Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"She’s one of the Good Dark Ones": Daily racialized experiences

After my flight had arrived safely, I found myself waiting in baggage claim for the driver who was to transport me to the hotel. We got there early, so I really didn’t mind waiting. Finally, I spot a gentleman approaching me with my name neatly written on the white placard. I met him halfway, he took my luggage and we walked to his car.

I’m settled in and as we start to leave the garage he said, “So you are a professor. So what do you profess?” I am a little tired and truth be told not exactly looking for an hour of conversation. Not wanting to be rude I replied, “I’m a professor of political science and Black Studies.” He looks in the rear view mirror and declares “Black Studies. Betcha I could teach you a thing or two about Black Studies!” I sigh and smile politely. To which he replies “What me to tell ya?” I’m thinking do I have a choice? So once again, I smile, settle in and wait for his tale. By the way most folk who hear what I do tend not to pounce on conversing with me about Black Studies. So I was a bit intrigued to hear what he had to say.

Let’s just say this man is a storyteller. He told me his story starting with his first girlfriend at the age of 15. I won’t retell his story, in an attempt to protect his privacy. I learned about his various friendships and even got a story on the changing dynamics of the community he lived in as a child and the one he currently lives in. It was interesting, but like I said, I’m not necessarily feeling like engaging in a conversation. So occasionally I murmur “really. That’s interesting.”

As we approach my final destination he starts to talk about his wife. Again, the story meanders to his earlier exploits that involved multiple lovers at the same time. He chuckled at the end of one thread of this discussion and said, “I’m no longer like that. I love my wife”. This if followed by a deep chuckle. I smiled. Then he declares “Shoot, she’ll cut me if I don’t behave. So I’d better behave.” I never know how to respond to such statements, so I remained quiet with a slight smile on my face. I thought he was done. But he needed me to know that she was a good woman and that he was only kidding. After all, according to him, “she’s one of the good dark ones. Not like those other dark ghetto ones. Those rough ones that would really cut you.” My eyebrows are raised. But he’s not done yet. What makes her one of the “good dark ones” according to him is that she’s educated.

At this point, I could not mask my horror. You see I’m a Black woman and my driver is a White man. He is a white man who professes his love for Black women, since the age of 15. However his love for Black women seem to be cloaked in an ideology of colorism. There was a part of me that wondered, what makes him think that it was acceptable for him to make such an assertion to me. Did he think that I would find such declarations appropriate because of my skin tone? Regardless, I was not pleased. I have a low tolerance for the ideologies of racism and colorism.

According to Burke (2008, 17) ‘‘Colorism is the allocation of privilege and disadvantage according to the lightness or darkness of one’s skin.’’ The ideology and practice of colorism tends to privilege lighter skin individuals, as a result of their perceived proximity to a white phenotype, over those who are darker. By virtue of her education, which made her among the good dark ones, this man’s wife was brought somewhat closer to “whiteness”, in the sense that she was made safe and morally sound. Thus she was moved closer to white.

The dominant image of the “good” woman is often projected via women of European descent.  The institution of slavery necessitated the construction of Black women as the polar opposite of the “good” woman against which the constructions of Black womanhood become meaningful. Those Black women not perceived as being close to White are often pathologized. There are often viewed as not as morally sound in comparison to women of lighter hue and those who are constructed as white.

Gender relations—both intergroup and intragroup—are rationalized via a hegemonic construction of the “good” woman. And it seems that the dark ones have very little chance to escape others’ construction of them as “bad”. So once again, my ride from the airport reinforced that although some proclaim that we live in a “post-racial” state and often shine the spotlight on inter-racial marriages as an indicator of such, that there is still work to be done at both the micro and macro levels. 

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