Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams are Bad for Black Women

Just about all Americans agree that our society suffers from color prejudice. Many would refuse to openly acknowledge it in such blatant terms, but if pressed would admit that European skin and features are depicted as the most desirable while African skin and features are rated at the bottom of the totem pole. Moreover, they may unconsciously (or even consciously) hold these views themselves.

Celebrities of all stripes understand this reality quite well, an
d act upon it accordingly. Yes, we all agree that "black is beautiful", but when was the last time you saw a black female celebrity consistently wearing her hair without a perm?

Black America suffers from some serious schizophrenia on this issue. Charges of light-skinned bias are issued against the fashion, music and film industries on a regular basis for their choices of representation. But black folks complained little when Halle Berry was described as the first African American woman to win an Oscar. In fact, more often then not when racially mixed celebrities buck the black race patrol and refuse to one drop themselves, the outcry of "sell out" and "race traitor" is not far behind.

With the exception of those biracials who are too light to pass as only black, no
one suffers more from this hypocrisy then black women. Not only are they unable by nature's design to compete with European standards of beauty, they are also forced to contend with so-called black women whom they could never look like either. It seems obvious that black women will only be able to develop healthy self images when authentic representations of their physical traits are depicted. Conversely, this means biracial and mixed raced people who refuse to identify as such will continue to disadvantage black women in their ability to find beauty in their African features, kinky/curly hair and dark skin.

Black Americans do not come in all shades and colors. Vanessa Williams does not descend from a blue-eye
d, light-skinned tribe of Africans kidnapped from the coast of West Africa. She is a multi-generational mix of Africans and Europeans who created her right here on this side of the pond. She is not a black woman. She is not a white woman. She is biracial. The sooner black America understands and accepts this fact, the sooner black people - especially black women - will be able to create attainable standards of beauty for themselves that are healthy and affirming.

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Damie_D said...

Unmixed Blacks do come in various darker brown shades, even some African tribes.

Damie_D said...

Blacks don't look like you, but, predominantly black people do come in numerous shades of deeper brown, because most African Americans are marginally mixed.

Instead of differentiating by race, invite African Americans to explore their variable multi-racialness too.

Damie_D said...

I'm anti-ODR too. I find it unfair that you call all blacks one-dropist. Many aren't.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comments damie_d! Yes, it's true that many American blacks are not one-droppers. But the majority are because that's what the culture encourages and teaches. It often appears to be opportunistic - in the sense that biracials are claimed as black when it's suitable to black interests, but regularly ridiculed for not understanding the "real" black experience because their lightness enables skin privilege. I am of the mind that neither blacks nor biracials can have it both ways. Blacks shouldn't be claiming Dorothy Dandridge as the first black nominated for an Oscar, and biracials shouldn't be claiming that people fear them when walking down the street late at night.

Jennifer said...

This is the dumbest shit I've read in my LIFE. Quit crying because Hollywood doesn't think you're pretty. Hollywood doesn't think I'm pretty, either. Now ask me if I give a fuck.

By the way, Vanessa has two black parents.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for your comment, but I think you missed my point.

And yeah, I have two "black" parents, too.

dave said...

I'll start from early on in my evolution... I am a biracial man whose father is African-American and mother is Caucasian. My parents met in 1959 when my un-wed mother was in a nursing school where my father was employed as a nurses aide... my mother was engaged to a white man who was attending engineering school. My father had an African-American wife and (5) children at the time of his extra-marital relationship with my mother. At some early point of my mothers pregnancy with me she made the decision to marry her fiance, and to lie to everyone about who the father of her un-born child was... she achieved this by claiming that I had been afflicted with a skin-disease called "melanism".

My mother and step-father had four more children together in the space of nine years after I was born, and we grew up together in a middle-class household in white america where the subject of "race" was never discussed. My earliest recollections of having to be aware of race was when I was asked questions about the color of my skin by other classmates in first grade... "Why was my skin dark?", "Was I adopted?" race was certainly a hot-button issue in 1965-66 when I began school , but any awareness that my mother and step-father had achieved from growing up in their white neighborhoods in the 40's and 50's was insufficient in preparing them for raising a biracial child... and to complicate things, they were both in complete denial of their complicity in my mis-education. When I came home from school after having been asked questions by fellow students from my all-white school district, my mother then explained "the skin-disease story" to me... "other kids with this disease usually have dark blotches all over their bodies, so you should feel fortunate". When I would tell my mother about other boys and girls who would call me names or act aggressively for no apparent reason, I began to understand that I would get no further assistance from her to explain this rationale... my step-father was even more removed from the conversation and would only add, "You know what your mother said".

By the time that my step-father transferred jobs and our family of (7) had moved from the all-white Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Stow to the all-white school district of Portville in Western up-state N.Y. it was the spring of 1970 and I was in fourth grade, and already the veteran of many racial incidents and altercations between myself, classmates, and even some adults. My four younger siblings had also been told the same story, and had to explain the same things to their friends when asked why they had a brother who was black... "Hey, did your mother fool around a little bit??" I remember how much that hurt me when I heard it, and I'm sure that they felt just as badly when they did... nonetheless, this was a "subject" that we never discussed as a family, not once, at least in my presence.

I was taught through my observations of my mother and step-father to keep quiet about things that I wasn't sure about, and I was also taught to ignore the obvious.

As I matured into my teen-aged years and began to experience societies issues and insecurities in coming to terms with this countries racial in-equalities during the 70's, I felt an increasing need to rationalize and then codify the information that my mother had given me, regardless of what I was beginning to realize inside... I felt a growing discomfort/conflict, yet there was no one in my life to offer any other perspective... I had learned that black people were a part of society that we didn't talk about. ( There was a black family in my small town, and they were poor and lived in a run-down house near the river...I never had any opportunity or reason to associate with them)

I was a "B" student and also began taking an interest in sports where I was above average. Meeting other schools and student athletes were opportunities to then be exposed to populations that had not been inured by my story yet...I was just another black kid to them.

Communicating my experiences to my mother and step-father was difficult because they had no experience with racial prejudice, therefore when I had problems with other children it would be looked at as an issue that "I" had in getting along with others(as well as intra-family sibling issues).
Because "race" was being ruled-out entirely, by my mothers denial of my father, she could not logically use that rationale to explain any conflicts that I would have. My step-fathers complicity in this was to blindly support my mothers viewpoint.

The "white" viewpoint has always been that blacks(black society) were pretty well cared for, and what contact they did have would be polite and careful... What, with the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts being passed, the playing field had been leveled.(re: my mother and step-father's generation)
The feelings and comfort of my mother were apparently what was important, and her inculcation had to have been partly comprised of the idea that white society acted as the gate-keepers and care-takers of an infantilized black population.


How has black society formed its identity?

What role models have been used, and how does white society react to positive
black role models today? (Are they held to a more critical prism??)

Is there enough information readily available for black people to easily form a
positive racial identity?

Is it important that black society is able to connect accurately the dots of its social
evolution in America? and is it also important that white society can connect those
same dots??

What is White Privilege?

What is White awareness?

What is Whiteness?

What about Affirmative Action?

Is Race just a social construct?

How do we improve our society in America?

Is there any other way(besides the attrition of the old guard) to achieve this??

...** These questions are not rhetorical... I'd like to hear from those of you that have
courage... and the wherewithall, to provide feedback.

Dave Myers

xoxo Jaimie said...

Why are sub-saharan african women making it such a big deal that these women aren't black and being offended by their "beauty" I think the person who wrote this and those black people with sub-saharan looks aren't happy with themselves. Who cares if the media favors a certain look? Everyone knows that you should not let the media control your life and views.(And they don't always because there are many sub-saharan and "african looking" black women who are models and whose beauty is appreciated.) You need to have stronger self esteem and self worth and stop caring if the media thinks something else is beautiful. You're worth should come from within yourself, and if outside your own family. I really read that article and I felt that that person was ashamed of their own looks because they feel they don't measure up to what "so and so" thinks is pretty therefore they feel they have to hate or bash that idea. Who really sits around saying omg i want to look "EXACTLY" like Vanessa Williams. If you loved yourself and your own looks you wouldnt care.

I would definately classify Vanessa as a black woman because she is not immediately mixed. Halle, probably a mixed woman because her mother is white. But just how much...or how little, should I say...european features can one possess and still be called Black. You call these women out because Halle is immediately mixed and Vanessa has blue eyes. Vanessa would be just as beautiful if her eyes were brown. Everyone has some sort of mix to them. Even some of the tribes in africa has mixed. I think its acceptable for them to be called black. If you want to take it that far, maybe you should let the Black people be open minded and embrace people of color with all sorts of features and you can be content with just "African" beauty.

karayan said...

Faux concern for the collective self-esteem of 'full black' women instead of addressing the real issue head on which is clearly your desire that 'mixed'/'biracial' and 'black' be clearly delineated labels and identities and that those of mixed ancestry be included in the mixed/biracial category?

The issue of black female representation in the media is actually simple
1) the problem is not the overwhelming presence of light and biracial women but the relative absence of dark and brown women.
Basically there needs to be a better representation of the full diversity of women of African descent in all textures, shapes, sizes and colors.
Vanessa being black has no bearing on that issue.
2) Women and girls need to learn not to base their sense of self and worth on a profit run, image obsessed, illusion based entity such as the US media. Non-white women especially because at best we get ignored but are usually fetishized, objectified and reduced to simplistic stereotypes.
And lets be real. If I feel like I'm not cute seeing more Gabrielle Union and less Beyonce Knowles isn't going to fix anything seeing as the average woman doesn't look like her either. I went through a whole phase in the 90s where I was so disappointed in not looking like my favorite chocolate starlets. I doubt it was any less damaging to my esteem than not looking like the cafe au lait Vanessa Williams.

As for the real issue...
Since 'race' is social, cultural, historical and has no legitimate universal biological basis then racial identity is a matter of personal choice. No on is right or wrong because it is a result of their upbringing and experiences. Tiger and Earl Woods aren't wrong for being multiracial, Vanessa and Alicia aren't wrong for being black. You aren't wrong for being mulata and your 'rents aren't wrong for being black.

I thought one of the points of the Multiracial Movement was to empower people to seize their freedom to identify and construct who they are as they see fit, not guilt folks of mixed parentage that choose to be black (or any other 'monoracial' label) and cherry pick AAs, and those of other ethnic/cultural backgrounds that encompass mixed roots, to nominate as not black.
AAs (or however folks want to term us) are an ethnic group and as such culture, heritage and identity are important in determining who we are, not so called racial purity. As it is 92-97% of AAs are estimated to have non-African ancestry, so where does one draw the line between multi-generational mixed and black?
Especially without the benefit of administering autosomal (admixture are too variable) DNA tests to the entire population.
Is it only those who are 50% non-African ancestry, or appear to be?
How many would have guessed Skip Gates has 48% European ancestry? Or that Don Cheadle and Chris Rock, dark as they are, have nearly 20% Euro ancestry?
What about Tom Joyner, one of the lightest on the show with his fair skin and grey eyes being only @ 1/3 European ancestry? less than Q Jones, Dr Lawrence-Lightfoot, the Johnson heir and Skip - all browner than him?

Where does one draw the line?
Or does it just make more sense to let people situate themselves wherever they see fit.

Kahlil O. Crawford said...

GREAT article! ~;)

juicy flawless said...

Interesting you put a picture of Nia Long, who is Trinidadian, and Alex Wek, who is Sudanese, which is not African American. But I guess
any dark skin black woman will do to prove your point.

If you didn't know Halle had a white mother, would you honestly think she was biracial? Give me a break. And I don't remember any AA complaining about her Oscar win. And Vanessa Williams looks just like any other light skin black woman, both of her parents are black.