Is skin color still an issue in Black American…and are Redbones the color of choice?
The skin you’re in, are you happy about it? The late Curtis Mayfield wrote in a song, “if you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose to be right.” The subject of this piece comes to me in reference to a few observations among my peers, comments from those that see the color spectrum in a different light where tint may or may not be tangible in how skin color radiates for all things real or imagined. I remember lines like, “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice", and “If you're White, you're all right. If you're brown, stick around, but if you're Black, get back." Has this situation changed pertaining to how we date each other, or who we marry? Did the "Black is Beautiful" revolution change our perceptions on the color of our skin? Is skin color, still an issue in Black America today?
The answers to these questions, according to psychiatrists and psychologists, sorority and fraternity leaders and Brothers and Sisters on the block, is that skin color for the most part may no longer be the issue it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but that it is still a hidden and dangerous issue that is shouted in letters to the editor, whispered softly in clubs and social settings, at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, at church fellowship and funeral repasts, and with the lot of us who still have those notions described above. It is the family secret that won't go away--the hushed murmurings of high-yellow and redbone, high-brown, medium-brown and blue-black, the inner language of skin color, shade and variation. Moreover, I’ve always wanted to ask specific questions to this ‘skin thang’ and get the type of answers that would be conducive to how perception can screw up the best intent in how people view from the outside looking in. In the annals of Black color analogies as it pertain to skin pigmentation, we come in all shades and hues. You can attest and attribute misconsegenation to the fact that there was nothing stopping white slave masters’ penchant for sampling the goods (and liking it, I may add!) during slavery and antebellum times.
Colorism in the United States is a practice that began in times of slavery due to white slaveowners' assertion that any person black (African) or associated with blackness was inferior or lowly. Common practices of the time were to allow the slaves with the lighter complexion (more commonly the offspring of the slave masters and their slaves) to engage in less strenuous usually domesticated duties, while the darker, more African looking slaves participated in hard labor, which was more than likely outdoors. Along with the choice of colors come the attitudes and dispositions in today’s societal makeup that people of a lighter hue have hangups associated with certain precepts. Some portray the aforementioned as living up to what has been articulated as behavior patterns that are attributed to the color of their skin. It never ceased to amaze me how people seem to connote skin color with certain mindsets good and bad. I always wondered why light-skinned blacks have the reputation they have, and why darker skinned folk were looked down on, which made the ‘white is right and black is back’ syndrome bigger than life!
On a personal note, I didn’t have a say in, nor could I control what hue my father happen to be. I grew up 365 Black, considered myself beautiful beyond stereotypical notion and dared anyone to say otherwise. Alonza Romer was fathered by a ‘Conchie Joe’. In Bahamian lore, that was a connotation deemed to anybody from the Caucasian race by the native Bahamians throughout the family islands. My father’s people were from the islands of Eleuthera and Andros originally-- charter fishermen by trade. My father and his mother, Eugenia were more than light, bright and contrite...they were damn near white-looking and so was most of his children. Suffice it to say, my paternal grandmother’s father was white. That red Bahamian blood flowed and flourished as the seven kids Alonza fathered would attest today. This essay is in reference to what I’ve observed about those that are light, bright and may be contrary. For instance, I’ve always been called ‘Red’, and it didn’t bother me. My children have the same complexion. I took it naturally without much thought, and even answered to it...no sweat off of my back. But what truly bothered me in some quarters and delighted me in others was how different women responded to me based on my skin color relative to there’s. To wit: women that were dark complected reacted one way, while the lighter skins -- the redbones reacted their way, much different. I guess when you look at me you may want to consider me a ‘redbone’, although with more than two score years spent in the sun, I’ve darkened a bit with time. But why should I be afforded one way of acceptance just because of what color my skin is? My daughter Kimberly Romer, is a prime example to one of the analogies that I will expend here in reference to all I’ve atoned above.
For starters, Kim truly IS a redbone as you may have heard her acclaim if you’re on Facebook. She's pictured here in this essay. I will tell you a true story after she was born, when my wife at that time and myself went to pick her up from the hospital. Upon arriving at the hospital I went looking for my child and lo and behold, couldn’t find her among the newborns that were scheduled for view and pickup. Natal and prenatal care during those times were a lot different than what they are today in picking up and identifying your baby. To make a long story short, to my chagrin the baby that was mine was missing! So I thought. Come to find out they had placed her in another section relegated to babies of another persuasion. Yes, you guessed it! Kim was so light and bright that they unknowingly placed her in the section they thought she belonged in -- with the blond and blue-eyed variety. You know I had a fit, right? Of course, over the years she has darkened a little but not by much. Today, I’m proud to announce that she is tall, statuesque and quite beautiful in my sight. Sounds like a proud father doting love and adoration on what is his. This not an understated reason not to believe that there may be others who still call her, a redbone. But do redbones have certain misplaced reasons for thinking as they do about relationships and other social angsts?
You may ask yourself why I’m going to great lengths in this correspondence on this subject, but race in America has taken on new and different proportions. I may not give good conclusive answers to that question, but I’m intrigued nonetheless. No longer are Black folk considered the majorative and predominant ethnic race. Records indicate that Hispanics have replaced us and are the new ‘negroes’ so to speak. Of course, I say this in jest but things have changed and the nation has taken notice. I’ve done an impromptu survey gauging how people of different colors assess skin tone and what affect they allude it to. Most of the darker women and men preferred redbones, and the redbones would only defer to anybody darker than they. I know for a fact that my daughter will not date anyone as light or lighter than she. Why is this? I asked her this same question, and here is how she responded: “I never liked red men because they were too ‘pretty’. Most of them were conceited and full of themselves. That was always a turn off to me.” Could it be that such a response has anything to do with the slave mentality of ‘white is right, and black get back’, or even the house negroes being given preferential treatment because they were lighter and fetched the best price? What then, are the prices being garnered nowadays relative to how one is perceived in this vein? Flipping the script a bit I also asked a truly darker skinned woman and she alluded to the fact that she ONLY dated dark men, and her husband is just as dark as she is!
I honestly feel that color differentiation is a product of insecurity, a product of a slave mentality. Just as slave masters showed favor with our forebears based on the color of their skin, so have we also shown favor with color when it comes to each other. We should be beyond whether redbones favor darker hues, or if darker blacks favor redbones, etc. With no clear evidence that there’s anything short of an epidemic, I conclude that we really need to get over the issues of lightness vs. darkness and love each other without conditions...we can't change our skin color, be we definitely can change how we perceive each other as equals. We are all Black people no matter what hue, and we need to start to look at ourselves as a collective body ready to form coalitions as opposed to trying to find ways to divide ourselves. I can tell you for a fact, that just give me a good loving woman full of substance with style and charisma that resonate on me psyche...and I’ll take her no matter the color!