Blackness


Retired Racing Greyhounds Need Homes, And You Can Help! - Dogtime
People all around the world have prejudices about the color black.  Some people even hate black dogs!  It makes no sense.

I noted before that racial bias based on skin-tone is not limited to the United States.  Some of our foreign friends like to run us down for having so much "racial strife" but that is largely because we have races and are trying to live together - and have a history that is hard to shake.

Those same foreign friends often have their own racial issues, but they are often swept under the rug only because their own racial minorities are much smaller, or it is just not talked about, or they don't consider people of different colors to be of different races - but discriminate against them just the same.

A Mexican movie star put a "dark" filter on her picture online and said it was "too dark, too ugly" which ignited a firestorm and brought to the forefront Mexico's dirty little secret about racism.   And it isn't just Mexico, but all of Latin America, South America, and well, just about anywhere.

I recalled before how I thought I was complimenting a Costa Rican friend of mine when I said he had a handsome face - like a Mayan God. And he did, too.  He freaked out and insisted that he was of 100% Spanish heritage and not some stinking native!  I stepped on a cultural landmine.   In countries like that, your social status is determined by skin color, and the darker you are, the more "native" blood you may have, or the more you may spend working outdoors - both meaning a lower social status.   Those lawn care workers you see wearing scarves and big hats are not only fighting off skin cancer, but trying to keep their faces as pale as possible.

In the book Waiting for Snow in Havana, the author relates his experiences in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, through the revolution.  While there was a lot of injustice meted out by the new communist overlords, the pre-revolutionary Cuba was hardly anything but just.  In one poignant tale, the author relates how he and his father - a mid-level bureaucrat - take a ferry across the harbor.  At the dock, dark-skinned boys his own age dive into the oily water to fetch nickles thrown in by tourists such as himself and his Dad.   The darker-skinned kids dive for nickles, the lighter-skinned kids throw them.  And their fate in society is pretty much predetermined by skin color.

While post-revolutionary Cuba has made everyone "equal" (well, except for the ruling elite) this has meant a drop in the standard of living for many, except for the very poor, who were often of darker hues.  For them, the revolution improved their standard of living, as the country is (allegedly) more race-neutral.   I wonder, however, if lingering discrimination still exists.  It seems all the party leaders you read about in the papers and see on television are all of a lighter hue.

And so on around the world - whether it is Arab countries, India, even in Africa or even among blacks in the United States.  Lighter-toned people historically have been offered opportunities not given to darker-skinned people.   In countries that are largely mono-racial, like Japan or Sweden, the effect becomes quite noticeable when people migrate to those countries.   These same counties, which run us down for having "racial strife" show their ugly hands the first time some refugee from Africa shows up, or an immigrant from Peru.   No one is immune to discrimination, and those who throw brickbats at the United States should probably clean the skeletons out of their own closets first.

But this denigration of color goes beyond race, but extends to other areas in life.   It is akin to how we shit on left-handed people, calling them "sinister" and using phrases like "a left-handed gift" or some such.  With blackness, we use the term to express fear or describe something as less than desirable or even evil.   If you have a black soul, or black heart, for example, you are deemed to be evil or heartless. It has nothing to do with race, just the color black, which is associated with night, which in turn is associated with fear.  Or if you fail at school, you may receive a black mark against your name - again, nothing to do with race, but perhaps the color of ink (although why mention the color, when all inks back then were black?).  If you are barred from the country club or fraternity, you have been blackballed - because someone voted against you by dropping a black ball in the voting bin (why not a white ball?  Curious!).

It goes beyond humans even.  At the greyhound rescue in Miami, the manager told us they have a hard time adopting-out black dogs (greyhounds come in a number of colors and patterns, and oddly enough, grey [or gray] is the least common).   Particularly in Hispanic communities, she told me, black dogs are viewed as evil or a bad omen - like some sort of black magic.  That's just weird.   But again, black cats suffer from the same form of discrimination and sometimes even abuse.

And maybe that is why in the 1960's the phrase "Black is Beautiful" became a catch-phrase and an anthem.  It was an attempt to change the perception of how we perceive blackness itself.   As the ill-fated Mexican movie star illustrated, many people still perceive attractiveness based on skin tone, which is ridiculous, as beautiful people come in all colors.  I've seen fantastically beautiful men and women with jet-black skin, and ugly-as-sin folks with skin so pale and white as to look like a corpse.   Beauty and color are not related, but these perceptions still remain.

Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most controversial artists of ...
Robert Mapplethorpe illustrated how Black is indeed beautiful

So beyond the racial thing, beyond the history of slavery, there is a general prejudice against the color black - which may have less to do with race than our ancient tribal fears.   Perhaps this is yet another reason why black people have struggled so long to achieve equality while other races have come to America and thrived.

As I noted in another posting about ghettos, the "Chinatown" in DC used to be a Jewish neighborhood, which you can tell by the stars of David on the old temple, which was now a Korean Baptist Church.   When a minority comes to America, they settle in these ghettos, for a while, until they are accepted and absorbed by society, at which point they move out to the suburbs and mow lawns like everyone else.

Little Italy in New York is more of a restaurant neighborhood than a place where Italian-Americans live.  Most moved out to Long Island or other outer boroughs - or Jersey - as soon as they could afford to.  Chinatown is the same deal.   My Polish friends sold their parents' house in Hartford, in what was once a thriving Polish neighborhood, but today is now Puerto Rican.  The Poles thrived and moved to the suburbs.  The Puerto Ricans may follow them in due course.  Ghettos are usually a temporary condition.  Even the gay ghettos are emptying out, as people seek nicer and less-expensive places to live.  Dupont circle is less gay than merely trendy and expensive.

But black ghettos seem to stubbornly persist.  Granted, more and more black people have been "movin' on up" as they occupy more of the professions and are offered greater opportunities (compared to when I was a kid, anyway).   But prejudices remain.  I recounted before how my neighbor in Virginia lived in our suburban neighborhood (one of the few blacks there).  He ran his own business and his wife was a surgeon.   He had one of those old "whale tail" Porches that he kept in meticulous condition.

And he related that in the ten years he had lived near Mt. Vernon, he had been pulled over dozens of times - many times a year - by the U.S. Park Police (boo! hiss! Amateurs!) who patrolled the Mt. Vernon Parkway.   His crime?  Speeding?  Broken taillight?   Reckless driving?   No, just driving a really nice Porsche while black.   And we saw him by the side of the road, with a police cruiser behind him, on more than one occasion.  They would pull him over, check his license and registration and insurance, and then let him go with no explanation.

So, there's that.   It becomes difficult to move ahead when this sort of innate prejudice exists.   Throw in the history of slavery, and you can see where it becomes emotionally difficult to rise above your station in life and improve yourself.  You might start out trying to do well in school, get a scholarship, and move away from the inner city.  But after being smacked down a number of times, well, maybe you stop trying as hard or even give up.   It isn't easy to get ahead in life, you have to have a strong personality and not everyone has that.

I am not sure where I am going with this, other than the comment by the greyhound lady stuck with me - people are afraid of black just as a color, before you even get to things like race prejudice.   It seems to me that this problem isn't going to be solved overnight, or even in the short-term.  It takes a long, long time for attitudes to change, particularly when they are so ingrained into the language and culture.