Last week, singer and actress Beyonce` was caught in the middle of yet another controversy about skin-color airbrushing in media when a new promotional photo for her album ‘4’ surfaced (to the left, no pun intended). Suspecting that her complexion was lightened, some journalists and blog readers accused the singer of lacking racial pride and the company who released the photos of racism and bias. The response was similar in the first controversy over a 2008 L’Oreal Feria advertisement. I have much to say about this. First, I don’t feel that the ‘4’ photo was altered, but the issue of skin-lightening in media is a very real issue. Second, if we want to combat racial bias in media, attacking the celebrity in question is not the answer. In most instances, celebs have NO control over the editing of company advertisements and photographs. It makes more sense to hold the BUSINESSES accountable.
Beyonce's 2008 L'Oreal Feria ad: Racism?
In an effort to make everything appear seamless and perfect, printed photo media uses technology to delete blemishes, cellulite and other perceived flaws. Thighs get thinned, breasts are enlarged and hips get sucked in. Many organizations for women and girls assert public images, especially those in beauty/fashion magazines, set an unrealistic standard of beauty that can lead to insecurity, eating disorders or plastic surgery addiction. Skin-color airbrushing, a sign of racial and cultural bias, can lead to a different set of image issues. In American society, European and/or Caucasian descent dominates; therefore everything in American mainstream is based on Caucasian cultural patterns, values and beliefs. In application to defining attractiveness, it is the same. The features of racial minorities are viewed as less attractive or pale in comparison. Subsequently, models of color are far less used in advertisements (unless they are well-known celebrities like Beyonce`) or their features are altered. Elle Magazine came under fire twice after covers of actresses Gabourey Sidibe and Aishwarya Rai appeared to be lightened. In a February 2008 “Glamour” magazine panel discussion on race and beauty, celebrity makeup-artist Mally Roncal stated “I work with celebrity clients at video shoots and on album covers and I’ve had execs say, ‘Can we just soften the ethnicity a little bit?’”
Gabourey Sidibe's lighter 'Elle' cover (2010)
This rejection and devaluing of ethnic features in media can cultivate or influence self-image, self-resentment, cultural denial or cultural identity issues in women of color. In Asian-American culture, eye-slant removal surgery is a hot-button issue as women who seek the surgery are charged with changing a prominent ethnic feature to “look more white.” In the black community, chemical hair processes to straighten naturally curly or thicker tresses are viewed by some as assimilationist. Within both the Latino and black populations, discussions about external and internal favoritism towards lighter-skinned individuals are a regular occurrence. Part of the results of a 2010 CNN study with elementary-school children about racial image perceptions revealed that minority children prefer to have a lighter-complexion and feel adults dislike dark skin.
Beauty products and magazines are designed for and targeted to women, but arguably does them more of a disservice. Products advertised to men display exaggerated and prejudicial attractiveness standards as well, affecting how we all view and evaluate ourselves and each other. Write to offending companies and state your grievances. Protest by spreading the word and withholding your financial support. We have a choice in what our media feeds us. For more information on how to fight negative gender media, visit MissRepresentation.org.
Chesca Leigh of Youtube (youtube.com/chescaleigh) did a video about the politically incorrect things that Caucasians tend to say to their black female friends. Some people don't understand why the comments Chesca highlighted are offensive, so I'm gonna break it down for you.
There are many reasons why people get upset when they see those of their ethnicity in relationships with others. Some are prejudice or have issues with interracial dating in general. Others have a problem with those that EXCLUSIVELY date outside of their race. Race-based dating exclusivity communicates to those of your own culture that they’re not good enough for you and that there’s something wrong with them. That’s hurtful. It’s like you’re disavowing your own culture. You might ask “what’s wrong with having a preference?” exclusively dating one race is PASSED a preference. Exclusivity is strict and unwavering. Exclusivity is “I ONLY date__________ people.”
As a black woman, I’ve come across many black men who only date Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic women for various reasons such as “I’m not attracted the features of black women,”“black women have bad attitudes” and “I haven’t had good experiences with black women.” When physical features are mentioned, it perplexes me because most people of the same race have similar features. It makes me want to ask “Are you not attracted to yourself then?” Also, their mothers, sisters and cousins are black women with “those features.” Do they think their family is ugly too? They came from a black woman and yet, a black woman isn’t suitable enough to date. As for “bad attitudes,” bad apples are on every tree. ANY person of ANY race can have a bad attitude. “Bad experiences” may be the result of not surrounding yourself with quality black women.
Taking another look at exclusivity rationales, statements like “they have bad attitudes” or “I’ve had bad experiences with them” are based on stereotypes and unjust bias. Are you really going to judge an ENTIRE race of people because of a small few? Majority of race-based dating choices link back to stereotypes, unjust bias, prejudice and/or racism. One has to analyze what thoughts or feelings lead to dating preferences and exclusivity based on ethnicity. People usually make preferences because of things they don’t like. I prefer to date someone who enjoys Beyonce` versus hates Beyonce`, because those that are anti-Beyonce` tend to annoy me. So what is it that you don’t like about a certain race that you prefer another? And what is the root of your dislike? Are you sure that it isn’t a stereotype or prejudice?
My latest videoblog
My latest videoblog (there are 2 parts).
(This was originally posted on 10-23-2009, but due to some recent events, I felt compelled to repost it.)
Since Barack Obama got elected, everyone’s been trying to decide whether American race relations have improved or not. Many feel that Barack’s election was a monumental sign that SOMETHING had changed. America was “ready” for a black president. Tremendously small, all-white counties who had a history of voting Republican voted for Barack Obama. On election night, when you watched the news coverage, it seemed like that historic moment brought everyone of every demographic together. SOMETHING had changed, right? Did America really wake up a new nation on November 5, 2008? Barack’s election was very symbolic and meaningful for me personally, as it was for many minorities. But in relation to it being a sign of improved race relations, I feel that it was a “glimmer” of what COULD be and not what IS.
As I was browsing the “Newsweek” magazine website, I came across a photo gallery titled “Segregation Nation”. The premise was in reflection of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, photographically depicting the improvements, if any, in civil rights and race relations. The gallery gave a bleak, but realistic picture. Under a “then and now” format, the gallery highlighted the fact that regardless of the comparison photos being 40-70 years apart, not a whole lot has changed. For example, there were comparison photos of a restaurant “sit in” in 1960, and a photo of a Nashville Cracker Barrel who settled out of court in 2005 with the NAACP for a discrimination suit. Also, photos of a Florida segregated public swimming pool in 1958, and the now famous story of a African-American summer camp that had their pool-club membership fees refunded after there were concerns of the “complexion and atmosphere” of the club changing as a result of their presence. The gallery also illustrated currently present segregation and racial injustices in the prison system, the justice system, public schools and even high school proms.
My assessment? There’s been significant legal change (the laws are on the books, at least) but not significant social change. Yes, there are more people now than back then who are staunch multiculturalists and, yes, I much rather be black in 2009 than in 1959, but socialized, institutionalized and systemized racism still very much exists. People just sweep those forms of racism under the rug because it’s easier to hide; it’s not overt. In 2009, the standard is “it’s okay to be racist or prejudicial, as long as it’s not blatant.” As long as it doesn’t look like the “old” racism- i.e. burning crosses, yelling slurs at people, and Jim Crow-esque symbols, it’s not racism. Racism was not the reason why those summer camp kids got their fees refunded. No one called them niggers. There was not a sign that said “no coloreds” on the outside of the pool. We didn’t say “nigger” or “colored”, we said “complexion and atmosphere”. “Complexion and atmosphere” aren’t racist terms, are they?
When you look at things like CNN’s “Latino in America”, or hear the stories of slain innocence like that of Sean Bell and Luis Ramirez, or hear of judges preventing interracial couples from getting married, or the atrociousness that was Louis Gates arrest, the signs are all around us. When I looked up the interracial marriage story on MSNBC.com, I found a slew of other current stories related to race relations; many of them reflecting prejudice and saddening inequalities. When debate ensues about these stories, they will more than likely be labeled as “overreactions”, like the events mentioned before them.
Sometimes the debates make it even clearer that racism is still a dominant force than the events themselves. Get people talking candidly about anything even mildly connected to racial politics (such as immigration or welfare), and the prejudice will slip in behind all the politically correct statements.
How much has really changed? Especially if the first black president is only GLIMMER of what COULD be and not what IS? Speaking of the president, nothing says race relations haven’t socially improved like the way Barack Obama has been treated. Before you roll your eyes, I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be criticized. I criticize him. Criticize away; we must hold our leaders accountable. This isn’t about democrat vs. republican either. This is about the blatant, spiteful disrespect and disregard for him that is ENGRAINED in racism. There’s no getting around it; it’s flat out racist. There is no other motive behind the antics and maltreatment. Just listen to the people who allegedly ONLY have a problem with his politics. If you listen carefully, some criticisms of Obama do not STOP at politics. After some get through explaining why they disagree with him, they almost always end it with a prejudicial remark. It never fails. The prejudice is always in there somewhere. It’s added like spice.
I have seen and heard several examples of this in my personal life and in media. To point out some examples known to the public: the purposeful television banning in schools of his harmless speech on education, the never ending claims that he is a terrorist, a communist, the anti-Christ, or a mix of all three; the claims that his birth certificate shows that he is not a U.S. citizen and cannot be president, Rep. Joe Wilson calling him a liar during what should have been a formal address, and the list goes on and on. All were to send the message to Obama that he does not belong. He is not American. He doesn’t belong to the American people, he doesn’t belong on the soil and he is not the face of the “free world”. He is a sinister alien. Again, this is not about democrat vs. republican, because many of the democratic leaders of the past have not seen the disrespect that Obama has. This is racism. And what people say behind closed doors is even worse (boy, have I seen it).
For every ounce of progress we see racially, there is an ounce to counteract it. Yes, there’s a black man in office, but he’s accused of being satanic and not a citizen. Yes, there are laws against hate crimes, but all too often justice is not served (i.e. the Luis Ramirez trial- his murderers were cleared of significant charges and will only serve a small portion of time). Is THAT progress? While it INFURIATES me that Obama has had to deal with some of this CRAP, at the same time, any potentially racist thing that happens toward him gets media attention. This could result in people learning what racism REALLY looks like and that isn’t a fragment of the minority population’s mind after all.
Please check out the “associated links” tab under “Race Relations NOW-My Take” for information on the “Segregation Nation” photo gallery, the summer camp pool story, “Latino in America”, Luis Ramirez, Sean Bell, the interracial marriage story, and other relevant news reports.