Paula Deen, Dark Girls, Colorism, Our Daughters and Our Community

You can all thank Mrs. L for forcing me out of blogging hibernation. I swore that I would not be enticed to pecking out any ideas or epiphanies until the summer had ended, but she gave me a carrot and I lunged for it.

Mrs. L sent me this image via text last night.

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I had to do the pretty test with the girls. The 5 year old said the 4th girl was prettiest “because she looks like you”. The 3 year old picked the third girl “because she looks like me”. Who would your girls pick and why? I wanted them both to pick the 5th girl…is this something to correct?

I have talked about conducting the ‘pretty test’ with Nadjah before, as well as the pathetic results of that test. The pretty test’s proper designation is the Clark Experiment, named after Kenneth and Mamie Clark, a married African-American team of researchers. Their studies were pivotal during the civil rights movement, and still have profound consequences and impact today on how we see ourselves as a race.

In a nutshell (and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth delving into) they conducted a test using dolls of two races: one white, one black. Elementary school aged children were asked questions about the doll ranging from physical appearance, character, intelligence and then were asked to pass judgments on the dolls.

Which is the good doll? Which is the prettiest doll? Which is the smart doll? and so forth.

Overwhelmingly, the White doll was good, pretty, smart, etc. The Black doll was bad and ugly. Then came the lynchpin of the experiment – the one question that would reveal the unspoken truth that many a Black man, woman or child harbored: which doll looks more like YOU.

Captured on video, you can see the stunned faces of the child participants as they pointed to the black doll, and in variably admitting that they were bad, they were ugly, they were less intelligent. This experiment was first conducted in 1939. In 2008, when I got the same results with my own child, I was heartsick and devastated. I swore this would not be so.

I’m pleased to report that Nadjah has been “rehabilitated” and that Aya has never “failed” the pretty test. When asked separately, both my girls chose the third girl as the prettiest, because she looked like our family. This was good. But ultimately, I still want a different result. I’ll come back to that after I’m done with Paula Deen.

Oh? You think I’m angry with Ms. Paula? Not in the least. Paula Deen’s alleged use of the word ‘nigger’ doesn’t offend me at all. That would make me a hypocrite. I grew up around the word, hearing it rapped, sung and flung in various forms including nigga, nyugguah and just plain old nig. Usually, the word was being spoken from Black lips whom I was taught to admire. Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and Paul Mooney who once famously declared on Chappelle’s show “Nigga, nigga, nigga, it keeps my teeth clean.”

Let’s be very clear: many Black people are not comfortable with the word in any capacity, whatsoever. Sadly, they are not the majority. Images of men swinging from nooses and hounds ripping their flesh come sharply to mind at its utterance. It was a word coined with the intention of denigrating a race, and it worked. As one of my friends put it:

I don’t care how many times a Black person calls a white guy a honkey or a cracker, neither word will ever have the power to reduce him to a quivering mass of fury as the word nigger from his lips.

All these claims about us ‘reclaiming’ the word and reducing its power are absolute nonsense. I don’t care how liberal a person is, if Jay Carney walked up to Jay Z and said – even in jest – “boy, you are one crazy nigger”, he’d be simultaneously punched in the face and hit with a lawsuit. However, Jay Z is free to make liberal use of the word, and even profit off it through album sales and sold out performances. And who are the people filling the seats at those performances? Guess who is rapping “nigga” back to him? Guess who is your future celebrity chef or congressman? Not my kids… and not enough kids that look like mine either. You know who I’m talking about. Don’t play.

There are elements within our race who have conditioned White people to become comfortable with the word and all references to it. I don’t know how or when Paula Deen was influenced around the subject of race and colorism, I just know that we all are in some capacity. Do you know how ‘racist’ my own family is? Are you even willing to admit how racist yours might be? I’ve sat through many a conversation where my elders flung insults at Chinese women for causing wrecks because they couldn’t see the road through slit eyes, or some blue-eyed devil who cut the line at mechanic, and so forth. Usually, my Uncle Blue was belly-aching about all these ills around the picnic table. And no, his name was not “Blue”. He was born “Bill”. His siblings started calling him Blue because he was so black.

Does Paula Deen saying some guy was “black as a board” bother me? Not one bit. From what I could tell from the video, she was talking about someone whom she shared a deep affection for. For all we know, he could have at one point said – in jest- “Wow. That Paula Deen is pasty as dough.”

And guess what? The woman IS pretty white.

In regards to the ‘pretty test’; I would hope that one day, perhaps five or more years down the road, when I ask my girls which of these girls which of these girls is the prettiest they will respond with one of two answers:

1)      All of them are pretty

2)      None is prettier than the other

and that they will give these same answers for the same or similar reasons that they responded that number 3 was the prettiest.

I think the first is pretty because she looks like Ms. Maria, my first grade teacher. She taught me a lot.

I think the seconds is pretty because she reminds me of Dora the Explorer.

I think the third is pretty because she looks like our family.

I think the forth is pretty because she reminds me Mrs. L

I think the fifth is pretty because she looks like Alek Wek.

Every race and color has beauty and merits. In fact, within Mrs. L’s immediate family, their skin color runs the gambit, from a very fair husband, to a deep chocolate mother and two girls that have a color in between. My hope is that we will actually learn this as a society one day and stop letting advertisers, celebrities and government policies that exacerbate color issues by saying who is capable to do one thing or not dictate our worth when we look in the mirror.

Is it wrong for Mrs. L to want her daughters to pick number 5 as the prettiest? Perhaps. Perhaps not. What do you think?

  • Winnie

    Oh, but Malaka! Why did you cite the “I don’t care how many times a Black person calls a white guy a honkey or a cracker, neither word will ever have the power to reduce him to a quivering mass of fury as the word nigger from his lips” and then claim that your family is racist? You acknowledged the difference between prejudice and racism but then cited your family members’ prejudice as racism. White men can’t jump, or any other prejudiced statement is inconsequential in this world we live in. Just like a Black person saying prejudiced things about Asians having slit eyes. It’s unfortunate, yes. It’s not “unfortunate” that Paula Deen, who has a lot of power, not only coz she’s the privileged member of society, but also because she’s a business woman in the south with a LOT of black employees, to use the n-word.. she wishes she could have a bunch of lil n-words serving at her brother’s wedding? Are you kidding me? She’s not the first n she will certainly not be the last, and though I am neither upset nor surprised, I do think it is not okay to willy-nilly use the word, and I don’t feel sorry for her.

    • Oh, but Winnie! The point is not Paula Deen or even what she said, the point is a larger discussion that needs to be had and the pervasive dysfunction that plagues the Black community when it comes to color and labels.

      Why can you call a white guy a honkey and he be okay with it? Because he has enough economic and social power backing him to shield him from the impact of foolish name calling. I actually had a white guy at my job say that he would rather be called a “honkey” than a “cracker”. Of course, I could not respond that I would rather be called a coon than a nigger. We’re just not there yet as a race.

      As for Paula, no one should feel sorry for her. Paula is going to be just fine. She wants black people dressed in white coats to serve dinner? Meh. Who cares? People in Hell want ice water. I had all my bridesmaids dress up in saris. Does that make me British colonialist? But the point, Winnie. The point!

  • Winnie

    Oh, I’m not saying it’s in any way appropriate to go around calling people crackers n whatnot..I’m just saying that slurs are all equal but some are more equal than others. The more equal ones are the ones that get the most attention because…well..they’ve caused the most pain historically. I also think it’s complete and utter hogwash to claim that Black people using the n-word are re-claiming its power..gtfoh with that bull, Black people.

    Antttttywhaaay, I guess we agree on the fundamentals of your post, so that’s cool. I just think that the dialogue on the use of the n-word in the Black community should take place, but not during such a combustive issue.

    • It’s always good to agree on the fundamentals. We need some unity up in here. Care for a tall, cold glass of Muskatela?

  • Tallchica

    Ahhhhh! You’re back! You should have seen the tears of sorrow that fell from my eyes when you said you’d be gone till the end of summer. Who would regale me with verbal tongue-lashings of incompetent politicians? Who would tell me stories of highly amusing jaunts in her own mind spurred by her daily grind? Who would keep me entertained for the first 30 minutes after work? Thankfully, the drought is over! Don’t do this to me again (says the complete Internet stranger)! BTW I forwarded your blog post on Hnr. Pelpuo to every Ghanian I knew. Kai, you cut him down to his level, Jarey!

    • Oh the hiatus is still on ooo. I just HAD to discuss those 2 topics. Look how long it too me to even respond to you! These people are relentless…