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The Color Complex

Miscongention during slavery is the root of the color complex. Historically if one were to trace the origin of the color complex one would have to begin at slavery. Europeans felt that Africans would be the ideal slaves because they did not know the American land and if they were to try to escape they could not remain hidden because their skin would help sought them out. With this in mind the Europeans voyaged to Africa in search of these ideal indentured servants to service their plantations and their beautiful homes.

These white monsters invaded Africa. They stole noble families from rich Africa, shackled and crammed them on a ship with unbearable living conditions and little space available. One area called the Chesapeake Bay, colonized America, and held a vast majority of mulatto children. The white indentured servants and black slaves frequently worked side by side on these plantations. Because the black slaves and white indentured servants shared the same restrictions, life styles, and privileges they became friends and in some cases lovers.

The one main factor of miscongention was because there was a shortage of both African and European women. Among Africans there were at least three men to every two women, and among whites men out numbered women by as many as three or four to one, especially in the South. (Hall et al. 12) These gender imbalances caused white men to explore and force themselves onto the black female slaves. The raping of black females devoured black males self esteem because they could do nothing to stop the violation of their females. This aspect forced black males to turn to Native American women for championship.

Fornication was easier for Native Americans and Black Americans because they were both considered unequal to the white elite, therefore the whites did not pay attention to the relationships among them. Through rape, the subservient black female slaves carried their masters babies. When the babies were born the babies were considered a new race called mulattos. They were ripped from form their black mothers arms and sold at high prices. Mulatto women and men were known to be exotic and at times beautiful in the dominant races eye.

Light skinned beauties, called fancy girls, were auctioned at quadroon balls regularly in New Orleans and Charleston. A respectable white gentleman might by a concubine, and when he tired of her, six months or so later, he might get himself another one. If he found one he liked he might keep her for life. (19) Because mulattos were the only women and men of colored ancestry to be considered beautiful whites segregated them from the dark skin black race. Dark skin womens image of beauty altered to the lighter shade and longer hair women and men.

Mulatto women were not only thought to be beautiful in white male eyes but black male slaves also favored them sometimes more. This approach of beauty conflicted with the dark skinned hard working black women. These women were only to be known as mongrels in white male eyes while their strength they obtained was lost and forgotten in their equals eye. Black womens self esteem plummeted because the prejudice they were experiencing in their own race made the affection and beauty they were once honored for a memory. Black males started to subconsciously hate the strength and the beauty that the black women obtained.

Hidden beneath the dirt, sweat, and rags dissolved her self esteem along with a dim soul. Dark blacks self definition and self worth vanished because they were thought and looked at as nothing. Images that symbolize African American womanhood have, with few exceptions, been defined as negative by African American scholars. These images, which are believed to have evolved during slavery, portray African American women as the antithesis of the American conception of beauty, femininity and womanhood. ” (Jewell pg. 36) Whites tended to view mulattos as more intelligent then blacks but not the equal of Caucasians.

Because mulattos were intellectually superior to blacks. With whom they were racially grouped, they were leaders in every line of activity under taken by Negroes. (Wilson pg. 150) White plantation owners segregated mulattos from the darker field hands. Plantation owners used these slaves to carry out housework that was not as strenuous. The house slaves were able to wear nice clothes and were instilled with uppity attitudes that reflected they were better then blacks. Mulattos observed the dark pigmented saves from the beautiful white windowpanes perched over the luxurious vast plantation.

They looked down on the black field hands, as did the whites. The darker blacks were thought to be vulgar because their blackness was defined as evil. The whites tended to keep the evil outside. This left dark skin individuals to feel that the openly was to achieve a better life was if they were able to shed themselves of their ugliness their skin. Because whites had greater respect for mulattos they allowed them to obtain education, wealth, and at times freedom. Mulattos were socialized and conditioned to believe that they were the aristocrats of the black race.

Blacks started to idolize the mulattos because they were offered opportunities that pointed toward success and reap respect from the whites that originally enslaved them. Mulattos were socialized with a discriminatory frame of mind for so long that even after slavery segregation among the black race continued. After the Emancipation Proclamation mulattos held discriminatory attitudes about color. Being that mulattos were divided during slavery, they continued to divide themselves after slavery because of their complexity of color.

Black images of beauty were still being thought of as the light skinned girls with the long flowing hair. Darker black women were given no justice and looked at themselves and their dark skin as a curse. Elite clubs and churches were the backbone and at times the carcinogen to black prejudices. Organizations like the Bon Ton Society of Washington DC and the Blue Vein Society of Nashville were culturally ignorant and arrogant groups that considered their skin color to be a prestigious honor. Those who did achieve membership within these two groups classified themselves as those who reaped the finest of bloodlines.

The exclusion of blacks from organizations allowed mulattos to separate themselves from themselves. An applicants admission depended solely on skin color. If an applicant was applying their skin had to permeate a lightness that reflected the spidery network of purplish veins to expert judges. Dark black males and females only dreamed about their acceptance in elite clubs like these. Churches also played a strong role in color complexity. At the turn of the century. Black families wishing to join a color conscious congregation might first be required to pass the paper bag, the door, or the comb test.

The paper bag test involved placing an arm inside a brown paper bag, and only if the skin on the arm was lighter than the color of the bag would a prospective member be invited to attend church services. Other churches painted their doors a light shade of brown, and anyone whose skin was darker then the door was politely invited to seek religious services else where. And still in other houses of worship throughout Virginia and in such cases Philadelphia and New Orleans, fine toothed combs were hung on a rope near the front entrance.

If ones hair was too nappy and snagged the comb, entry was denied. (Pp. 26) Skin color was even being equated with religion. This equation fed blacks with more insecurity about their appearance and god. The prejudice mulatto aristocrats and black society gave the message that God too favored blacks that gleaned whiteness in their bloodlines. Mulattos drew a line between the black race and themselves because they wanted to prove to themselves and darker skinned blacks that they were different and better then the black race as a whole. Education also chose color.

Colleges and organizations within the collegiate spectrum were also discriminating towards dark skinned blacks. Colleges like Spelman, Hampton, and Atlanta University only allowed mulattos entry. These institutions only allowed light skin individuals seek a higher education. Education, like now, was equivalent with success. The message the institutions reflected was only the masses from the lighter society can obtain wealth and prosperity. Blacks were told that they could not be educated nor be successful because of their pigmented skin.

Again, darker blacks self esteem was decreased because they too wanted to improve their lives. Blacks wanted to be just as successful as the mulattos but they were not given a chance. The doors of a new life closed in their sadden faces because they were not qualified, not good enough, and most importantly not light enough. Black hatred was so strong that major urban centers across the country had a section were predominately light skinned blacks lived. The areas were just like the white areas but with black faces. In Philadelphia there was a block called the banana block because it housed so many light skin residents.

When blacks entered New York, beautiful brown stone houses that once sheltered white people were evacuated when whites saw blacks raiding New York. The Brownstone houses were now left for the black aristocrats the mulattos. Black people were steered to the low income areas also known as the projects. The instilled beliefs that white people forced onto mulattos over hundred years ago were still in practice. Blacks skin color now was being equated with housing. Blacks with dark skin were not given the opportunity to live in secure nice areas.

They were discriminated against by their own race. The mulattos instilled in black psyche that only the black elite is provided with the best. Although dark skinned blacks fit the description of being black, they did not fit the characteristic of being elite. The medias perception of beauty played a strong role in black insecurities of beauty then and now. The quest for acceptance of the naturalness and beauty of blackness in now firmly rooted in black popular culture. Black women and men fought with the struggles of being accepted and loved by their own.

In the 1930s white media conjured advertisements that had an impact in African American life, self esteem, and self-definition as a race. The advertisements reflected negative aspects of dark skin that enforced the color conscience stereotype within blacks cultural psyche. The white media offered several black products that promised the transformation of the dark skin black to the light skin beauty. The media offered bleach that claimed that it would not only whiten clothes but also vowed to lighten skin. These advertisements fed off the black women insecurities of good hair and light skin.

The white media was aware that black women were filled with insecurities of beauty and obtained low self-esteem about their appearance. Black women were not only the targets, but also the main consumers of these harsh deadly chemicals that claimed to improve their skin. On the other hand, black males insecurities lied within their hair. Again the media knew this, and provided black males harsh chemicals to correct their coarse hair. Black people started to embrace whiteness by purchasing products that vowed to rectify black features.

Black womens perplexity of light skin and good hair force them to do anything to change what they had. Black womens obsessed with the idea of straight hair allowed them to worship Madame CJ Walkers straighten comb that provided black hair with a straighter appearance. Negative societal views of dark African Americans forced blacks to use these products not only for a better appearance, but also for means of survival. Blacks that were light enough to pass as white were known to gain not only success wished by others, but acceptance in society because they learned to turn their back on their true identity.

These light skinned blacks isolated themselves as if they were far better then the other black people. What they failed to do was embrace and uplift those being discriminated against not only by white people but themselves. Although blacks have come a long way, color complexity is still a factor in black peoples lives. Every day, I had to get my eight year old daughter up thirty minutes earlier for school just so I could plait her hair. Then Lynn wanted to sign up for swimming class, but there was no way I could deal with her hair being wet everyday.

I had to tell her she couldnt swim because I didnt have the time to keep washing, drying, and pressing her hair all the time. I thought Lynn would never forgive me for that. When she turned ten, I allowed her to get her hair permed so it would be easier for both her and me. That was eighteen years ago, and Lynn still perms her hair today, as do I. Lynn also just learned how to swim, something that I never did. ( Russell Pp. 78) Black women obtain so much glory in how their hair texture is perceived that they rather limit the activities they allow themselves and their children to do, then doing what they wish to do.

Even though black women are now starting to take pride in their black coils, they still long to obtain hair that is straight and long like the girls featured on television and in magazine advertisements. Black music entertainers place light skin beauties with hair rippling down their back in their music videos to attract black males eyes and create black womens idols. Black women now put bone straight weaves in their hair to give an illusion of good hair and they are provided with skin powder or base that lightens their skin and leaves their skin free from all blemishes.

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