Blacks in American society have been understood in either demonizing or idealizing ways as represented in society or the media. Some blacks are idealized for their “coolness”, sexuality, beauty and athleticism. On the other hand, others are demonized as being lazy, sexual monsters, ugly and animalistic. It seems that when a black person has something to offer – beauty, athleticism or entertainment – they are “forgiven” for being black.
This may seem like an extreme statement to make, however, I personally have heard such comments thrown my way. A couple weeks ago, an acquaintance told me she liked that I wasn’t like a typical black girl. In a “positive and reassuring” way, she informed me that I didn’t share the qualities she associates with most black people. She was under the impression these comments should make me feel good about myself. She wanted me to feel “accepted” in her white world because I didn’t fall under the black stereotypes she disliked.
As I write this, it sounds ludicrous to me. Yet, this was certainly not the first time I received comments like this from my peers. When I was younger, attending almost all white schools, I felt relieved to hear my friends didn’t consider me to be a typical black girl. However, as I’ve grown up, I cringe whenever people praise me for not being “black”. Because I fall under some idealized black qualities, I am “accepted”.
People tell me I am lucky to have “good hair” and light skin, implying anything but would be ugly. What these people don’t consider is that my mother is dark skinned with short, natural black hair. So, my peers and society are telling me to reject my mother for having these qualities and instead love my father for having pale skin and blue eyes.
This is essentially what they’re telling me in assuring me how “lucky” I am.
Society tells me it’s okay that I’m black because I have light skin and good hair. I can offer society something by having some idealized qualities. Even devout racists could dislike blacks but cheer on Derrick Rose, laugh with Chris Rock, and fantasize about Halle Berry. These people offer something – athleticism, entertainment or beauty. What I’m arguing is that without these qualities, would everyone still love these people? Would they still be accepted? If Derrick Rose had no basketball skills, what “purpose” would he serve to white society?
I recognize this is a highly debatable and problematic argument to make, but I think these questions need to be raised. They don’t apply to all groups, because there are certainly people who can appreciate the good in others, no matter their race. However, there are other groups who continue to see blacks in this polarized way: lazy or cool, beautiful or ugly, overly sexual or sexual marvels and athletic or animalistic.