Apr 23, 2013 @ 10:24 am | By TheFeministGriote | 42 Comments
I have recently come down this condition called “white people fatigue syndrome” it is a term I am borrowing from bell hooks essay “Representing Whiteness” that can be found in the book titled Black Looks. Truth to be told, I am not the only person of color who suffers from this condition. POC if they’re honest will admit that sometimes it takes entirely too much energy and patience to support white people in their process of being an ally. The weight of being “colored me” in a white supremacist hetero patriarchal capitalist culture has become too heavy. I am tired of always having to prove to whites that racism exists (and it should be noted that ten times of ten my energy is being expended on self-proclaimed whites who call themselves POC allies). I am tired of whites trying to prove to me that they’re aren’t racist, but as soon as it is time for them to interrupt oppression on my behalf, I am on my own. Needless, to say this “mule of the world” is weary!
I recently attend a luncheon with some members of my non-profit agency. I would have much rather stayed in the office, but I obliged. I showed up to this shindig where I was one of maybe ten Black people (I am being very generous with this guesstimation) in a room filled with 100 people. The shindig was at a country club in a part of town that was made up of affluent whites and Latin(a) folks. At my agency table, I was the only Black person. My co-workers are either white or identify as white Latina/Hispanic.
While the ceremony was under way a woman starts passing out a magazine called Cancunissimo a Spanish language magazine. The cover of the magazine catches my eye. The extremely pale white woman being juxtaposed against this extremly dark woman is not something one can easily ignore. As I am investigating the magazine further, I realize that the model isn’t Black. I continue to look inside the magazine to see this non-Black woman, in Black face, in bright color clothing, and in what looks to be a high fashion pictorial spread. I visibly shame my head, put the magazine down, and proclaim to those around me that the picture is racist. A co-worker who was sitting next to me says, “what’s racist?” and proceeds to look around the room looking for that racist thing. I don’t know what my colleague was looking to find. Not sure if she was looking to find a burning cross in the middle of the ballroom floor, a table filled with white people in their Klan uniforms, or whatever in her mind she considers “racist.” When I told her that I was referring to the magazine cover and that it was racist she fell silent, deathly silent. Another co-worker who at this time entered the conversation said, “but the pictures are beautiful.” To which I responded, but its still racist!
Now there are several things that need to be dissected in that brief story. The number one thing being the obsession that fashion has with having white women don colored women costumes and calling it high fashion. In the essay “Selling hot pussy” by bell hooks, hooks writes:
“In contemporary postmodern fashion sense, the black female is the best medium for the showing of clothes because her image does not detract from the outfit; it is subordinate…much fuss was made about the reluctance of fashion magazines to include images of black women, it was assumed that the presence of such representations would in an of themselves challenge racist stereotypes that black women are not not beautiful.”
That essay was penned in the 90’s when there was a huge surge of Black supermodels and Black models still do exist even now. However, fast forward to 2013 white supremacist fashion houses have found something better than a Black supermodel, they’re now making white women wear Black face and makeup, and presenting it as the new and improved negro supermodel. Therefore, the belief that the more of us that infiltrate an industry or “make it” will somehow make an industry less racist is an epic fallacy. There is no shortage of beautiful Black models, but they’re being substituted with white models. These white women get to appropriate the all beautiful aesthetics of Blackness without the cultural and societal baggage.
The second layer of the story that needs to be deconstructed is the fact that both of my co-workers failed to validate or affirm my feelings. Mind you, I am the only visible person of color at my table and it was clear that I was offended. I guess since it was a magazine cover no one other than me viewed it as a tool with the ability to cut me raw. These same co-workers moments earlier mustered great compassion towards my vegan co-worker who couldn’t eat at this shindig because the food being served was an affront to her diet. But the magazine cover which was an affront to my personhood was ignored and here lies the crux of the problem.
Black women are always viewed through the lens that we are super strong, superhuman, always ready to curse somebody out, and impervious to the ills of this racist sexist world. At that very moment, I needed an ally. I needed someone outside of me to say, “yes that shit is racist and disgusting and more importantly ask me if I was okay.”
Everyone has their specific soapbox and the issues that they ‘stan’ for. If the cover of the magazine was homophobic the entire table would be up in arms because there was lesbian at the table. If the cover of the magazine was anti-immigrant the table would’ve been up in arms because there were many immigrants at the table. If the magazine cover was misogynistic in nature the table would’ve been up in arms because 99.9% of the table was female. But because the magazine was racist not only did no one other than myself notice it no one cared when the issue was brought to the light. Because all too often people fail to realize how all isms and oppressions are interrelated and depend upon each other to thrive.
Audre Lorde said it best, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we don’t live single-issue lives.” We all have some type of privilege be it white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, cis-gendered privilege, able-bodied privilege, American privilege, Christian privilege and the list goes on. Use your privilege to interrupt oppression not to co-sign oppression!
Categories: Pop-Culture Fodder