Colourism: An Interracial Perspective – Series 2/5

Article written by Jonathon Rhule

Relationships and Misogynoir

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Illustrated by @shirien.creates

Relationships can be tricky. Whether they be with a partner, a friend or familial, the existence of these bonds and how they form is a primary facet of human nature. Unfortunately for many, however, the formations of these bonds have been limited by society. Whereas previously people of varied races simply would not meet due to geographical reasons, the ever-increasing globalisation of our society (these last 6 months aside) means that many people of different races interact daily. This integration, therefore, equates to the existence of a higher number of interracial relationships. Unfortunately, it goes without saying that the western world has been fervently against these in the past. Why? Because racist people gonna be racist.

Traditionally, opposition to these couplings has been from the white majority. After all, anti-miscegenation laws (policies which made interracial relationships illegal) have only been abolished globally in the last 30 years. In popular media, American Sitcom “I Love Lucy” was the first to showcase an interracial couple on screen. The Network, CBS was initially against the move though, stating “The American Public wouldn’t accept Desi (A Cuban man) as the husband of a red-blooded American girl”. After prolonged negotiations, CBS reluctantly accepted, creating one of the most popular shows of all time. Going back further, racist ideologies regarding mixed-race children have been supported by false science. Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic book “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” highlights the work of Muriel Fletcher in Liverpool in the 1930s. Fletcher stated mixed-race children had been tainted by their blackness, that they were more likely to become sick, would struggle to marry and were undeniably handicapped by their colour. Such vitriolic sentiments led to the cementation of the infamous label, “Half-Caste”, stemming from Latin to mean Half-Pure.

With this being said, however, it is worth noting that the prejudicial treatment of interracial couples from black family members is not uncommon. Around a month ago, I interviewed my parents to gain a deeper understanding of the historical struggles of being in an interracial relationship. When I asked my father about the reception my mother first received, he stated “There was discussion as to whether it was a wise idea, whether I ought to be looking elsewhere… I don’t know if it was race-related, although it probably was… we had a few issues- to put it mildly”. Such sentiment has appeared in popular media also. In the critically divisive Netflix show “Dear White People”, a secondary female character states: “I’m not sure I’d let a white man colonise my body”. The weaponisation of the word ‘colonised’ in this context makes the protagonist’s relationship seem perverse and wrong when in fact it is the first time this character falls in love, a process that is by its very nature innocent and natural. Later on in the scene, another person asks why black American men are “obsessed” with white women. The three other characters in the scene all roar in unison “Anal!”. If it wasn’t already clear, I have massive issues with this representation.

Netflix Original – Dear White People

Interracial relationships have been over-sexualised in society and in popular media. In their 2011 paper, Shefer & Ratele state that racial segregation is a potential cause of this representation, stating “the construction of the black male body as physically and sexually dangerous” is “a desire shaped by the historical conditions of apartheid… ultimately in the service of entrenching and rationalising white male power and privilege.” The casual use of sayings such as “once you go black you never go back” only entrenches this deeply problematic sexualisation. As the child of an interracial relationship and as someone who is in such a relationship, this perverse representation sickens me. The presentation of these relationships in many instances as purely sexual is profoundly offensive and reductionist. My grandmother married an incredible white man in her later life called Stan. On a trip to Germany, he was once asked how much she was for sale for as if she were a slave. My parents faced racial abuse in Liverpool growing too, with thugs once telling her to “control her n***er”. Even in 2020, as I walk down the street with my girlfriend, I sometimes wonder whether the stares we receive in her hometown are because I’m brown or because we are together. Whether the locals are surprised she has brought home an ethnic boyfriend from university or whether they’re amazed I’m even there at all.

My Mum and Dad

 As if this wasn’t bad enough, the fetishisation of interracial children only further cements the warped perception of such relationships. Recent obsession over mixed-race children perpetuates how blackness is viewed. Children with Eurocentric features are seen as superior, and this was a theme I witnessed growing up. People would say “oh you’d be so much fitter with green or blue eyes” or “if only your nose wasn’t so flat”.

Collated by @localdemocrazy on Instagram

Some reading this may see this as just a harmless obsession over cute kids on the gram but its more than that. The Eugenics movement stated that white people were superior and hence should hold higher stead in society due to their European features. In the case of mixed-race children, their eyes and noses were measured with their faces described as “negroid” or “English”. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out which features they preferred. The echoes of this sentiment in these social media trends are, therefore, more important than it may appear. In a society in which social progression and standing are often linked to perceived attractiveness, such dangerous anti-black rhetoric is a contributing factor to the failings of our culture.

Going beyond just the interracial experience, there are clear influences of Colourism in the formation of relationships. Asian dating site only recently chose to remove its skin tone filter from its website, a metric which allowed people to “filter out” darker-skinned users. If such a systemised example isn’t good enough evidence for you, look only to Michelle Obama’s recent documentary regarding Misogynoir. Misogynoir is the term coined by Moya Bailey, meaning the misogyny black women, and in particular, dark-skinned black women face. In the doc are many accounts by dark-skin women who state having trouble finding love due to their darker tone. Many recall black men stating “you’re pretty for dark skin” or “I don’t usually date dark-skin girls, but for you, I’ll make an exception”. Light-skin girls are  “models”, “pure” whereas dark-skin girls “cook and clean”. These outdated, colourist and misogynist views are quite frankly abhorrent but are less spoken of. Misogynoir is a topic so broad it deserves its own series, but as a brown man, I feel as if I am not best placed to speak on it. If you wish to explore more regarding the topic, I would point you to the brilliant play “Queens of Sheba”, the co-author of which I was lucky enough to host a workshop with recently and the fantastic book “Don’t Touch My Hair” by Emma Dabiri.

The Queens of Sheba

In Conclusion, Colourism has it’s disgusting claws sunk into the way we form relationships. The historical persecution of interracial couples is terrifying, and although it is no longer a part of our legal system, it is undeniable that interracial relationships still receive unjust attention. This perverse, over-sexualised representation only further threatens the advancement of our brothers and sisters. Our children are not toys with interchangeable, fetishised features, and black women’s roles in society should not be defined by their level of pigmentation. If you wish to argue with this, kindly step in my time-machine, go back to the 1600s with your outdated bullshit and stay there. We don’t need you mashing up our vibe.

Thank you for reading, next week’s article will centre around the historical origins of Colourism around the world- HINT, colonialism is to blame- as if we’ve even surprised at this point. Be sure to like/follow/share.

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