Sammy Sosa's "Skin Rejuvenation" and the Politics of Skin Color
So we are at the end of 2009, and it amazes me how many lingering social/racial/socio-political issues have suddenly raised their ugly head late in the year.
We have body issues - are we too fat or thin?
Hair problems - straight or curly, natural or relaxed, weaves or wigs?
And the latest problem...skin color.
This past weekend, I attended a conference where one of the panelists, a young biracial man who is the vocalist for an up-and-coming band, unwittingly unleashed a firestorm when discussing blacks in the rock / punk / hardcore scene. He declared that he had never experienced any negative remarks about his ethnicity but then he added, "well my mom always told me and my brother that because of our light skin and wavy hair, that we would have an easier time in life."
People were stunned. At first, I decided maybe he was just stating a fact and there was nothing insidious behind it, but later on during his time on the panel, he used his light and bright appearance as a defense mechanism to when people critiqued the other somewhat disturbing things he said during his talk.
When a group of black female university students challenged him, he alluded to the fact that they disliked him because he was 'lighter' than they were. He also compared his 'wavy' hair to an attendee who wore a natural 'fro. The look of hurt on this woman's face - an absolutely beautiful woman completing her Masters as a prestigious university - broke my heart.
The worst part was - and I gathered this because I spent quite a lot of time with him after the panel - was that he was not being intentionally cruel in his remarks - he clearly had no idea how f&*ked up his reasoning was. He knew that he had benefited because he was a very good-looking young dude with a kick-ass body, smarts (I think he went to MIT) and his band is doing well, but by openly admitting his privilege, he hurt the feelings of many people who were struggling with their images.
So I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I did tell him that he was truly f$%ked and I told him why - I didn't slap him like I wanted to, but I was actually proud of myself that I and the other women who went for a drink after the panel, had a rational - okay, it did get heated at times - discussion with him.
But what was interesting was the timing of this incident. A week earlier, pictures showed up on the 'Net of Sammy Sosa, whom despite claiming that he is going through 'skin rejuvenation everyone is skeptical that the brother went from having brown skin to a frightfully pale appearance. Sosa, who is Dominican, has been quoted as saying that it was an accident but I am pretty sure people know he is lying. After all, wasn't he on steroids?
Shaka from The Shaka Shaw Show thinks that this is just a symptom of self-hate:
This is some old school self-hate sh*t. Back before we had BET and JET Beauty of the Week, before Kiki Shepard and Tyler Perry movies. Before we had a plethora of good-looking Black people in the public eye, on the big screen and on TV, in all their beige, caramel, chocolate, and blue-black glory. Naps and perms, weaves and dreads. It’s all beautiful. So why in 2009 is Sammy Sosa (without the vitiligo excuse) brightening his skin? Mental slavery…some folk just don’t wanna be free.
What was funny is that at the same conference, we were talking about Michael Jackson. I can't remember what I said ( probably something mildly offensive) but people went silent. Black Americans and Michael Jackson? Talk about denial. No one wants to talk about how the brother not only bleached his skin, wore a wig and was not interested in any woman who were darker than a paper bag. It is this silence that tells me that black folks are really invested in only keeping the 'positive' aspects of Michael alive and will conveniently forget the troublesome ones.
And now they are saying that Prince, Jackson's son has Vitiligo, the same skin disorder that Jackson allegedly had - but isn't that child white? and allegedly not Jackson's biological child?
And we have, of course Precious and the actress, Gabourey Sidibe that played her. We have the issue that I raised in last week's post about Lee Daniels decision to have a biracial actress play an integral part in the movie, in which the original character, Ms. Rain, was a dark-skinned, deadlocked sista. From Feministing:
In the book, the description of Blue Rain, the half-messiah, half-educator that delivers Precious from the bondage of illiteracy and abuse is as follows: "She dark, got nice face, big eyes, and...long dreadlocky hair." (39-40) This character in the movie is played by Paula Patton, a light-skinned African American woman with straightened hair. By no means do I doubt the talent of Patton, but it means something that the directors chose to cast one of the most central characters of the film against Sapphire's original description.
Look, if people want to bleach their skin, so be it. But people ain' t stupid.We know about the caste system in other countries where people are more valued if their skin is lighter (thanks Colonialism!) We also know that popular culture / media values those who have more Eurocentric features. It is sad, though that just like our hair issues, our weight issues and apparently now our skin color issues, we haven't yet beat the beast that has been plaguing us for centuries - in a time when we are supposed to be celebrating the fact that the American president is biracial. That his beautiful wife and daughters are black and beautiful.
Also this weekend I also interviewed a well-known vocalist/guitarist in the metal world who is biracial. He said that despite Obama being in office, in his opinion, racism in the States had gotten worse, and he predicted that things would continue to go downhill. So I guess the guy at the conference was wrong after all: Light-skinned brothas with wavy hair are not better off.