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January 01, 2004

Boxing Out of a Paper Bag

Mac Diva is one of those writers after my own heart. Hers is the kind of withering scrutiny and intellectual honesty that serve as an anchor when the subjects of race start getting wacky. She's got the guts, the skills and the depth required to handle this tough material. Recently, she has turned her attention to Colorism.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the settlement of a rare color harassment and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against Applebee's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, an international restaurant chain headquartered in Overland Park, Kan. The settlement provides $40,000 to Dwight Burch, an African American former employee who was discriminated against based on his dark skin color by a light-skinned African American manager, and terminated when he complained to corporate headquarters.

When I was earning my bones as a race man on the internet as Boohab, the issue of multiracialism began to express itself in the years leading up to the 2000 census. People knew that race was going to be handled differently, that the Census Bureau was going to start giving people of multiple racial backgrounds some depth of representation. But it wasn't quite clear how that was going to happen. During the course of that discussion online, some multiracialists started making ugly noises.

Colorism is a neologism to me, but it does make some sense to recognize the term. If you are African American and you can't stand those darker than you, are you racist? In my world the answer is yes. This type is a specie of White Supremacy which essentially dominates the xenophobias of the United States - the more you look like an Aryan ideal, the better you are in all ways. Within African America that means lightskin[ded] folks are better than darkskin[ded] folks. Can blackfolks exhibit behavior which makes them believe those with more 'white' blood are better, you bet. The history is long and deep. I have little doubt that my own fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha at various times administered the Paper Bag Test. I wouldn't want to suggest that colorism isn't racist and have usage of the term let blackfolks off the hook, because there is no question in my mind that it is racial supremacy that informs the principle of colorism. But while we're being specific, I'll concede because it is important to distinguish what blackfolks are doing, and what the multiracialists are doing.

Black culture retains many of the terms of art of colorism. 'Redbone', 'bright', 'good hair', 'high yellow', 'light skinded'. We have ways of expressing African American polymorphism in these sometimes neutral but often deroggatory terms. While the historical majority of discriminations were by the lighter complected against the darker, there have been backlashes as well.

The multiracialists come at it from a different angle which sounds suggestively appealing and enlightened, but actually is an insidious choice. Although I have no reason to believe Lisa Bonet was a multiracialist, she was probably the most famous of the biracial folks. People marvelled at her beauty and charm, she had a kind of crossover appeal which was novel at the time. (But I think Lenny Kravitz is cooler). The sentiment of 'cant we all just get along' is often bolstered as people consider interracial relationships and flagging racial loyalties. Multiracialists took this to the extreme. Many of them considered themselves to be the only solution to the black and white problem. Miscegenation, they said was the key. Blacks and whites would never solve their differences outside of bed and interracial sex represented the ultimate integration.

But in demanding a new racial category for themselves on the 2000 Census of 'multiracial' rather than the scheme the Bureau adopted of letting people check multiple boxes, mulitiracialists sought numerical and political superiority based on their racial identity. Such ideas brought to light the fact that they considered interracial relationships superior to same-race relationships. In this strange inversion they asserted the primacy of mixed races over 'pure' races and consequently planned the destruction of the races as we know them.

With this in mind, I kicked them to the curb, and haven't tried to hear from them since. But Mac Diva says they are up to their anti-black antics again and I don't doubt her.

Keep your eyes open. Jungle fever never liberated anyone, it only entrenches old ideas about race.

Posted by mbowen at January 1, 2004 10:42 AM

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