I often review the statistics for my blog but I’m not just interested in the numbers. While it is encouraging to know how many persons have read my posts, I am also interested in what led them to the blog. For this answer, I check the word searches. Sometimes, it’s the name of the blog or questions regarding race but sometimes, the person searches for something that I do not have a post on. One example would be the word search “nigger, proverbs.” Now, I can’t be certain of what she or he meant but it is, at least for me, an interesting choice of words. And it inspired this post.
What are some of the proverbs, the so- called wise sayings of race? What warnings does race give us about other socially colored groups? What insight does the social construct provide regarding the social coloring of skin and our interaction with it? What wisdom literature do we associate with race?
I’ll share with you one that was passed down to me: “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice” (This is another example of race discussed using food; see “You Are What You Eat: Race Is Not A Food Group” for more discussion on this topic.). This saying was used to suggest that there was something good about being dark- skinned, perhaps used to counter the negative associations that were/ are often linked to darker skin. This statement turns the world of race on its head, making the darker skin the better one to possess. This was consider dating advice according to race. Some sons may have heard from their mothers, “Don’t bring her home if she can’t use my comb.” This saying was used to enforce the rule of no “interracial” dating. The thought was that dating a socially colored white woman would only bring trouble. I asked one of my uncles why he had never dated a socially colored white woman and his reply was, “I have enough problems.” Unfortunately, this sentiment of dating across socially drawn racial lines as difficult continues to be shared with generation after generation. I hope that we can change that.
I’ll be back to check your answers and your word searches.
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…
Wallace 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