So, where in Africa are you from?

If I wasn’t already incredibly frustrated with the American media industry before coming to India, then I am now. I’m going to make a slight generalization here: Indians do not believe that black people live in America— although, black people (slaves) built America.

Let me break this down: people who do not live in America, mostly learn about America from mainstream American media*. I am, and I am not talking about people who are fortunate enough to travel to America.

Clear and simple, the lack of black and brown faces in American media— especially black faces in this case, claims that America is ‘white’ in ignoring people who are just as American as any white person, in that their ancestors played a huge role in building America, and their families had been living on American soil for hundreds of years.

Where does this come from? Hyphenated Americanism, the notion that black people act a certain way, the lack of color-blind casting in the television and film industries, the notion that films/TV shows with more than two black lead actors are only for black people, AND the very, very incorrect assumption that we live in a post-racial society.

Back to India— so, if people around the world are watching American television programs and films, and only white people are being shown on the screen (i.e., Friends), being portrayed as Americans… will people think that black people live in America?

A woman wrote Africa on my receipt, then proceeded to ask me: “Where in Africa are you from?” This jewelry boutique owner lived in Jersey for four years, but probably not in an area where a lot of black people live.

“Are you from South Africa or the West Indies? South Africa.” I wasn’t too offended by this cashier, but I also was because… why do I only have two options of origin— the W.I and Africa? I AM of West Indian descent and I love my culture, but I am American born. I don’t claim being American very much, if at all, but I do claim being a New Yorker.

“Are you from Nigeria?” I was expecting resistance or awe at the fact that I responded “No, I’m from New York,” but this rickshaw driver was well-travelled.

Earlier this year, Shonda Rhimes, the show-runner of two of my favorite television series, Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, won a diversity award from the Director’s Guild of America. This is what she said about it: “When I heard I was getting a Diversity Award, I was really, truly, profoundly honored. I began to get calls from VarietyThe Hollywood Reporter, etc., and I was asked to comment on the award. Asked how good I felt about the award. Asked if it made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Asked if it had been a struggle making diversity happen on my cast and crews. While I’m still really and truly profoundly honored to receive this award, but I was also a little pissed off.”

This speaks to the lack of, but growing amount of diversity in mainstream American media. There really shouldn’t have to be an award for diversity, and diversity shouldn’t have to be conscious, because well… we live in a diverse country but not every writer/filmmaker feels the need to portray that in a positive light if at all…

Fascinations with Whiteness

Coming to India, I knew the whole deal about colorism. What is colorism? Colorism is a phenomenon that causes people to preference and give privilege to, lighter/whiter-skinned people. Colorism is rooted in the idea that light or white skin is more beautiful than darker skin tones, and that attributes of kindness go hand in hand with that lighter or whiter skin.

So, there’s this whole thing about skin-bleaching that’s very popular in India and one or two West Indian countries, namely Jamaica. People want to be lighter because they think it’ll make their lives better— open doors for them, make them more attractive, etc. Then there’s skin-lightening in photography, the progression of Rihanna from #teambrownskin** to high yellow, Beyonce from #teambrownskin to #teamredbone.

For God’s sake, I was an entire shade lighter for the Bollywood music video shoot. Whitney, must’ve been three shades lighter— that night she was playing for #teamlightskin.

When we go to major stand-still areas (i.e. Juhu Beach, the Gate of India), some of my classmates always get asked to take a picture. Only once have I been asked to take a picture with someone. Based on the nature of what I am speaking about, it should go without saying that these classmates meet the stereotypical standards of beauty.

There is a fascination with whiteness in this country.

I am not in anyway speaking negatively of India or it’s people. Colorism exists in most places on this earth. There’s extreme colorism in the Caribbean, Brazil, America; any place where there are people of color. It’s something that isn’t really out there. It’s subtle, it has to be observe or noticed and it is a repercussion of colonialism.

In Morocco, I got marriage proposals and I was followed all of the time, because of my dark skin. In Europe, Italian men would always, somehow find me and compliment me on my skin. Skin color plays a different role everywhere in the world that you go, and colorism takes on different forms from country to country.

As I was writing this piece, I started to do some research and discovered that in India there is a lot of racism against Africans in this country. More specifically, Nigerians in particular, are heavily discriminated against by Indians, although millions of Indians live in Nigerian and less than 50,000 Nigerians live in India. I won’t really go into this much.

*When I use the term “media” I am referring to television programs and films.
** #teambrownskin, #teamdarksin, #teamlightskin, #teamredbone, and many other skin-color related hashtags are embodiments of colorism seen in the black community that have been given life via social media (mostly in America).

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about colorism, watch D. Chansin Berry’s documentary Dark Girls http://officialdarkgirlsmovie.com
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3 thoughts on “So, where in Africa are you from?

  1. Love your post. So much to say about this phenomena. I think about Head Start, congregating all poor people in a system instead of promoting these parents and children to be part of regular main stream pre-k and nursery schools. My children attended Bernice Wright Nursery school up at SU; one of my children, because of disability, was forced to participate in a headstart program and I found it claustophobic, demeaning, and isolating. I pulled my child out of that entire program. I found it demeaning to my parental abilities and full of stereotypes about “you are not capable.” Bernice Wright Nursery school encouraged children’s development and fostered their relationships and also the connections and friendships between parents by allowing us to hang-out and talk to each other. Bernice Wright Nursery School treated parents as part of the process not someone to be “fixed, in need of repair.” Oh, sure, all parents have their problems but, just like our children, we have a multitude of strengths. I found the Head Start program segregated children based on income; does this play into a segregation of race? I grew up in a small town; a small white town. My children grew up in the city, going to city schools. It has made a big difference in my outlook on life. Now when I have gone to somewhere or watched a TV program that does not represent people of color, somethings missing and it doesn’t feel right at all and I don’t want to watch it or be there. I took my son to a college where it was noticeable that it was a white campus and he noticed it right away and didn’t like it; I didn’t want him to attend there. Clausterphobic. As a side note: I grew up the “dark child” in a light-blond, blue-eyed family. I felt it. I wasn’t the special child. I wasn’t the beautiful child although I see my own beauty. It hurt a great deal but now I carry my own beauty. I wasn’t able to as a child but I can sure do it now. Great post.

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  2. Hello. I agree that racism has established strong roots in my country and thus, it influences the minds of the people of my nation. India probably will take time to develop in terms of thoughts. All I can do at this point is apologize for what you have had to face here. I cannot ask you to ignore the bad and enjoy the good because if you will keep ignoring the bad then people shall keep continuing with the bad. Thus, please do keep pointing the mistakes and faults of India as it’s through criticism that we shall learn and improve.

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  3. This entire post is on point, especially about the colorism in India! With my experience of reading blogs by foreigners going to countries in Asia, many of the bloggers are white…so they have a jaded view of the friendliness they receive and assume everyone experiences that. I really like this post!

    Like

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