"White is Bright"...and other stories

20-minute documentary on "shadeism" below. H/T Clutch.

Shadeism on Vimeo.

I feel like I should be more bothered by this topic, but for some reason, I'm sort off "meh" towards it, and have been so for most of my life. My first encounter with shadeism came when I was five, attending school in Massachusetts and a girl of biracial heritage told me that I could not play with her and her white friends because I was simply too dark. At the time, I could care less, because there were more than enough "dark" classmates to play with (especially this adorable Rasta child, of whom I was completely enamoured with - and of course, like any five year old girl, I displayed my affection by terrorizing him at the playground - I was a bit of a bully back then. So he was my first crush, my second was Michael Jackson...don't judge). It was only when I was older that I realized it was a pathology. But even now, when I encounter such instances of black-on-black discrimination, it hardly fazes me. Like for example, an older relative of mine expressed a desire for her children to wed men of other races in order that they may sire beautiful children (but beyond that, she also has some gripes towards Igbo men, which receives a bit of a "Kanye Shrug" from my end). On another occasion a family friend was lamenting that the others are reticent to discipline their mixed-race four-year-old because of the colour of his skin. Of course, the Nnewi man was not having it, and half-stated/half asked, "This child cannot be more beautiful than me?" Yeah...side eye....not at the instance of shadeism...but rather at the sheer ridiculousness of the question. (Oh, and I'm assuming/hoping that most of my extended family is not aware of my blogging exploits...an aunt was worried that I may get arrested for my opinions, or worse still, not find a husband, because of it. Had to reassure her that it wasn't that serious, yet).

I feel like I should be more aggrieved towards such statements in the same way that I am towards racism. I find that among the African American community, individuals are much more sensitive towards shadeism, while in other communities, such as those represented in this film, expressing a preference for lighter-coloured children has long been normalized.

But, beyond the instances I just mentioned, I feel that overt shadeism may not be as pervasive in the Nigerian community. From my limited personal experience, we tend to denigrate those with blotchy tell-tale signs of chronic skin bleaching, and we extol darker- skinned actresses like Genevieve or Clems Ohameze, who in his day, was known as "black beauty." I think there is an element of "Nigerian pride," which, perhaps in this day and age, trumps the need to adhere to Eurocentric ideal of lighter-skinned beauty. Or perhaps, which is more likely the case, I am trapped in my own, "Black is (unquestionably, regardless the shade) beautiful" bubble.

There are some other bloggers who covered in relation to this film (simply Google "shadeism") - but I have yet to see a Nigerian blogpost on the topic. Though, I have seen a number of them on the politics of hair - which at this point in my life gets a "meh" from me as well.


Eat, pray, and love...me

By habit, I always pick up a new book anytime I travel to a new place - even if it is just a couple states over. It's something I started in my teens when I had some access to disposable (or borrowed - still owing some folks) income. Repeated the same thing this time I travelled to the west coast for the first time ever. I think...can't ever say ever since I got in trouble with Canadian customs last year for sneaking across the border in '86. Note, I was barely crawling that year...yeah, a relative "borrowed" my social security number - ah the life and times.

Came to the realization some weeks ago that my paltry book/music collection, save for textbooks and lecture recordings, is crying for some diversity. I have a primarily black library - spanning various corners of the African diaspora - Harlem, Enugu, Kingston, Umtali (Mutare) etc. There's a spattering of brown lit - but again, the same resistance and post-colonial themes. Largely, it's symptomatic of growing up in public high school that zealously guarded the "black is beautiful" mantra and then proceeding to a liberal arts education that offered a buffet-style selection humanities courses for those in the sciences. I grew all too comfortable in books that felt like home.

So this trip, I made the mistake of looking for book that would be representative of this elusive whiteness, you know, like how some would assign Things Fall Apart for a two-week introduction to the African experience. Needless to say, I failed horribly at this assignment.

First, it was an impulse buy at an airport bookshop. Although, I have been lucky, at times, with such on-the-fly purchases, airport shops are largely known for bright, empty magazines and self-help books. Second, I was moved primarily by my pocket and some feigned interest in the environment. You see, there was a shelf dedicated to previously read books - pre-owned novels which were 50% off. Not only was a getting a sweet deal but I was doing my part to save this text from clogging up our landfills. And third mistake - and quite cliched - I judged a book by it's cover. If I was going to read the whitest of white, why not pick up the memoir plastered with with a picture of Julia Roberts on the front?

Yes, I bought the wildly popular Elizabeth Gilbert memoir, Eat, Pray, Love - chick lit made into a chick flick a couple of years ago. Yeah, it was somewhat embarrassing, especially considering that my travel mates had their microbio textbooks in tow (don't know how I forgot mine, but was able to get a hush-hush .pdf copy hookup...whoop whoop!)

While I find Gilbert's story, thus far, refreshingly open and honest, it's a bit too stereotypically white and Western for my liking. And somehow, I empathize. It appeals to that part of my American self that I consciously work to squelch out in the open. Her story represents that part of me that tends to exoticize the other, the one that doggedly personalizes the spiritual to the neglect of the communal, the part of me that in my quiet moments, is fastidiously self-absorbed. Elizabeth Gilbert is my id.

I have yet to finish the book (may hold it off until Christmas vacation, unfortunately - got to memorize those bugs.) I'm praying for a happy ending with this book, though I have yet to put to words what that looks like. But from the reviews I briefly looked through, I doubt it.