Sometimes Conversations Are Just Plain Painful

It is a fact that some conversations are difficult. They feel loaded, paralysing and heavy.This is one of them.
I am writing about it because like incest and abuse,  for some of us it is a disturbing, shameful conversation spanning successive generations, yet a conversation which often hurts too much to speak openly about.

I  bring this conversation to this venue for a few reasons. Firstly I no longer want to be a party to “keeper of the dirty little secret, or keeper of the shame”. Secondly, this is as good a place as any to simply be heard.

Twenty-seven years ago a girl child was born. She was born to a middle-class family. Her mother was  thirty-two years old when she was born. She held a post graduate degree in education and she was looking forward to parenting a child who was planned.   Great care was taken in the selection of picture books educational learning toys and exposure to the world around her.By the time this little girl was four years old. It became obvious to her mother that forces outside the family had managed to undermine the self-esteem lessons her mother attempted to instil. I was that mother, and Whitney who has been the light of my life was that child.

The Clark Doll Experiment (1939) was an experiment done by Dr Kenneth Clark and his wife Mamie where they asked black children to choose between a black doll and a white doll. The dolls were the same except for their skin colour but most thought the white doll was nicer.

In 2005 Kiri Davis repeated the experiment in Harlem as part of her short but excellent film, “A Girl Like Me”. She asked 21 children and 71% told her that the white doll was the nice one. Not a huge sample size, true, but it was still shocking to see how  many chose the white doll. Here are links you may find worth looking at. (cut and paste them in your browser window)          Dark Girls Documentary Trailer

I didn’t always know about the “Doll Test of 1939” but I knew that as an art teacher, when I offered  a choice of colored paints in the art classes in public schools few black  children select the color commensurate with  their own color. I’ve wondered if their parents are aware that this is so. Not necessarily.

Clearly this topic has many threads. I believe that there are many mothers and fathers too, who are pained to witness yet another generation of children who enter the dark years when self hate manifests itself and the waiting begins. Waiting for what you ask? Waiting for the turnaround which can take five or more years before these children can begin to see that perhaps they need not desire to be white in order to be ok.
I only want to do  one thing here in this article. I want to urge women of color to speak about how it feels to witness this horror with our children whom we want to fiercely protect from the subtle and not so subtle messages bombarding them. It  goes without saying that this is one very good reason to control the amount of time children are allowed to  mindlessly sit  with the television as the  babysitter. But I really don’t want to become sidetracked here.

I want to say how much it hurts as a mother. I want want to say that I felt helpless  undermined and violated. The violator felt like everyone but no one. Wherever colonialism  has had it’s reach in the world this pain is experienced from Peru to Mexico to India and back. A thirty year old mother came to me last week.   Her five year old has arrived. I identified with both her sadness and her anger and frustration. “Has nothing changed Sharon ?” she asked. Looking around it is easy to see that the desire to come as close as possible to european beauty is responsible for our cousins to the south of us bathing in Clorox in 2013 to lighten their skin. Look around at the very dark who want and wear blond extension hair. Good hair and bad hair is determined  by how close it comes to european hair.

I invite your comments. I especially invite the voices of those who remember how it felt denying all that you saw when you looked in the mirror, for all that you could never be as you wished you were lighter, brighter or just plain white. It is important to say such things out loud so that the shame is dealt with. It was not your fault that you secretly hated yourself. It was not your fault. It was not your fault.

This is said to be the era of enlightenment and in this era blacks must say it and whites must hear it. Hear what? Hear that it has not passed. That it is not behind us. That until Hollywood equally embraces super heros across color lines and celebrates ethnicities for the richness we  bring to the table we cannot evolve beyond this place. Tokens are tokens and no one is fooled by the odd black doll who is anonymous as she sits next to Barbie and Ken who are all that America represents. My goodness our four year olds tell us this as they continue to  reject black dolls for white ones.

In this era of greater conscious awareness it is important to be aware of things implied in the language we use. After all that’s how the deepest of all messages seep in to us in the first place. For all of the mothers and fathers who know this story or any part of it feel free to share it. I will use the information but not your names. I have thought about this article for a long time. Today I have begun to open the dialogue  There are no positions to defend. There are common experiences which have been pushed down, denied and ignored.

For my part, I am using my head, my heart, and my hands, to paint, to Inspire, Transform and Uplift the human spirit.  In so doing, I honour all people. I pray for the courage to  speak more when I am not angry, to think before I speak, and to exercise the cathartic power of using my voice.