The Scarlett Johanssoning of Grace Jones
Halloween is coming.And rather than that eliciting excitement and child-like joy at promise of publicly acceptable cosplay and free sugary treats, I'm holding my breath waiting for some celebrity PR statement claiming they didn't know Blackface (or other forms of cultural appropriation/insensitivity) was still unacceptable in this here post-Racial America.
Last night, innocently enough I was scrolling Tumblr. Tumblr has become my favorite (secret) form of social media because of the high anonymity, yet ever-present cultural relevance factor. I can find out everything going on in the world just by scrolling my dashboard and because of carefully crafted follows I'm not inundated with neither too much seriousness not too much foolery. I digress, so I'm scrolling tumblr and I see an advertisement for a "Vegan leather doo-rag". My knee-jerk reaction was to exclaim "These pumpkin spice loving mother ------- have gone TOO far!" Hey, I'm not perfect.
But it really did feel like the straw that broke the camels back. I refuse to believe that white people are that oblivious. That "blackface" feels innocent. That wearing a sombrero holding "roadside fruit" signs is naive. That they've really been so oblivious to other cultures WITHIN THIS COUNTRY that they feel things like baby hair, Timberland boots, doo-rags, full lips big hips and tan skin were standards of beauty of their own making. Is Columbusing genetic?
Now, I want to be clear that not all white people are "sleep" to these issues. However, it seems that they live in entirely different time zones than the repeat offenders. I'm looking at you Katy Perry and Juliane Hugh. Is there no one around them (of any race) to say, "hey you know...maybe that's not such a good idea?"
The thing that bothers me most is the sense of entitlement to other people's cultures. Pop culture imperialism. Armed with the knowledge that America is fast becoming mediocre in all measures of greatness among our global community, when I leave the country it doesn't dawn on me that being American means much. However, because of media and pop culture we are WINNING. In organizational change, company culture is oft known as the slowest and last thing to change. Culture can outlast leadership, in the positional sense. So when Scarlett Johansson is a standard of beauty in nations that don't naturally produce women who look like Scarlett Johansson it becomes very clear to me that the U.S. is still very much relevant.
When I was in Bali I had someone point out to me which lotions and sunscreen to buy because they had skin bleach. And while I was keenly aware of skin bleaching practices it was not until I was faced with consciously choosing products that DID NOT have bleach (which were far fewer in number) that I realized how real an issue it is.
As a woman of color, it is incredibly frustrating a) to be a woman in a society which feels entitled to my body. You feel you can manipulate control and have part ownership over my hair my skin color my garments and undergarments my size my sex and my womb. B) you take your shares of me and dip them in bleach, slathering white paint over brown skin and calling it beautiful. Colorful hair in a young black girl is ghetto yet on a young white girl is fashion forward. Gelled baby hair on a Latina girl warrants a side eye, yet vogue puts it on a wispy white model and it's the head-turning look of the season. We have made entire industries whose sole purpose is dedicated to the Scarlett Johanssoning of Grace Jones.
I've had it up to here with the dumbstruck faces of ignorance plastered all over white media especially in October. I am no longer accepting apologies. Don't be sorry, be better. I am no longer willing to have the long conversation about why it's wrong or inappropriate. Do your own research. I, sadly, am growing increasingly more intolerant of these instances of intolerance. How the hell am I supposed to help when I'm exhausted because YOU don't want to help yourself?
Kerry Washington gives perspective, " I don't want to live in a post-race world because being black is really exciting. I mean, it's who I am. I'm a woman, black, from New York, an Aquarius – these are things that create who I am. I'm interested in living in a post-racist world, where being African American doesn't dictate limitations on what I can do – but I don't want to live post-race. Our differences are so fascinating and wonderful. We don't want to all be the same. Who wants that? Hitler did, but who else?"
I may be labeled as the angry black woman after writing this, but that's untrue. Anger is a symptom, a surface emotion for a deeper feeling. I am, in reality, the disappointed black woman. Disappointed that people still shield themselves behind the colorblind cloak as if that's acceptable or makes them immune to prejudice; automatically equitable. Guess what? Raven Symone, it doesn't. Disappointed that there are people who still live in places where it is perfectly true that everyone is the same and that there's no one to question why. Disappointed that we don't employ empathy more in our daily actions, considering the lasting effects on what we do or say. Disappointed that someone will inevitably read this, claim I have attacked all white people and will have missed my point entirely.