In an age where most blacks have, for decades, rejected "There's only one race the human race," a phrase used by whites to negate racism and I have now personally rejected "Oh my Gawd! We're all black!" and all variations on this phrase used by light-skinned and dark-skinned black people, both, to negate colorism,I cannot believe I never noticed that four out of the five black actresses playing the central female characters, the female studentswere all mixed race or white except one
From Part 1, NO SUCH THING AS A CAREFREE BLACK GIRL
So now, I'm wondering what else I've willfully failed to notice going around me in regards to skin color.
To this day, black people do not like to acknowledge that light-skinned black people started moving on up ala the Jeffersons first, before other blacks, once we were all out of slavery.
First Black Senator, elected in 1870
In Chimamanda Adiche's book Americanah her main character is at an a prestigious, predominantly white school in the United States. One of the first comments this black young woman from Africa makes is about how she is practically alone in having the problem of finding somewhere to get her hair braided because the female part of the small black population attend the school are mostly Aisha's with the good straight or 3A hair.
Once I read Adiche's book, I started wondering if I had failed to notice this in my own life? Black women who look black, those who you don't have to guess about their heritage have been erased from black television and black magazines for decades.
It's normal for me to not see myself in black media. That's pathetic. But it's true. So I wonder if I missed this during my college days, in real life, as well
During my Oh My GAWD We're All Black phase, during my willful INTRAracial colorblindness phase of my teen years at college, I wonder if I was surrounded by a bunch of Aishas With Good Hairs when in black spaces at my predominantly white Ivy League school too.
I wonder if the reason the black guys mostly went out with light girls (which I most definitely noticed) was because that's mostly what there was to choose from.
It's entirely possible I missed the fact that there was an over abundance of light-skinned and/or recently-mixed chicks at my school. I was as thoroughly trained to not notice skin color between black people as "good" liberal white people are trained to not notice race. And I recall an incident when my home training kicked in and had to be overcome.
I've told this story before: When I was in my twenties, wound up up at a book signing for Terry McMillan that was hosted by a black political/social group in San Francisco.
I made a small joke (not off color, I don't think) to a pale-ish black woman host while standing on line. When she clutched her pearls in response, I was confused for a moment. I thought my individual bad luck that it was Mrs. McSnooty and not someone else who was doing hall monitor duty while I was on line. But when she walked off, I looked around and realized that I was the only dark-skinned black woman in a room full of black people at a black event.
I'd already been at the event for an hour before I noticed I was the only darky there. And I wouldn't have realized it at all if it hadn't been for that woman's white-racist-type reaction to my having the audacity to speak to her. I would have gone home with a vague feeling of not-belonging at a black event without knowing why.
And not to be too melodramatic, I'd say that's soul damaging. I'd do anything to make sure a black girl child I was raising did not experience this.
I'm thinking of other black places where I was extremely uncomfortable now.
I don't think I willfully missed being the only obviously not-recently-mixed black girl visiting a friend in the black dorm. But maybe there was an over-abundance of Aishas-The-Good Hairs there.
One of the two black sororities on my campus must have literally used the paperbag test to admit members. I remember one light-skinned black girl named Crystal being the most open, friendly sweet girl when I met her freshman year. She still tried to be the same person once indoctrinated into her sorority, but the sororities and frats work hard to isolate their members from other black people. And she did belong to the one black sorority (of two) that was most definitely using a paperbag test to choose its members. (The Deltas, on the other hand, were mostly dark as I recall)
It's no wonder I have a hate-love-hate-hate with black sororities and black fraternities to this day. I've read about the nice and constructive reasons that they were formed (none of which admit to mimicking the worst of elite white people) And I like the idea of the unity that some speak of finding there. But since I was a child I've thought that being 10 to 13% of the total population ought to be enough of a exclusive club for anybody. And at a predominantly white school, where blacks are probably only 2% of the population, it damn sure should be enough.
And I'm not sure I'd have thought elitism and exclusion were better at a 98% to 100% black HBCU either if the movie School Daze is accurate in any way.
I guess A Different World never got anywhere near the subject of black fraternities and black sororities because it was a comedy. Or maybe Whitley (Jasmine Guy's character) was supposed to personify the rich elitist sorority girl. But sans the group dynamics that didn't really work, not even in the lightest of ways.
In the end, re-visiting A Different World through a sociological lens has made me realize the obvious. You can't ignore the values of the producer of a television or movie project because they are both reflectors and shapers of our culture. We, as black people, all know this when it comes to white people making television shows and movies about blacks. But we need to know this about black people reflecting and shaping our culture, too.
Bill Cosby's life choices taken together (prior to the rape accusations becoming acknowledged as likely true)
- ultra pale wife, - his shaming poor black speeches that came later, - regular Playboy Mansion attendance to see mostly naked white chicks,
- choosing so many recently-mixed race and one white actresses to represent young black women in one of his "black" television shows
...might mean that a subtle brain-washing is taking place when you watch "A Different World"
And did Cosby successfully slut shame Lisa Bonet for wanting to do a movie with nudity in it, to the point that she left the Cosby Show and A Different World?
Are black boys that watching "A Different World" and The Cosby Show for that matter, subtly being told that the most desirable black woman is the pale, recently-mixed one?
- Did Cosby also deliberately choose ultra pale actresses to be be his older daughters in so that they would be the ones with love interests explored more in depth? Or did these selections come so naturally to him that he didn't even have to think about it?
Are black girls watching these shows being told they aren't acceptable unless they are Aisha With The Good Hair, looking something like the damn near worshiped, bleached blond Beyonce?
Beyonce is gorgeous and talented. This is true. But is A Different World a piece of the platform that Beyonce stands on right now?
Are there dark-skinned girls we'll never see on a huge forum because we have failed to notice how black people, even INTRAracialy oppressed dark-skinned people, prefer to not notice that we all prefer light people?
We, as black people, know we can't afford to have white people crushing and reforming our images any way they want to. So can we as black people -- especially black women, really afford to not pay attention when black people, whose values we despise, crush and reform our images anyway they want to?
I don't think so.