Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Wannabes vs. The Jigaboos: The Different Shades of Black

Remember the memorable scene from "School Daze" when the Wannabes and the Jigaboos sounded off against one another in West Side Story fashion?

"You're just a jig-a-boo, tryin' to find somethin' to do!"

"Well, you're a wanna-be, wanna be better than me!"

Classic. For those of you who have never seen "School Daze," first, where have you been? Go rent it and watch it -- it's classic black cinema. Second, the Wannabes were the pretty, light-skinned, long-haired, economically well-off women; while the Jigaboos were the dark-skinned, militant, politically and socially conscious women. That scene from "School Daze" forever memorialized the tensions that exist within the black community: light vs. dark. "Colorism," as it is called, is the practice of placing value on skin tone.

What are the origins of Colorism? There are several theories, many stemming from slavery; however, they typically reach the same conclusion -- the assumption that light-skinned folks receive better treatment than their dark-skinned counterparts. As a person from the light-skinned group, of course I have to disagree with that contention. But perhaps I'm biased.

Whatever the origin of Colorism, I often wonder why it still exists. I remember while in law school a comment was made about me that went something like this: "She's always trying to straighten her hair!" HUH? I don't get it. Was that person implying that I'm trying to be white by straightening my hair, or that I'm trying to be black? Either way, I don't understand the relevance. Being light-skinned doesn't give us some sort of "free pass" into white society. Trust me, white folks still see us as ni_ _ers.

Have you ever noticed how some of the most militant black folks are light-skinned? Most people don't understand how this happens, so let me try to explain why I think this is, at least from my perspective. We (the light-skinned folks, that is) spend our entire lives being questioned about our "blackness" by dark-skinned people. This comes about in many ways, some subtle, some not so subtle. I know growing up (and to some extent even now), dark-skinned girls assumed that because I was light-skinned I was weak. Again, those of you who know me know that I don't back down from a challenge. (That comment is in no way intended to promote using violence to solve problems!) :) Anyway, you get what I'm saying. We spend our lives defending the tone of our skin to our own people. So yes, at times we end up being more militant than the average person.

Just like the problems that exist between white and black, I think Colorism will always exist within the black community -- unfortunately. However, we have to understand that Colorism only makes it easier for white folks to divide the black community.

Part of the beauty of black people is that we come in all different shades. Embrace it, love it and stop the hate. If by chance the sista girl who made that ridiculous comment about me in law school reads this, here are my comments to you: stop encouraging division within the black community; and don't hate the playa, hate the game.

--Notta

21 comments:

shanabean said...

I just had a conversation about the word jigaboo last week! Crazy! So anyway I wanted to first agree with you and say that, yes colorism is yet another racist tactic designed to split the black community. It worked back in the day...and continues to create division now.

However as a darker-toned woman myself...I have to disagree with you and say that history does indeed show that thru time light-skinned folks have had the potential to receive better treatment. Of course there is always the exception to the rule blah blah blah.

Now with that said... let's not forget the "field nigga" vs. the "house nigga".
Now before someone says it... Yes they were all still slaves and with horrible circumstances. This I do realize. But I can’t help but understand how a field brotha/sister might of had a little resentment toward the light ones who got better sleeping quarters, better food, better clothing etc.....

Then came the "passer," those close enough to white individuals who actually hid their "blackness", something a dark-skin person could not do. I’m sure many more would have attempted this if they could... But again resentment can easily surface for someone who could not.

Then as history progresses we cont to see how light skin folks "appear" to be able to break into tv and entertainment with just a little more ease (may not be the case, but it sho look like it to me).
And finally what I believe is the most hurtful part and where the problem truly lies, is more mental, how darker folks are perceived, not only by white folks, but by black folks as well. Ugly... Let just be real. You said it yourself (without saying it) in your distinction between wannabes and Jigaboo. Wannabe are pretty…what does that leave the jigaboo to be? Constantly being compared to animals, being laughed at cause your dark, being told your dirty, being told you would be much prettier if your hair was straighter … this list goes on. In my view, to make someone believe they are not to be loved or desired can cause wounds far deeper than the whips used to beat them.

So yes I guess one should hate the game and not the player… But you can’t help being a little mad at the player who cont to play and benefit from a game they know is rigged.

thespookwhosatbythedoor said...

Whoa! Notta's trying to start some mess up in here! lol!

This has always been a sensitive topic amongst black women. Having gone to predominately white schools most of my life, the first time I encountered the whole color issue, outside of "School Daze", was as a student at Howard. In highschool, white folks called us nigger whether we were light or dark. Moreover, my family, as most black families, encompases shades from cream to blue black. So I never differentiated.

While I empathize with Notta, as well as the struggles of my other close light-skin friends, I have to agree with Shanabean that the hostility they receive from some dark-skinned sisters has a history, and is not completely unfounded.

I too noticed Notta's description of the light-skinned girls as "pretty" while that adjective was ostensibly ommitted in her discription of the dark-skinned "jigaboos." While I'm sure it was accidental, it does show the type of blows to self-image that dark-skinned sisters face. As a brown-skinned woman myself, I often get comments like, "she's a pretty brown skinned girl." As if being pretty and brown is some kind of rare phenomenon.

I think the key to eliminating this issue is for both sides to recognize the history that created the division and acknowledge the pain felt on both ends.

Anonymous said...

Notta,

I happen to believe that colorism continues to exist because we continue to perpetuate the false notion that whatever is closest to white is right.

Looking back in time during slavery, when black folks were at our most unevolved and vulnerable states, we grew to equate whiteness or the likeness of whiteness as a ticket to an easier life. While we have evolved to some extent, we still carry the vestiges of colorism and slavery. And the sting of colorism still hurts.

Sad as it is...we are always the last to "get it, " and we fail to see that this way of thinking is harmful to our sense of self worth and evolution as a people. As Notta alluded to when she said that white folks (who are so inclined to think this way) still see black folks as N's, I would add that white people generally do not distinguish between hues; thus, a light skinned black person is just as black in their minds as a dark skinned black person. Though many would like to think otherwise, this is true.

Given that a thing only has the value that we give it, why don't we all begin the task of devaluing colorism and all of its ugly accoutrements. I propose that we
rethink the notion that our shades really matter, and focus on the attributes that we can change and improve...such as our character as a people.

IndySage

Notta Golddigger said...

I just have two quick comments to the comments posted thus far:

First -- My description of the Wannabes and the Jigaboos is meant to be stereotypical, because that's how they were portrayed in the movie -- and that's how it is in society. I've had several conversations with people who think that just because someone is light-skinned with long hair, they think that person is cute. But you never hear that comment made about dark-skinned women. It's my belief that men who make those generalizations about light-skinned women, and prefer dating light-skinned women, have some serious self-hate issues; but that's another topic for another day. In any event, my descriptions of Wannabe and Jigaboo are not my personal opinion, they are the stereotypes perpetuated by the black community.

Second -- We have to remember that the light-skinned house niggas often received better sleeping quarters and the like because they were the children of the slave holder. Black women were constantly raped and ravaged by their white "Masters," which resulted in the birth of a lot of mixed, or lighter-skinned children. I understand the appearance that the lighter-skinned persons received better treatment by slave owners, but was it really better knowing that your mother had been treated like a whore by her Master? I never lived it, but I cannot imagine that it was an easy life -- for either those in the field or those in the house.

I love this discussion, and that we can get these things out in the open. We can't fix it until we start talking about it, so this is a good start!

--Notta

Curry said...

I’ve been guilty of perpetuating the stereotypical differences between light-skinned folk & dark-skinned folk. As subliminal as it’s been, it’s definitely been a factor in how I’ve perceived certain black people before I actually get a chance to talk to them. Let me say that I’m somewhere in the middle of the two colors. I have 4 sisters that are all considered to be light-skinned. My mother, grandmother, & brothers are all closer to the darker end of spectrum. Having said that …

No matter how you look at it, I believe ALL of us have a bit of that in us to some degree. Is it sheer coincidence that light-skinned sistas seem to be drawn to & be ultra-attracted to dark skinned men? And darker-skinned sistas seem to always fall for the light-skinned, green eyed dude from the block? Why is that? Are we trying to dye down our own color by introducing difference to our lineage? Are we all so unsatisfied with the legitimacy of our blackness that we try to integrate and cross-pollinate ourselves?

My daughter somehow managed to turn out very fair skinned, considering that I am right in the middle of the two tones & her mother is closer to the light-skinned side of the fence. Here’s what I get when I take her somewhere. The first thing is, “Oh, she’s sooo pretty!!” The second thing is either “Is her mother white?” or, “Is she mixed?” I hear this equally as much from white people as I do from black people. Did we teach white folks how to do this?

Love your blackness & the blackness of your neighbor.

r. parrish said...

I must say that I enjoyed reading the question for the week and the "School Daze" reference. Definitely one of my favorite movies of all-time (WAKE UP!!!). Anyhow, the question of color politics is a complicated one that I don't think we can dismiss by wishing it didn't exist. While I agree with Notta that light and dark skinned brothas and sistas share many of the same burdens with respect to race, I also believe people wouldn't have attempted to pass as much as they did in the past if there wasn't some benefit to having a lighter complexion.

To get more contemporary, I agree wholeheartedly with shanabean's observation that when you look at television and print ads you rarely see a darker skinned person selling products for companies. You either see a lighter complected person or someone who is ethnically ambiguous. Now I know there are exceptions, but for every Tyson Beckford, there are 10 Halle Berrys selling products.

As much as we might hate to admit it, I still believe the general American public (Brazil as well--they have many of the same issues with color politics as we do) aesthetically prefers those with lighter skin. They are simply perceived as more attractive. I don't subscribe to that notion, but if you watch American television or read our magazines objectively that is the conclusion you are forced to come to.

Now...here's what I find interesting. I didn't go to an HBCU so someone will need to fill me in on the question I'm about to ask. For some context when I was in college and grad school I was always amazed at how little colorism I saw amongst the the black folk (especially after growing up watching Spike Lee joints). I remember growing up and having to deal with color politics as a kid and through high school to some extent, but as people matured, skin tone mattered less and less. My theory in college was that there wasn't the same level of colorism because we were such a minority that we couldn't afford to be divided over something so seemingly meaningless. Is the experience somehow different at an all-black institution. Do we find ways to distinguish ourselves when we aren't the minority? If so, this kind of behavior would call into question many of the tenets of black nationalists who argue that if we only had our own country we could live harmoniously amongst ourselves and our neighbors.

Notta...I do find it interesting that that many of our most prominent race activists have had lighter skin. I think there are many possible explanations, some of which you already covered. I pose a question to you though. If you've read Ellison's Invisible Man, do you think Ellison's unnamed protagonist has light or dark skin? The question in and of itself is unimportant, however, I think the answer says a lot about how light and dark skinned people are looked upon. I always imagined he was brown or dark skinned. His dark skin made him unremarkable and he went largely unnoticed. For those who did notice him, his skin was all they noticed--he became a symbolic cause to be championed. He was no longer simply a man or himself. I make the point only to say that historically and even now it is easier for darker skinned people to be marginalized and overlooked (ironic when we think of passing)because they don't fit American conceptions of beauty and don't inspire much sympathy amongst whites. I may be way off the mark, but I don't think the same is true of people who more closely resemble American notions of attractiveness, i.e., have lighter skin or more caucasian features.

My argument is that such people are less likely to go unnoticed. Think back 10 years to the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and those throughout Africa. The United States made every effort to secure a peaceful outcome in Yugoslavia but has repeatedly turned its back in places like Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leonne (the list is endless). KRS-ONE once encouraged us to "Ask ourselves why is that?" and I think part of the reason has to do with race and ethnicity and who looks more like "us" as Americans whatever that really means. Dark skinned Africans don't meet the test. Lighter skinned folks fare a bit better.

O.K. that's it for now. Sorry to ramble. Hope this adds something useful to the discussion.

Jazzy said...

Interesting subject. I was thinking about it just this morning at the pool with my children when I saw all the white women laying out to get tan. They have their issues, too.

And one of my Indian (from India) friends tells me that darker skinned Indians are seen as low class. There, the lighter you are the better. We're not the only ones with this problem.

But back to us, I find this issue absolutely ridiculous. It seems that we are obssessed with skin color. The minute both of my children were born, friends and relatives were making comments about their skin color and checking the color of their ears. How about rejoicing because they have 10 fingers and toes?

But I have to admit, I do think lighter skinned blacks have it a bit easier. It's no fun being told you're cute, but too dark. Or to go inside before you become as black as the Bible. So I sometimes pause when I bring my kids in from outside and see how much darker they've become, but I also make an effort to tell them how beautiful they are. Maybe the best we can do at this point is watch our mouths and try not to pass this nonsense on to our children.

shanabean said...

Boy I love a good discussion! Anywho I wanted to answer a question preseted by R parrish.

I did indeed go to an HBCU, and yes to answer your question it did mirror what we all saw in school daze. The most obvious examples were the soroities. The AKA's typically light skinned, long hair, mixed, thin and from "better" financial status. The Delta's darker skin, heavier, short/nappy or natural hair etc.... And this was allin the late 90's! If nothing else, it was just fasinating!

But in any case, I agree with others and say it needs to be put on the table and both sides need to understand and validate the struggles of each other as a start to address and "fixing" the problem.

VRB said...

Here! Here!

sweetest1913 said...

I agree with you notta...but I'm not totally with shanabean on the sorority comment..I too attended an HBCU and a member of a sorority and that comment was yet another sterotype. A common one among black people.

Anonymous said...

I think just like we white people can never truly understand the discrimination against blacks, light-skinned blacks will never see/experience the different treatment given to dark-skinned blacks. Never. However I will say that slowly, a new trend is emerging in many of us in the work place look at their communication skills versus our skin complexion. I don't care if your light as a sheet or black as a belt, I'm going to favor the person sounds educated and uses the English langugage appropiately.

Please forgive me if there are spelling errors.

TKelly said...

I could've said is better!!!! I hate this ish, it's just as bad if not worse than black on black crime. It's embarassing, it's demeaning (to both light and dark), and hypocritical on so many levels! I'm tired of ppl trying to put light-skinned blacks in the same category as Whites!!... are you f-ing serious?!? But at least I can say Blacks are not the only ones who do it....Indians(ppl actually from Indian, not Native Americans) do the same!!

And ooh yes I am a light-skinned woman,lol. I guess one can tell by the semi-milatant remarks,lol.

Anonymous said...

Why is color and race always an issue? Treat people like people and don't worry about color. Black people think too much about color.

Am I black or white or something else?

Dr. Smith said...

The 'race problem' in the U.S. has nothing to do with how light or dark you may be. It has to do with you framing your entire existence around the color of your skin. I doubt that a minute of any day passes where you aren't thinking "I'm black."

Do you ever wonder why black immigrants from Africa - who are very dark - do as well as white people in academics and income? It's because they aren't fixated on skin color. They haven't been programmed to believe "why even try, whitey will just hold me down." They haven't been indoctrinated to see themselves as perpetual victims.

Instead of Spike Lee, we'd be better off listening to people like Bill Cosby. Blacks need to completely forget about their "blackness" and get about the business of getting educations. Do you know that black kids belittle those who do well in school as "acting white"? That means they see doing poorly and being disruptive as "acting black." That has to be changed...and it can only be changed when we as a group disavow the "victim" label and stop teaching it to our children.

Anonymous said...

Sorry folks, but lighter skinned blacks have it a little easier than their darker skinned counterparts. Lighter skinned blacks are deemed more socially acceptable and are treated better by various races in school, workplace, etc. Studies have shown that the lighter your skin, the less problems you have in life. Lighter skinned blacks don't understand all the challenges that darker skin blacks have to endure.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,

Im black reading this blog from london england. I would like to point out as others have that the shading issue has to stop. The terms yellow and light skinned irritate me espeacially when dual race people are called this. As much as they like to think they are Black unfortunatley they are NOT!!! if you disagree my explanation is wholey Because one parent is NOT black. Therefore they would naturally become light skinned but this is not correct as they are meant to be this color unlike light skinned people who have black parents. Im not condeming mixed race people, but in england its as if we have a selective breeding system now. Its the norm to dilute our color and it is far to praised upon in Britain. Unlike America where people are still given the dirtiest of looks when a mixed couple are seen.

However I do see how light skinned people will get ELEMENTS of resentmant chucked at them. I am not blue black but im not caramel skinned im in the middle but i do have indian hair so thats where it vary's and people of all race look at me, i do feel bad and its clearly as they go for looks and black people tend to have lack of hair and people think thats where all beauty lies

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that people continue to even think about the amount of melanin slapped over some bones! LOL God made people the way He made them, period. All in His image. So, enough about skin.

Concentrate on bettering your situation. Be decent and kind. Always have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to do well. There is nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I am a white man and in my eyes there is nothing more sexy than woman who embraces who she is, and recognizes for herself that she is beautiful. Black is sexy, whatever shade you deem yourself.

APGifts said...

.
The Black "race" does NOT "come in all shades" or
colors -- it comes in ONE shade ... Black/Very Dark.
.
It is Mixed-Race that "comes in all shades".
.
HERE ARE LINKS TO A FEW MORE
THOUGHTS ON THIS VERY TOPIC:
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341281410225

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341891410164
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4187
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253342398076780

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181
.
MORE THOUGHTS:
.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m%C2%ADixed-race/321878451159708
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164203590359746
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/251823631562712
.

APGifts said...

.
There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned
Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups
are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may
have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to
'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
.
The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'
(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341891410164
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4187
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341281410225
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'
(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was
used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.
.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
.
An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181
.
Other Topics:
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/279223868853420
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164203590359746
.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m%C2%ADixed-race/321878451159708
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.

jordan said...

I'm not black, so I understand I haven't taken one step in your shoes. I just want to say that I believe this notion that lighter-skinned black people are placed on a higher pedestal is true IMO.

People mentioned advertising etc ... I think we are in a way subconsciously fed this logic by tv, pictures, movies, and more. Think about it. When you're a young child you don't place any 'worth' on skin color. We are taught this -- it isn't naturally ingrained into our brains or something.

Money runs this world. Money equals power. And the powerful that run this country, and ultimately the world, want all of us divided & docile. I think on a daily basis, by means of television etc, this kind of logic is "cemented in" even more, ever since it's roots took hold.

You can't argue we are extremely divided when even people of the same race (black, white, hispanic, etc) are even divided on the notion of skin color. Just my opinion.