Winner Number 9 Colorism
Tonight’s speaker is Tommy O’Brien: a wiry 60ish man who walks the mountains alone, year round, far from trails, sometimes chest deep in snow, sometimes choosing routes that, if he slipped, no one here would ever know what became of Tommy. He likes to laugh and he’s one of those rare people you meet a couple of in your life if you’re lucky: one who’s fully present. In a room with Tommy, you’re a valid human being. He’s spent a lifetime learning about trauma, how the big brain suppresses it, and tarps it over, until the big brain thinks everything’s put right, while trauma’s still knotted in some other brain; in the medulla, or spine, or kidney, or crotch. Years later when a trigger fires and that trauma is suddenly going 90 miles an hour, wreaking havoc, people call Tommy and ask him to help figure out what’s going on. I have. He looks at you with those piercing brown eyes and great bushy brows, no judgment, and says, “Let’s sit with this a while…”
Chairman Roy waved his arms then rapped the table with his mallet. “Hey! Can you hear me in the back? Yeah well shut-up then. Because the time is here for all of us melanin jeopardizing, white-skinned no matter, white penis, incorrect Jesus worshipping, prop kid-adopting, frailty denying, reparations rejecting, mutants to hunker round the bunker for a dose of a topic we’ve never discussed or thought about because it’s off limits from polite conversation everywhere. Who better to take us into unexplored territory than a soul traveler who spends so much time in the woods that bears ask him where to shit—gentlemen! Give it up for Tommy O’Brien!”
Tommy looked at the Tibetan bell as if it were about to tell him something. And maybe it was, he’s one of those guys. He flicked the bell. Bwoooiiinnnnng.
A trauma we didn’t know about
“Through millions of years of evolution we’re hard-wired to be part of the warmth of a group and we figure out early in life our place in the group. So much of what we’ve been talking about in our group here is caused by fragmentation of family and social groups in America, and it’s increasing. Americans are exchanging that warmth for flat screens, which causes fragmentation of our relationships, which causes fragmentation of ourselves. Look our national politicians. They are fragmented people. Can you imagine spending a day in one of those bodies?”
“Typically, we think of traumatic events affecting us less after the passage of time. At most, we think if someone never deals with trauma it will dissolve when they die. But if trauma hasn’t been addressed within the body, it can be passed on, amplified, to the next generation. And to the next. When you look at these black American millionaires and billionaires complaining about white privilege to white people who own a fraction of what they’ve got, that’s what’s going on.”
“As I see it, our racism at this table, is that in our discussions, we’ve only looked at the racist things blacks say about white people, that is to say, about us. Racism black people have developed towards each other, colorism, is far more traumatic for millions of black Americans than anything white people say to blacks. Just because the media is chicken and doesn’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”
Colorism: a billion dollar racket
“One of the most lucrative cosmetic products on planet earth is skin bleaching compounds.” Tommy said, “So this is hardly just an American thing.”
“Wait a minute.” Tim said, “Skin bleaching. You mean like they said Michael Jackson did?”
Tommy nodded, “All those news outlets making fun of him didn’t say half the population in Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines uses some kind of skin lightening treatment. And 60 percent of India. In African countries like Nigeria over 70 percent. It’s mostly women but some men, too. It’s huge. I read somewhere that by 2027, the skin whitening industry is projected to be worth over $24 billion dollars. Skin whitening products are banned in a lot of countries but they’re still available.”
“On the black market?” Sonny asked.
“It’s not funny, Sonny.” Roy said. “Your skin is the largest organ in your body. And to soak it in bleach! Jesus. You wouldn’t soak your liver in bleach or your lungs or whatever.”
“Well don’t get on me like it’s my fault.” Sonny said. “I ain’t never even heard of this before.”
Stereotypes: A Girl Like Me, Dark Girls, Light Girls
Tommy said, “Back in 2005 a Harlem High school girl named Kiri Davis made a seven minute documentary about how black high school girls felt about their skin color and natural hair—and the prejudice from other blacks, or from themselves, if they were too dark. She called it, ‘A Girl Like Me.’ It’s an eye-opener. 865,000 views. An odd coincidence, if you can call it that, is in 2020 a music video called Girl Like Me came out with dark-skinned men rapping to light skinned objectified booby women with long, straight hair prancing around in butt-floss outfits they wear in those videos. That had 294,047,843 views. The contrast is so stark, so obvious. It validates everything the girls in Kari Davis’ film said.”
“Bill Duke, he’s an actor/director, and D. Chansin Berry followed up on Davis’ documentary with one on the same theme in 2011 called Dark Girls. Polarized reviews on that. Someone in the black community asked him, ‘Why are you airing our dirty laundry?” He said, “Because it’s stinking up the house.” Is that a great line or what?” In 2015 he followed up with a film called Light Girls, about judgments light skinned black women get from the black community because they look too white. Light skinned girls getting beat-up, insulted, traumatized by darker girls. In 2020 D. Chansin Berry followed up with Dark Girls II. Between those three films, there are a number of black actresses who talk about missing out on being cast in movies because they’re either too light or too dark. Some actresses spend hours in tanning booths to look darker while others use skin lighteners and hair straighteners to make themselves look more white. It’s crazy. And crazy making. Especially for women. Al?”
“I like Bill Duke.” Al said. “Sharp guy, good actor and all that but ever since I watched him say on an interview, “I still want what I was promised, my forty acres, and a mule.” I can’t take him seriously. Same as Nikole Hannah-Jones. Same as Monica Cannon Grant. I think I understand what you’re saying about trauma through the generations, Tom, but whenever I see millionaires saying they want their mule, I see mule ears on the sides of their heads. Because they already have a mule. It’s in their heads. And what’s the essential characteristic of a mule?”
Tommy smiled. “Stubborn.
“Stubborn.” Al said. “And was there ever a mule so stubborn it would carry a heavy load it didn’t need for 155 years? Lincoln made promises to a lot of people that he didn’t keep because, even if he’d wanted to keep them, he was assassinated. Anyway Lincoln wanted repatriations not reparations. What’s repatriation, Gene?”
“Verb, to restore or return to one’s country of origin.” Nugene said.
“You’re right.” Tommy said. “Panama, Belize, Haiti, Liberia, Lincoln even—Tom glanced at Sonny—thought about sending all the blacks Texas. Talk about harsh. The only place that half-worked was Liberia where black American colonists started by building a caste system based on skin color: 1 Mulattos from the states, 2. merchants/farmers from the states. 3. Congos, who were freed African slaves the navy intercepted and dumped off in Liberia, and 4. the local population who weren’t allowed to mingle with the above. So, there we are: back to colorism. Back to 2021 and $24 billion a year worth of skin deep sensibilities.
I’m not saying colorism’s something we white people can fix. But when we say black people should have compassion for working poor whites, or black people should acknowledge white people aren’t all the same, we’re obliged to show them similar compassion.”
Tommy’s Epiphany: Don’t have to tote that load
“In closing,” Tommy said, “I’d like to read something, a perspective, that gave me a moment of clarity. It appeared in the Atlantic and was written by a young black woman, who went only by Allene. Here it is, the heart of it, anyway,“
“There is another, rarely examined aspect of what it means to be black in America. Modern-day black activists (hell, a whole lot of black folks in general), require other black people to be BLACK first—that is, to tote around on their bent backs and black shoulders the eons of tortured black history as if that history is a current-day reality while denying who they are as individuals…”
“For the life of me, I cannot understand how black people are so quick to recognize racism as directed towards them from whites, Latinos, Asians, et al, and miss the very real racism within our race from one another…
“Black students in high school and college are expected by other black students to only support black student organizations… I don’t know why black activists feel that each and every black person in America must be black before any other aspect of their personalities and lives.”
“What many blacks do not accept about white America is that there are millions of poor white folks in this country without opportunities, just like legions of poor blacks. The reality for all these people, both black and white, is that poor is poor, and being poor isn’t easier just because your skin is white.”
“As a black American, I cannot return to Africa. In Africa, I am also considered to be untrustworthy, a bastardized offshoot of a people long ago sold into slavery by people with skin the same color as mine…Well, in this world today, it appears that my simple desire to merely be accepted as human is something rejected by a lot of Americans—white people, but also by black people who require me to only be black!”
Tommy looked around at us, “… to tote around on their bent backs and black shoulders…” So much falls into place around that line. She’s right-on but what knocks me out is something that has been right in front of me all these weeks we’ve been talking about this thing. Right there but I didn’t see it. It’s that those same activists, with their demands, attacks, insults, cancel culture, colorist world view, forty acres and a mule, it all distills down to their desire for white people to tote that weight on their bent backs and white shoulders alongside black people. I was pushing against that without recognizing what I was pushing against. Thanks to this young woman, I’ve been liberated. It’s like taking off a back pack at the end of a long hike where you’ve gotten so used to it you forget it’s there. But when you take you feel like you’re about to float away.”
“I believe more people should take those packs off. Colorism is racism. Shall we vote, or shall we tote?” He flicked the bell.
“Vote!” “Vote!” “Vote!”
Colorism. Is it racism? Heck yeah. At least we think so. If you don ‘t, maybe you can explain it to us. Don’t count on it though. Colorism’s not our tote to carry. That’s why we voted enthusiastically, and unanimously, to include colorism among our 2020 WAZ recipients.