Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nice Skin and Other Prejudices

This evening the ‘sunset’ is not quite photogenic…unless you want to record for posterity just how gray the sky can truly be. I was gazing at it trying to decide if there were hues – is it blue-gray, maybe a bit yellow? But no; it’s just plain gray – amazing. It feels like we’re in the path of someone’s volcanic ash cloud.

All this just serves as a fitting backdrop to my recent thoughts on the importance of colour; skin colour that is.

In my last post on Crime and Violence in Paradise I made a statement that referenced people’s tendency to blame having of a darker skin colour for their not being given opportunities. It was made as part of a liturgy of ‘states of mind’ and habits that, in my opinion, drastically reduce people’s ability to undertake basic practical self-analysis and/or make decisions based on pertinent qualities. Reality is, skin colour and other prejudices do exist - people burdening themselves and others blocking their way.

It’s phenomenal when you stop and think about it; in our enlightened world where we have ‘had religion’ for millennia, have drafted and signed many an international treaty on human rights, where we can see into the deepest history of space, back billions of years to the beginnings of the universe, where we make nanobots and are growing new body parts…we are still so often just grunting cave dwellers hitting each other over the head with clubs.

It makes me SO mad when I hear the kids AND the adults as they ride along the “America’s Top Model” showtrain: “Ugh, I can’t STAND her – she’s TOO black n ugly!” It strikes me that in some places any amount of black is too black. But here in the Caribbean, we have ‘Nice Skin, Nice Hair, Nice People’ and then the other, ‘too black’ unfortunates. I understand why Mrs King would glower at us when we used the word ‘nice’ to describe anything. But I don’t, for the life of me, even after living in it for a good few decades, understand ‘too black’.

And tell me anyway, what on earth is a ‘Nice Person’? In most cases, to me, it seems it is applied to - especially men, especially by women – a decently dressed, well presented individual. It doh take no account of de person character…I just listened to a story, from an individual well acquainted with many a criminal, about a ‘Nice Man’ who apparently has broken into every house in a certain district near Castries. That’s his job. Apparently this Nice Man would pass any day for a hardworking businessman – walking round in shirt n tie with a pen in his pocket, well spoken and polite. Nice.

Now, going back to the ‘black n ugly’ scene. I confess I don’t know what the white echelons of ‘upper’ society say and how much black (if any) is acceptable before you’re not ‘Nice’ (perhaps more an issue in some islands than others). But I hear it’s a small percentage of DNA-borne colour that is allowable…one might even say, a negligible or generationally obliterated amount…but I don’t know, I don’t socialize in those circles. But I do know about St. Lucia and our sad obsession with Caucasian-esqe physical attributes and I have watched Good Hair, the movie, where African Americans pay $1,000s to have Indian Hair (cut off at Temples in a ritual of cleansing of sorts) woven onto their heads to achieve ‘Nice Hair’ looks…and I do know that were it not for the revelation in recent years that ‘healthy’ tans on white people result in unhealthy, disfiguring and even life-threatening cancers, we would all be tanning to get as dark as we can…even those of my natural skin colour who think there’s such a thing as ‘too black’.

And what is it all for? How often do we hear people make useful judgements about others? And how often do we hear people make disparaging condemnations about others – explaining their status or actions based solely on a skin-deep attribute? Or even a choice of belief system? It is a real problem for us if we have any interest in moving on up in life in these islands.

Think about it – think how many positions of power are occupied by persons just because they have the right skin colour, go to the right church, have the right family name,who have little ability to make a difference…think about it: The knock-on effect, the actions taken out of paranoia or self-righteousness by persons who know full well why they are where they are, the projects that fail because one party doesn’t like the way the other dresses. Think about the bad management practices where for instance, hotel management positions have not been given to worthy, possibly potentially great candidates who are not ‘Nice’ enough,are ‘Too Black’ or live in the wrong neighbourhood. Think for a moment clear of these useless, damning prejudices; imagine how far we could have progressed if we were not so obsessed with protecting our imaginary borders?

We’re all too something in someone else’s eyes. In my eyes, too many of us are too wasteful of our time, energy and potential, being too obsessed and too judgemental of others and ourselves based on attributes that in the end of it all are so insignificant in the reality of what we actually do or what our true potential is.

Conquering the World
I’ve found beautiful people in all colours, all shapes, all societies, all income levels and all family backgrounds. I suspect if we all stop and think for a moment, we all have. And what does that say? Is it really in any way about a person’s looks, social origin or even religious affiliation? And yes, I know, there are seriously not-‘Nice’ people out there who’s nastiness is based wholly on religious affiliation – they do exist across many religions, but that’s not what I’m concerned about here – I mean the insidious daily holier-than-though prejudices we harbour and live by. What on earth – or in heaven – is their real use? I’m fighting the urge here to start listing religious based admonitions about love, neighbours, judging and being judged….

We have real social issues here – and these, in my untutored mind, I’m no social scientist - are the foundations upon which our crippled society has been so solidly built. The bigger criminals are therefore facilitated and empowered, we’ve done the capacity building that allows them to waltz in and make use of us and decorate our lives with burglar bars, bullet holes and crossfire.

We may not be able to stop bullets in their tracks, but we can stop our useless, suffocating prejudices and judgementalisms and start to invest a bit more of our energies in recognizing genuine ability, commending for any good reason, accepting our variety, celebrating our diversity, striving for personal growth and seeing praise and progress based on genuine achievement as THE way to go. The shortcuts so many of us take to success are really proving to be shortcuts to paradise lost.

What say you?