Saturday, January 29, 2011

Color Coded Intolerance...

This article was originally posted in May of 2010, and after doing some minor editing on it, it has somehow reappeared here. Strange.

The race issue is once again being put under the microscope. CNN's Anderson Copper has presented segments on his news program this week focusing on childrens' negative and positive feelings about skin color. Keep in mind that this tendency to judge skin color is carefully nourished by TV programs, movies, and book publishers. It's further advanced by TV advertisers to an enormous extent.

One good example of this last one is the commercial where the evil banker asks a child if she would like a pony. She of course says yes and is given a plastic toy pony to play with. The little girl next to her, a blonde blue-eyed sweetheart, is asked the same thing. When she says yes she is given a real pony. Why the discrepancy? She's told because, "You didn't ask." But this was just to blow her off. The second little girl didn't ask either. But the girl who received the real pony was lighter skinned, had lighter hair and was a bit prettier. The message? Good looks pays off, makes no difference if you're dumb as a snail. If you're attractive and have light skin you're a prize to acquire. On the other hand, an ugly man with billions in the bank will pretty much get what he wants regardless of how he looks or what color his skin might be.

We revere people with wealth, beauty or intelligence. A black is preferred above a white only if they are better looking, smarter or wealthier, or can further advance the needs of the home team. A short man may be smarter, but a taller, handsomer male will be looked upon with more favor. This is human nature. How many ugly movie stars are there? And who would pay to see them? Even supporting actors look better than your average citizen.

In Mexico and South American societies, lighter skinned people are, for the most part, put in positions of power. Movie and TV stars there are by and large lighter skinned, with a darker counterpart thrown in as a token to the predominantly darker members of their society. Just tune in to some of the Spanish speaking soaps, or check out TV anchors on their news shows. They all are, in general, lighter complexioned people.

Sad to say, this bias is something that seems to be hardwired in us, to keep us distant and distrustful of those who are different from us. So it really amazes me when people scratch their heads about this. I've been aware of it all my life. I think most people are, they just don't talk about it.

But it goes beyond that. The very word "race" brings to mind a competition, not just a category. And this is what society has "races" doing with each other -- competing, and the competition is rigged. It always has been. This is especially noticed in countries that are European influenced. And where it isn't, it's class distinctions that come into play more than race. This comes usually by tribal affiliations. Take the civil wars in Africa. To the rest of us who watch this from a distance, the people look the same, blacks fighting blacks. We ask ourselves why and are told that it is a "tribal" dispute. It seems that humanity has a deep seated need to dislike people who are different from themselves, whether it's their skin color, their ancestry, or their social position. Any excuse will do. But when it's obvious that a person is vastly different from themselves in terms of skin tone, then that is pretty much the opening gambit that kicks off the biases lying quietly dormant.

In the black community, there is a history of social clubs where the primary criteria to join was that you were "not darker than a paper lunch bag." If you were, then it was pretty much like a Jew wanting to join an all WASP country club. It just wasn't done. In the 20s and 30s the same color line and distinctions came into play as to who would be hired as entertainers in the Harlem night clubs and speakeasys. Aside from talent, which was secondary, it was the paper bag test. If you were darker than a paper bag, you were not hired. Simple as that.

When I moved to East L.A. in my teens from a neighborhood that was a divergent mix of races, I found it difficult to believe that gang members were caught in a hate campaign against other opposing gang members simply because they lived in another part of town and no other reason. In some cases they may have even been related, but were enemies simply because they lived on different streets. This gang banging intolerance is still going on and has grown exponentially since I was there.

Again, this is a tribal distinction. In a lesser mode, you see the same thing with sports fans, especially the hardcore ones, who will display their dislike on visiting teams with violent receptions. This is especially noticed in European soccer matches.

Pakistanis are racially identical to the people of northern India; as are the people of north and south Ireland. Their separation comes via their religious views. Here we have religion, not skin color, causing the friction. Then, of course, there's the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that seems to have no end. Again, a religious quarrel, but in reality probably closer to a real estate dispute.

It seems that humanity needs someone or something to hate, resent, or at the very least, dislike and be suspicious of. Some people just don't feel complete unless this intolerance is part of their personal make-up. Skin color just happens to be convenient because it's so obvious.