Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mary, Mary, Mary...

      It has long and seriously bummed me out that brown-skinned ladies like Shakira, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez use the vitality of their being to uphold Eurocentric standards of beauty. To even bring that convo up outside select circles nowadays elicits eye-rolling and bitingly witty comebacks like, “You just hatin’…”
      Seeing these women and their assorted clones go ever blonder (and ever more fair-skinned – thank you, photo-shop!) as they pursue and achieve mainstream success depresses the hell out of me. Yeah, okay: freedom of expression, blah, blah, blah… But what are they really being rewarded and paid for? I guess it wouldn’t bother me so much if we weren’t all living daily with the effects of white supremacy, with the crippled self-esteem and the reflexive longing so many o' color folk have for white approval and validation. And so much of them granting that approval depends upon us uplifting them and their definitions of viability, beauty and success. That racist shit’s been ground into a feathery fine powder that pollinates the air we breathe. We don’t realize the poisonous effects even as we’re all sneezing and wheezing our sick asses off.
      To have international artists of color just perpetuate a standard of beauty and desirability – visibility – that is rooted in the erasure and dismissal of blackness or browness, or to have these artists participate in the creation of faux mulattoness (and the continued fetishization of that identity slot) is about so much more than mere fashion. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I offer this tragic example of self-hate and racialized dysfunction. I’m not even gonna drag this tirade out because, fuck it, I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said a million times before by people much more eloquent and much better educated than I. But the fucked up commercial here just really set me off.
      Has it really only been just over twenty years since Whoopie Goldberg’s breakthrough one-woman show featured the character of the little black girl who wore an adult’s long-sleeve white shirt on her head and fantasized that it was “long, luxurious [read: white girl] hair," and told of the painful attempt she made to bleach her own hair? ("It wouldn't bounce or behave.") I remember a few people grousing back then that the topic of hair and Negro self-hatred was played, that Whoopie was beating a dead horse. In truth, that little pony ain’t never gonna die. Not in America. Not in the world. We race backwards and call it progress.
      I’ve written before how Mary J. Blige has built an entire career talking about how sad she is, how fucked up she is, how fucked over she’s been. She’s droned on and on about feeling ugly and worthless both as a child and as a young woman, and how her lack of self-esteem led her into self-destructive behavior and abusive relationships. But then she turns around and pumps the same image poison that is (at least in part) at the root of her own issues, to a whole new generation of young black girls. For all her endless navel-gazing, she doesn't connect the dots between her once-crushed spirit and that which she now exalts and sells. But hey, she’s getting’ paid, right?

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