skin – colourism. In the way many black women feel about their hair and their beauty. And, yes, in the use of the n-word: I do not care who says it, that word is still poison.

Because this sort of racism works from the inside it can be worse than the racism that comes from the outside directly from whites.

If you ever saw Kenneth Clark’s Doll Test it is heartbreaking: little black girls picking the white doll over the black doll as the nice one. Not all the black girls picked the white doll, but most did.

They did that experiment back in the 1940s and it was one of the things that persuaded the Supreme Court to tear down the Jim Crow laws. Not the lynchings, not the dead black men hanging from trees, but the little black girls picking up white dolls.

But it gets worse: they repeated that experiment in 1985 and again in 2006, long after the fall of Jim Crow, and it was still the same!

Things are way better for blacks than they were 60 years ago – the growth of the black middle-class is proof of that. But there is still quite a ways to go. Even if white racism ended tomorrow, it would take at least another 30 years for racism to die out among blacks.

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Audre Lorde, in her essay “Eye to Eye” (1983), says that all the hate that has been poured into her by white people since she was a little black girl in Harlem in the 1930s is what makes her so angry. But that anger is not directed so much at white people, but at other black women. Because it will hit the mark. Because they remind her of herself, the self she cannot love and accept. Yet they are the only ones who could ever help to make her whole again.

The essay was shortened and printed in Essence magazine in October 1983, but you can read it in all its 30-page glory in her book “Sister Outsider”.

One winter when she was five she sat next to a rich white woman on the subway train. The woman pulled herself away from her and looked at her with such hate in her eyes. Lorde looked at her new snowsuit thinking there was something wrong with it. But it was not her snowsuit – it was her! Her Snowsuit Moment, as I call it.

One time she was at the library. The white lady there was reading “Little Black Sambo” and laughing. All the white children were laughing too. But she was not.


In a thousand and one ways she was told she was worthless, that she did not matter.

She has seen “my wished-for death, seen in the eyes of so many white people from the time I could see”.

All this hate that she could not understand got laid up in her heart over the years and in time became anger, “a molten pond at the core of me”, an everyday part of her – “I know the anger that lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit.” Her daughter kept asking, “Are you angry about something, Mommy?”

But, “in order to withstand the weather, we had to become stone, and now we bruise ourselves upon the other who is closest.”

Not just by little acts of meanness, but also by the constant judgement by other black women: if you are not perfect you are no good – “the road to anger is paved with our unexpressed fear of each other’s judgement.”

The answer is for black women to mother and accept themselves and each other, “making a distinction between what is possible and what the outside world drives me to do in order to prove I am human”.

… I can look into the mirror and learn to love the stormy Black girl who once longed to be white or anything other than who she was, since all she was ever allowed to be was the sum of the color of her skin, and the textures of her hair, the shade of her knees and elbows, and those things were clearly not acceptable as human.

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