Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee… It sounds like the beginning of a grocery list but it is actually the way in which many of us speak of ourselves and others. Not only do we categorize ourselves according to the social coloring of skin but apparently, human beings come in food groups. Our attention to color, that is the social coloring of skin, is so ingrained that we attach it to things that remind us of this identity. Consequently, a word association involving food could trigger one to think of a person. For example, “Black and white like an oreo, a zebra… a mixed person.” I don’t see it as an obvious conclusion or link but so many persons do.
Persons of “mixed” cultural heritage or those who are deemed to be “acting white” (i.e. socially performing as is expected of socially defined white people because they are the definition of success, the sound of proper speech and the example of right-standing in America) are referred to as oreos, bananas and apples because they are said to be black/yellow/red on the outside but white on the inside. I am troubled by the meaning as it reinforces the belief that goodness is unnatural to persons who are socially colored red/yellow/brown/black, that this goodness is visible and acquired apart from Jesus Christ. This manner of thought is, of course, contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we are not judged by our physical appearance (II Samuel 16.7; Proverb 31.30; James 1.22-25; Matthew 7.20, 23.28). Race also suggests that our standing with God, as in American society, is determined by external means and is an outside job. But this is not supported by the Scriptures which point believers toward an inward transformation of heart, mind, will and emotions (Romans 12.1-2; Galatians 2.20, 5.19-26; Ephesians 4.23. Second Timothy 2.15; First John 3.2).
I have heard it said by African American men that they like their women like they like their coffee: black. Others who say they like their coffee with a little cream in it are indicating that they prefer light- skinned women. The social coloring of skin and its politics are at work and bring to mind the meanings imbedded in these categories during American slavery. Dark-skinned persons were often instructed to work in the field while those who were of a lighter complexion worked in the house. It created a leadership dynamic, a hierarchy between the slaves, even in the midst of bondage. But, it didn’t matter then whether they were in the house or in the field; they still were the personal possession of another human being. This message of lighter skin as goodness because of its social protections continues to be carried today. We too recreate hierarchy in our racial pyramid when we speak of persons as food. We may no longer carry brown bags to test the lightness of one’s skin and none of us may be card carrying members of the Blue Vein Society. But, we affirm our membership when we attempt to put people in a basket, planning to consume them by making them a part of our list. Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee…
ResourcesWallace Thurman, The Blacker The Berry Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall, The Color Complex Marita Golden, Don’t Play In The Sun Racism takes many hues Skin Deep: Dying to be White