On Race, People Say The Darndest Things

I will spare you grand pontification and multi-layered arguments in logic and just layout the situation that started it all.

This past semester, I was involved in yet another dreaded group project. Two to be exact but this story begins with my marketing one. We were meeting for the first time trying to figure out our individual strengths lie. Someone suggested that we go around the table to describe ourselves. I think we had to begin with, "If I had to describe myself in 3 words. . ." or something to that effect.


I said something like creative, hard-working, smart. Each member described themselves in similar descriptives. We get to this one Mexican girl with a heavy Spanish accent and she says, "If I had to describe myself, first of all I would say that I'm white." WTH.

That statement stuck out like a sore thumb. Every time I think about her I think of that 'I am white' comment. I have never heard a run of the mill 'white person' describe themselves as such. I wondered why she saw fit to make that her dominant description.

The election of President Barack Obama has brought race and all of its cliches and misconceptions to the forefront of public discourse. Some argue that part of Obama's appeal is his mixed-race heritage. Obama, to me, defies the common stereotypes and cliches of race, color, and behavior. He is bi-racial but he looks black. He was raised in the multi-cultural Hawaii and poverty-stricken Indonesia. There are a lot of ambiguously Negro people out there that usually get the spotlight. Obama defied the aesthetic convention of light-skin equaling prominence in the black community.


Second, he is married to a dark-skinned sistah. Growing up I was considered light-skinned or brown depending on who I was standing next to and what season of the year it was. I never thought too much about it. To me it was a dumb and false way of categorizing people, esp. in my family where all of us are everywhere on the shade spectrum. I do remember guys saying thing like, 'there is no such thing as an ugly light-skinned girl.' All of the First Ladies (or preacher's wives) were light-skinned with 'good hair'. The 'incognegr o' woman was the ideal. After all, Lena Horne, is the only person to make Ebony Magazine's most beautiful list for 55 years straight. As early as 2000, the magazine was heralding the fact that it could now include the likes of Tyson Beckford and Lauryn Hill in the rankings. 2000! It spoke to something inside of a lot of women that a man like Barack chose his life mate to be a woman with dark-skin, kinky-hair, and round butt. To put it frankly she does not look like a tan 'white' woman.

Lena Blue

As I meet and interact with people of other nationalities, it amazes me that some of the same issues of identity and colorism lie in those cultures also. I was shocked to hear Mark Consuelos, Mateo of AMC for all of you soap opera fans, describe himself as dark-skinned. He was relating to some issues with African American males on Oprah.

Mark consuelos

Interestingly enough, another girl in the group who really looked white (I assumed she was) met me at my house to finish our paper. While there she told me of her experience being a 'light-skinned' Mexican. Had we not met alone, I never would have connected the fact her last name Martinez to her ethnicity because to me she did not 'look it.'

I know this post is all over the place but what are some of your views on this issue?

13 thoughts on “On Race, People Say The Darndest Things

  1. Whew Taula you sure know how to wake a body up. I have been described similar to yourself and I can tell you the majority of the women in my family have my skin complexion but for the few that don’t; they have issues.
    To my families credit they make passing comments about skin color but it is never their sole focus. I was never told to stay out of the sun for fear of getting darker (and to this day I prefer to workout outdoors).
    I think for so many people of ethnic backgrounds we have taken on the ideals of our dominate culture and forgotten that beauty comes in all forms.
    I truly believe that if we come to accept our natural beauty it will open the eyes of others to that very same beauty.
    I am not considered dark skin but I am SOOOOO very proud that Michelle is not a light bright, I hope it will do wonders for my sisters of darker complexions; that at times have feelings of inadequacy. Don’t attribute it to skin color love yourself and I know that is easier said than done; but we must start somewhere.

  2. Jazzy:
    I try to keep in interesting up in here!!
    I just don’t get it when I see a beautiful person and someone else only sees ‘darker skin’ and finds that ugly.
    I used to work with a Mexican guy about Mark Consuelos’ complexion(all types of hotness). I remember hearing other hispanics one Mexican (light) the other from El Salvador think he was not cute. They would say things like he is darker than you or something stupid like that.
    Or the comments I hear about Jennifer Hudson from OUR people who refuse to say she is beautiful but won’t hesitate to fall all over a Beyonce or Rihanna.(BTW I think they are beautiful as well.)
    I found a website that lets you take a picture and it morphs you into a cartoon, different races, whatever. I would love to see what people would say of the same people if they were a bit lighter.

  3. As I’ve mentioned before, Ms. Talulazoeapple, I am Mexican my own self; I also just happen to be happily married (for 26 years now) to an Afro-American lady. With that being said, let me now address your Mexican, heavy accent speaking classmate. She said, “…I’m white.” I hate to rain on her parade, but, eer, no she’s not. And I can prove it! Please stay with me on this one.
    In 632 A.D., Mohammed dies in Medina in what is now Saudi Arabia. By this time, Islam is well established and begins to spread like wildfire all over the Mediterranean region. In 711 A.D., the Berbers (a.k.a. Moors) were the first to bring Islam to Spain. Where were the Berbers from? Northern Africa. These Moors stayed in Spain until 1492; they were there for 700 years. These Moors also intermarried with some of the native Spanish women; the Spanish people get some black blood in them. Now what happens? In 1492, the age of the Spanish explorers starts. When they come to the Western Hemisphere, they intermarry with the native peoples thus creating present day Latinos. Your classmate says she’s White? No she’s not. Read it and weep, y’all. My position is based on historical facts.

  4. Thanks Smooth:
    You always come with the knowledge. I had no problem with her is she was or wasnot white. I just did not get her declaring it o the world like that.
    I don’t know what her issue was/is.

  5. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to live in an African country and in Turkey where race really does not matter. In Botswana where I was in Peace Corp some of the Africans nearly prayed that their children would be “black as pitch.” Since Botswana bordered South Africa and apartheid was still on, there was no way they were going to praise and worship light skin. They knew who their oppressor was. These complexes that African-Americans continue to carry and debate over are seen as really sad to many of the Africans I met. There were more pressing issues for them, and they felt there should have been more pressing issues for African-Americans.
    As to hair texture, figure, and color most Turks have no problem with any of these. Thank goodness, I don’t have to worry about whether some “brotha” is concerned about me wearing my hair natural, or if my bottom is too big, or that I have to be high yellow. My psychotic roommate told us here that her late husband told her that her that he was marrying her because he wanted to say that he had married a light skinned woman with long hair in his life time. He left his dark skinned, short haired wife for her. Maybe I am crazy, but I just cannot relate to the thinking.
    My Turkish boyfriend whose family left Greece and Bulgaria about a century ago during the population exchanges that were happening throughout the Ottoman Empire, loves everything about me. I have joked, since the Turks love anything that is different, that he only loves me because I am black. He says color does not matter. He loves my hair’s texture.
    Why can’t blacks in America and others grow beyond ignorance and superficiality? Why do we feel we have to have an Obama or another “great” black to show us the way? WHY are we always looking for a Moses?
    I am 46 and I despair for us. Is it going to take more black presidents and another century before we realize that so much we expend our energies on are pointless? There are people dying in this world. There is poverty and despair. Our country destroyed a country whose population was one of the most educated in the Middle East. Many of its’ Christian population is on the run. Ph.D.’s are prostituting their young daughters in places like Syria because there is no work for them. Why isn’t this important to blacks here? We faced massive injustice once. We should be on the front lines fighting oppression. Do we forget so soon? When are we going get beyond the nonsense and baggage our parent’s and grandparent’s generation dwelled on?
    Sorry. I am just so tired of it all…

  6. Oh, and I should mention someone once told me that Turks generally do not care about things like the outer person. It is a person’s heart that they look at. When are black “brothas” and “sistas” going to start seeing things that way?

  7. Well Sincerae:
    I hope you don’t grow tired of Talulazoeapple. I just marvel at the mindset behind some comments. I try not to judge (too much) and move on.
    Long live the Turks!!LOL

  8. No Talula,
    I will not get tired. By the way, the Turks are a multi-ethnic and multi-racial people. When I first came here our tour guide described the Turks as a “mixed race”. I have seen some Turks list themselves as mixed, so why your Mexican “friend” feels the way she does is a little incomprehensible, but some Latinos issues about color too.
    Here where I live many of the Turks resemble white people from America, but there are all shades. Some come from the former Yugoslavia. Some Turks look Arabic (they would not like that since they don’t like Arabs). Some look like Native Americans. Some look Latinos. Some have slanted eyes like east Asians. There are a few black Turks. Then some do not fit any particular look. All I can say is these look exotic. My mom says some she has seen is both “strange, but nice looking.”
    The Turkish Ottoman Empire covered from here to parts of the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and a portion of North Africa. The Ottoman Turks took slaves of all colors and absorbed them. Slavery under Islam was very different from slavery under white Americans. One lady who keeps a blog wrote that in her town in eastern Turkey there were blacks, but the Turks kept intermarrying with them that their descendants do not your standard Turkish look, whatever that is.
    I joke sometimes that the Turks are world class race mixers. Last week when I was out with my boyfriend in Istanbul I saw a Turkish guy with two black girls. He was holding hands with one and the other one was walking by his side. One of my former employers told me that many Turkish men are attracted to black women. I have had Turkish males tell me, “Send us some black women over here.” And I have got the same from Turkish female friends, “Send us some black men.”
    There were a lot similarities between black and Turkish cultures, especially before the black family and community deteriorated. James Baldwin, who is to me, our greatest African-American writer, actually lived in Istanbul for 8 years. He said that the city reminded him of Harlem. Turks, however, are not as straight forward in their opinions like blacks or most westerners. They are taught to be gracious. They are a fairly tolerant people. This is the hand of hospitality like most of the Near East (Middle East) is. Some of these people will give you the shirt off their backs if you asked.
    I feel privileged to have discovered this country and its’ people.

  9. Talula,
    My boyfriend told me before I returned this time to Turkey that he wants me “to never go back to America.” I have to see my family some time though:)
    Ideally I really want to live here. The school found an apartment for me that is the perfect apartment for an artist or someone who appreciates beauty. It has glass windows across the main sitting room, the kitchen and one of the bedrooms. It has a view of the Bay of Izmit. Izmit is on a bay and is built up the side of a mountain. This is my dream apartment. If the negotiations with the realtor works out, I am in. I want the place so badly, and the management says it will help me with the furnishing.
    Life is not easy in Turkey. It is not cheap here. I make more than most Turks, but I am going to have to get a second source of income to survive. I really want to get into freelance writing. You and others have encouraged me to write a book. I want to write books someday and continue to teach at least part-time. I have been thinking about putting a Tip Jar on my blog too. If you have any suggestions could you share them please, about making some money with my main blog?
    The language schools are always looking for native English speakers. The only schools that pay well are the universities. I hope I can work my way up to one, especially when I can move on beyond speaking broken Turkish. I want to become fluent in the language. I think it is a beautiful language.
    For me here, it is not so much about making a lot money (that would be a plus), but being in a culture where is the pace is slower and which still has some of the values that Americans once thought were important.

  10. @Sin I enjoyed reading your comments; I always love to hear how people of different ethnic make-ups view our culture. You are in a unique position I am glad you find it enjoyable.

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