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Scientific racism is still alive and well. In case you didn’t know it by Dr Satoshi Kanazawa article in Psychology Today that claimed black women are objectively uglier than all other women on the planet, then here is Dr. Stephen Marquardt.

Dr. Marquardt was featured in a section of the documentary, American the Beautiful, directed by Darryl Robert. There, the good doctor reports that “lighter skin is more valuable” than darker skin in our society.  

When initially introduced to the “well renowned expert on the science of beauty,” we learn that Dr. Marquardt believes he has the answer to why light skin is preferred: “Most cultures prefer the lightest of that particular culture’s skin.  Is there something bad about dark skin?” Dr. Marquardt continues, “…well…the current theory…and I believe it myself…. is that we have evolved to prefer skin that is easier to tell disease….Then all of a sudden it takes everyone who has really dark skin and puts them at a lower level…as far as the perceived desirability….it’s only because of this evolved behavior if you’re lighter or if you’re more valuable…”

In case you didn’t catch this, it is only natural, it is evolution, for the society to prefer lighter skin.  It has nothing to do with colonization. We’ll also ignore the fact that all people don’t in fact think that lighter skinned people are more attractive. But those people don’t count.  

The film then shows Dr. Marquardt and director Darryl Robert discussing how difficult it is for movie directors who have to deal with darker actors. “Right!” Marquardt says, “that’s not right see….we should develop a makeup they could use to make it easier to lighten them, you know what I mean, and then black actors would be easier to work with.”

Let’s just make them look like us, even if they can’t actually BE like us.

Of course, now we learn that Marquardt likes to experiment with “changing skin color.”  Now I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but the film hires a black model to try to change her “color.”

Marquardt is going to make her attractive by making her five shades lighter with makeup.  But before Roberts could even get his camera rolling, we are told, the black actress and Marquardt “were at each other’s throats.”

Here is the transcript as best as I can describe it. It’s insane and was difficult to watch over and over:

Actress talking to Roberts: “Letting him tell me I’m lost…is…is…really embarrassing.”

“You are lost,” Marquardt screams behind the camera, “you are lost!”

Walking out of the door, the woman proclaims, “I am victorious, ” you asshole! (okay, I added the asshole, but I really really just wanted to say that.)

“You are not victorious. You’re sad.”

“You’re sad,” she counters. “That’s why you’re still in there with nothing to do…you have no dark skinned woman to abuse. I’m done!”

Marquardt follows her out, angry. “She’s just a loser. There’s just no way a person like that….she obviously has very little education….she’s certainly not opened minded….she knows nothing about human attractiveness….she thinks I’m an asshole” (he must have read my mind).

Roberts finally says something: “What if the life she lives is so painful…that’s common too…”

Marquardt counters: “I understand what you’re saying, but a lot of people have a sad, hard life….and they don’t dwell on it. If she doesn’t want to do anything to make herself look more attractive, fine, she’s about 1 in a 100 million women in the US that don’t want that. [Everyone else] wants it. I grew up on an Indian reservation. The Indians who were….had the same opportunities as the Indians who were losers. And the guys who were losers are still on the reservation….The people who took the opportunity to move off the reservations, got their free college education… and integrated into society and are more successful than anybody else.…but the guys who didn’t, like ladies like her, who dwell on her pain are still on welfare and go to bars and get drunk and lose their teeth in the gutter.

“You kill me when you said she had a hard life, you don’t even know her. You don’t even know her…you can’t say she had a hard life she may have grown up in Beverley Hills…she was never a slave…”

Then he just loses his mind and makes faces and weird noises and bounces up and down, pretending to mock black and Natives and anyone who, I guess, isn’t beautiful and wants light skin.  It’s really a wonder to see someone claiming to be better and obviously more attractive than anyone darker than he is, behaving this way.  The documentary is worth watching, if only for this portion.

Dr. Stephen Marquardt has some real issues and like many others before him, he uses so called scientific methods to justify his racist ideology. This is nothing new.  The irony—which he’ll never see—is while lambasting the director for defending the actress’s possible hard life, Marquardt does the same thing and claims that she was instead is a loser without knowing her. He goes so far as to say she is on welfare because she refuses to accept his belief that she is ugly simply because she doesn’t have light skin. 

That’s some real science there, good doctor.

This image has been all over Facebook recently. I love it probably because I have a deep unrequited love for Angela Davis and the struggle she encountered during the Black Panther movement and within the movement itself. For those who aren't aware, Angela Davis is an activist who was associated with the Communist Party  and the Black Panther movement in the 1960s.  As you can guess, this made her very popular at the time. I wasn’t born but images of her substantial (un)tamed afro still permeate the American psyche and thus the internet.  As the poster suggest, I also care about the "Republican War" on women's rights.

So I relate on a personal level to the picture and the message.  But it also made me think about something else that has happened recently. Lately people, even those who do not know me, have somehow began to relate to me and outright call me Angela Davis.

It all started since I fro-ed my hair (I like the use of "fro" as a verb. It seems to show an action, a progression almost...but I digress).  Since cutting my hair off mid last year, it’s grown into a massive, dark round (and I assume) reminder of our past. Lately people notice and stare at me for seemingly no reason at all.  And I cannot tell you how many times I have been walking down the street, or entering a store or doing nothing at all for that matter and someone called me “Angela Davis.” Well, it’s happen like five times, but that a significant number when it had never once happened before I got the fro.

Sometimes it seems to be an enduring term: “I like the Angela Davis thing you have going on,” stated by a dude at a restaurant who himself sported locks.

But more often not so much. In line at the grocery store a white man stood back from the cashier as if he wasn’t ready and when I tried to go around him, he held his hand out blocking my way and said, “Wait your turn….[mumble] Davis.” At first I thought he’d gotten me confused with someone he knew and called me Ms. Davis. Then I realized that I must have reminded him of the “militant” Angela Davis figure who had scared the American people and stolen America’s innocence (the way I tried to steal his spot in line) with her fight for equality all those many years ago.  

But it all was because of my hair.  People within this society see black women in very limited ways, but no matter what role we take within their minds, we make them uncomfortable.  Of course there are ways that we can lessen this effect. Paul Mooney once said, “When your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed.  ‘Cause when your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”

Though I’m not a fan of the term “nappy,” I certainly understand Mr. Mooney’s meaning. 

To be “natural” for almost every other woman on the planet is not only completely acceptable, but it is expected. (Simply wanting your hair to be straight when it’s curly or vice versa is not an example of the systemic ideology that one’s hair is wrong and must be changed to be “normal,” even if it can never be pretty or “good.”) But to be natural and be a black woman, however, is a political statement. Simply by wearing my hair in its natural state, I am somehow calling out the mainstream society and they do not like it. Without even knowing it, I am making a comment on the society and its unfair treatment of my people and this hair seems to remind them of that. My hair and anyone’s hair that is not straightened (or an acceptably curly) is, by definition, challenging the status quo.  

Davis took the stage and adorned her fro to the US populous many years ago and now, almost four decades later, it still feels as if it's an affront to the American way of life if I allow my hair free rein in public. There has been much discussion about blacks who have a difficult time finding employment if they have natural hair and this still an issue in 2012. There's also a lot of academic study on the subject and I even wrote a academic paper on it last year.

I understand, though, that natural hair for black women is more acceptable now than it has been in the past and I’m happy to see this happening. However, I think it’s important for us (all of us) to recognize that in many ways hair for some people is still political simply because of its presence and because of that not quite as freeing as many people would assume.  

That said, I freaking love my Afro and I’m not going to change it any time soon, despite people who can’t accept it or me.

Like Newt Gingrich, there is another white man telling black kids what they should do and how to behave. Also like Gingrich, Gene Marks professes to do so under the guise of helping blacks.

Mr. Marks says things like: "If I was a poor black kid I would first and most importantly work to make sure I got the best grades possible. I would make it my #1 priority to be able to read sufficiently. I wouldn’t care if I was a student at the worst public middle school in the worst inner city."

But don't worry, he just wants to help: "I am not a poor black kid. I am a middle aged white guy who comes from a middle class white background. So life was easier for me. But that doesn’t mean that the prospects are impossible for those kids from the inner city. It doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for them. Or that the 1% control the world and the rest of us have to fight over the scraps left behind. I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone in this country has a chance to succeed."

Yeah, you heard that right. All black kids have to do is work really hard and learn some technology and magically racism, sexism and class disparages all disappear.

There have been a lot of people who have remarked about how Marks is arrogant, ignorant and just plain ridiculous.

But it's all so ridiculous because the bases of the entire essay is built on a faulty premise. People have mentioned that this white man could never be the black kid that he professes to help, and here's why:

The statement "I" takes into account all of the being every person is, who they have become and places it in the context of their life and experiences of how and why they have become the person they have. A person can not take that "I" and place into another context because it is not the experience for which that person can ever exist. Therefore, the very statement "If I Were a Black Kid," can not be reconciled for Mr. Marks because he is not only not a black kid, but he could never be the black kid he professes and so can not apply his life experiences to such.

I hope I made myself clear enough to make sense. I just don't understand why people feel the need to preach to minority and poor people about how to be good decent members of society--like white folks. But I'm sure it won't stop with this man, or the one after him.

BTW, can anyone tell me: how many black kids do you know that read Forbes magazine?
Newt Gingrich claims that poor kids don't know work unless it’s for crime: “Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of... I do this and you give me cash unless it is illegal."

It’s sad and pathetic that a man running for president of the United States has such a bias against a large portion of society and is so willing to write them off, but I’m not surprised. What bothers me most are the commenters—as is often the case. Comments such as: “What you guys don’t understand is that Newt is telling the truth” or “A work ethic is a learned behavior, imprinted usually from watching your parents work. Democrats actually do not want poor folks to become independent and self sufficient. They need the votes….”

Forgetting for a moment that poor children are probably the only children in the US who actually know what real work is, it’s ridiculous that people are so willing to blame the poor for….being poor. I realize that it helps people’s conscious because they can believe that not only do they deserve what they’ve gotten, but that they’ve EARNED it the way those poor folks haven’t. But this is a problematic view of things. For one thing whatever class people are born in is the class they most likely stay in. This is not because of work ethic, but because those in upper classes have advantages that those in poorer classes don’t and this is perpetuated throughout our society.

But if there is more crime in these areas that can't be reconciled by the fact the minority and poor people are arrested and jailed more often for the same crimes, it also overlooks the simple fact that when you’re poor eating and surviving becomes the most important thing in one’s life. Morals and “honor” don’t go out the window, they change to fit your survival necessities. Would I steal bread from the store or have my children go hungry for the night? I may be admitting something about my morals, but my children eat first. Period. That’s morally right to me.

People who have not had to worry about these things, don’t think about these things. And they put a lot of emphasizes on doing the “right” thing and whatnot. However, can it ever be the right thing to do to let the poor slowly starve?

Of course, the one thing that will inevitably come up is the mention of “these” people not being willing to work. Not only is this blatantly not true, but it stigmatizes people who have not had the same education opportunities, and have fewer job opportunities. Furthermore, it causes affluent people to rationalize their own positions. No need to want to fix poverty when it’s the impoverished fault they’re that way.

I’m going to go out on a limb while being a bit facetious as well.

But you see, I don’t understand what the big deal is. Isn’t this what a capitalist society is for? Earning money no matter the consequences? A nice young man without any job prospects decides to open an enterprising business in the slums or middle America somewhere and there’s a problem? He can employ a group of people, make sure he keeps a steady set of customers flowing back in, and is making decent money where there’s no other jobs found. It’s capitalism baby. Making money. People don’t matter (we just call our business a person). Ethics don’t matter (thousands of people lost a job but I saved money when I moved my business to where I can pay 10 year-old kids 50 cent an hour to do what Americans were doing—NOW THOSE ARE KIDS WITH WORK ETHIC, MAN). Nothing else matters. Big companies do it. Our politicians do it. The only difference is that the big company have laws that can ensure that they aren’t breaking them.

Of course I’m being over the top but by laying it out like this I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to see that there are real problems in our society. Real disparages that will not go away while those who “have” continue to blame those who don’t. Instead I think we need to evaluate our priorities and put PEOPLE first. All people, not just some of them.

But perhaps we as a society have appraised the situation and concluded that this is exactly what we want?

Feminism: Not the Black Woman's Friend?

Dear people who say radical feminism is “too white”,
That’s because radical feminism doesn’t actually mean, “What about the black men?!” So now you know.

Sincerely,
Radical Feminism


Wow.

The implication here—even if they don’t mean it to be—is that black women, who are directly affected by accepted sexist attitudes of some black men, aren’t important. You see, black women must deal with the subjugation of both black men and white men AND white women. How can you claim to help all women, when you blatantly ignore the suffering of anyone who isn’t just like you? In that regard, how is this really any different than the oppressive attitudes of those in power?

I’ll give you a hint…. It’s not.

This is yet another reason I have stopped identifying myself as a feminist. In too many instances minority women are expected to toe the line and get behind whatever white women say is “true” oppression. When I’ve expressed this in the past, I’ve been told that because I rejected the term feminism, people like me “help keep [feminism] from being inclusive.”

I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I just don’t understand. Can someone explain this to me?

Let's Play White

Keeping a list of everything that's going on with my collection, if for no other reason than to have a go-to list somewhere:

i09 featured an excerpt of the novella, The Teachings and Redemption of Ms. Fannie Lou Mason, from the collection. For the record, this is one of my favorite stories and I'm glad to see it getting some love.

Pleased that Publishers Weekly gave Let's Play White a decent review.

The Austin Post reviewed it as well. It's a keeper.

This is the awesome Laird Barron's assessment.

Here's the most recent review.

There's only 3 copy left in stock at Amazon. Why not grab a copy while it's cheap?

Big Business, Small Minds

People always seem to use capitalism* as a way to support inequality. For example, there is an ongoing argument that publishers and agents are asking writers to remove all references to their characters' gayness, or remove the characters all together. In response, someone decided to play "devil's advocate" and defend the publishers:

"I do have to play devil's advocate here. You know the publisher is running a business. It is his job to publish what sells. If you read the original article the editor states that it would be okay to reveal the character as gay in later books, after people are emotionally invested. No matter how open minded you are, when you are running a business you have to realize that you can't force open mindedness."

So it's okay if the author sneaks in a gay characters after readers are emotionally invested? And this can only happen for readers if the characters are not gay to begin with? Because it's not possible to be emotionally invested in a gay character, only straight characters (and by extension, people) get this benefit.

Of course, the responder here is not being prejudiced, he's only playing devil's advocate and thinking of the bigger picture: businesses. In business, publishers have to make money to be able to publish more books. Their research has shown them that gay characters don't make money.

Or has it really? Here's a question. How do they know that gay characters don't sell if they aren't willing to publish them in the first place? I'm reminded here of the long held belief that blacks don't read, and aren't interested in literature, and so publishers didn't bother trying to publish them. After all, their research had told them that it was so, right? We all know what happened there. Blacks began self-publishing, supporting each other, and created an entire community devoted to their own literature--which is still huge today. After the fact, publishers realized blacks were an under served market and only then did they jump on the bandwagon, publish black authors, shove them in the "black section" of the bookstore and call it a day. But what difference did it make that they were segregating these books, because research showed that it was the best way to promote black authors, right?....

But let's assume that the argument is true (it's not, I know, but stick with me). What if somehow they can prove that gay/black/multicultural/whatever characters don't sell to a large segment of the population (forgetting for a moment that not all or even most writers are going to write about these topics in the first place, and that those who do may be serving a segment of the population that seek out this work, AND that the publishers themselves are separating much of this material, keeping them from the larger audiences).

But should we cater to those bigoted people?

The question is, if businesses are using oppressive practices and it is in their best interest to do so, should that be reason enough to accept these practices? Some people in this system would be oppressed, but if the majority condone it, should it be acceptable, as long as the businesses make as much money as they can, and therefore put money back into the economy? Is that the society we want to inhabit?

Of course it doesn't take shotty research and vague accusations of "sales numbers" to uphold people's biases; if they're allowed to, they will use those biases if given the chance. If this is not what we want, we have to take a stand and show that as a society, we do not condone this kind of behavior from anyone, including business. Perhaps, especially big business.


*Perhaps this tells us that capitalism itself is flawed. Any system that makes it more possible for certain segments of the the population to be discriminated against is not democratic.
I should never follow links sent to me. It’s inedible that it will either just annoy me or make me want to pull my hair out. Besides I have a presenataion due in class Friday and several novels to read by Monday. But those links...

This time it was in reference to Glen Beck who has decided that it’s okay to call black people “colored” and furthermore the term “African American” is not fair to him because he felt uncomfortable using it while in Europe and Africa.

One thing Glen Beck seems not to understand is that although African Americans’ ancestors are from Africa—as all people on the planet—we are, in many ways culturally different. Many of us have been, as Beck himself would admit, Americanized. We have had different experiences than our African brethren. But we are all different, shockingly enough. And although we share a common bond, and therefore many experiences, because of the color of our skin, we are not a monolith.

Many of the root causes of those experiences lie in the European slave trade. They indeed were terrible times, as Beck suggest. Where we differ is that I believe that those experiences have had and continue to have a direct effect on current times. Slavery wasn’t just hard, it was systematic; it planted itself in every heart and mind and thought that runs through our heads. It created a class system, where some were not even considered human, without any rights. It ensured that once blacks did achieve freedom, they had little option but to be indentured servants (share croppers—look it up if you don’t know the history, Mr. Beck), and after fighting for their own civil rights, they were thrown into inadequate, poorly funded schools.

Brief side note: I ran across a mandate from 1960s Mississippi which stated: “Neither foreign languages nor civics shall be taught in Negro schools. Nor shall American history from 1860-1875 be taught.” One forgotten law, from one place. Imagine all the “forgotten” laws around the country that sought to keep the truth of history and the past (Conveniently not slavery itself, as that didn’t seem to be the crime. No the crime was the entire Civil War, the fight for freedom.) to ensure a subordinate class of people.

Which leads me to the idea that blacks don’t have the right to call themselves whatever the hell they want.

Forgetting for a moment that historically African Americans have been called all kinds of things that were meant to demean them and that slaves weren’t even allowed to name their own children, it’s important for people to be able to define their own identity—opposed to being defined by someone else. One offers autonomy and the other is oppressive. If people don’t have opportunity to grow and mature, they become stunted and stagnate.

Of course Glen Beck knows this . He understands the power in allowing people the simple freedom of calling themselves whatever they like. This is why it’s so upsetting to him. The America he so often harps on is supposed to offer freedom to all its people—and Beck claims it does. So isn’t there freedom in defining one’s self? Isn’t there power in that?

I know Glen Beck wanted to incite people. It somehow would have conjured images of African Americans always wanting something and needing something that the country just can’t spare in these hard times. It would have brought mental images of blacks being a burden to the country to the detriment of whites. But the truth is this is free AND it’s freedom. It’s how one defines him/herself. It gives power. And it doesn’t cost anyone a damn thing.

It’s only a detriment when that right is taken away.