About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dark Girls: The Legacy of Colorism

She's pretty - for a dark-skinned girl. I hope my baby doesn't come out with dark skin. The dark drawing represents the dumb girl. I thought my dark skin was dirt.

These are just a few of the ideas brought to light in the upcoming film Dark Girls. Please, pretty puh-lease watch this preview of the film:

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

There are people out there who don't understand why some people - people like me! - keep preaching about the need for black people to love the way they look and to teach their children to do the same. There are people who don't see this as an issue any more. People don't still bleach their skin! Darkness isn't even an issue any more! Think again. The females in this video represent a tiny drop of black females who are made to feel lesser because of their complexions. As someone with caramel-type coloring, I haven't experienced this personally, but I've seen its effects on close relatives and on some of my dearest friends. It's real, and it doesn't seem to be going away. 

And while I am very passionate about the effects of these racist ideas (both extrinsic and internalized) on black females' emotional well-being and self-esteem, I've seen these effects on black males too. I personally know little black boys who wish they had been born with lighter skin and lighter eyes, who hate to see photos of themselves because they look "too dark." Many of these boys grow up to be dark-skinned men who will never date or marry dark-skinned women, who won't hang out at the beach because they don't want to become "blacker" (carcenogic UV rays notwithstanding).

Black children's equations of darkness with all things negative has been proven time and time again throughout the years in recreations of and variations on the famous doll experiment conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s, an experiment so influential that it helped to secure the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. I encourage you to look up videos on contemporary versions of this experiment - maybe have a box of tissues handy, too.

How do these ideas continue to exist, though? I imagine it's a combination of various media - that continue to hold up light skin (and other features) as ideally beautiful while relegating darkness to the margins through virtual absence - and the passing on of internalized racism. In other words, these ideas continue to be taught. Education, then, about the seemingly simple idea of self-love is essential to reversing the centuries-old stigmas placed on dark skin. It's a task I'm engaged in right now, and I hope more and more parents, teachers, siblings, aunties, and uncles will take up the task as well.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Talking White": Teaching Our Kids about Race

I thought “talking white” was an old-school concept. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s—maybe earlier?—as a black child who could speak articulately, you might have been told by your peers a time or two that you “talked white.” Such a statement might have been an insult, or it might have been simply an “observation,” but the point was clear: white folks spoke “clearly” or “well,” and black folks…didn’t.

Whatever the case was back then, I was surprised to discover that it’s still a thing among kids in 2011. After picking the Kid, an 8th-grader, up from school today, I engaged him in a conversation about his day. In the process, he told me how he often reads books for leisure when “[they] don’t be doin’ nothin’ in math class.” “Why are you suddenly talking like that?” I respond, to which he replies, “Oh, I’ve been hanging around a lot of black people today.” When I tell him that such language is not a “black” thing, that people of all races speak that way, he tells me a story:

Over the weekend, while on a band trip, he and one of his white female classmates were checking out their Facebook pages. After reading a post, the young lady says to the Kid, “I don’t understand this. Here. You’re black. Tell me what this means.” The Kid humorously replies with something like, “I’m not so fluent in English, but I’m attempting to become more fluent in this language [“Ebonics”?] so that I can better communicate with my people.” The young lady laughingly responds, “That was so white.” The Kid also found this funny.

This whole thing struck me as odd on one hand but not so surprising on the other. On one hand, we supposedly live in a “post-racial” society, which I never really believed in but once thought was somewhat the case for children of the 2000s. On the other hand, I know good and well that racism is alive and well, as are prejudices and firmly established stereotypes, one of which is the notion that blacks and whites “talk differently.”

There’s another matter at work here, though, and it involves the very construction of race itself. I told the Kid that he’s got to stop thinking that there is a “black” way of being and a “white” way of being, that people of all races speak the way he and his friend were mocking—it’s not a “black” thing, nor is his being articulate a “white” thing. I then told him that it reminded me of President Obama’s run for office—remember his being called “articulate and clean”?—when the Kid quickly interrupted,

“But he’s not black.”

“Well, he’s identified himself that way, and plenty of people identify him as such.”

“But his mom is white. He has her white genes!”

“What are ‘white genes’?!” I laugh. “Kid, race is a construction created by people a long time ago to create division. Now, you think you’re “black” because your mom is “black” and your dad is “black,” but you have non-black people in your blood line, in your ancestry. Does that mean you’re not black?”

“Well, not fully black.”

“So what does black mean? What makes you so different from the President? Do you see that race isn’t a fixed concept? It’s very complex and doesn’t have any one meaning.”

“Yeah, it really is complex…I’m confused…”

I could tell as much. Hey, who isn’t? He wanted to make race about skin color at times and about blood and genetics at other times. Either way, he couldn’t sustain his ideas. Sound familiar? Whatever race is or isn’t, I hope this is a more solid beginning to getting him to see the socially manufactured ways we think about race and to question the stereotypes that he’s been accepting as factual.