Divided We Stand: Black Intra-racism and apathy in fiction and media

Posted on January 13, 2013


“I don’t like to do the nails of blacks. I left a salon in Rio because, there, I only did the nails of blacks.”

It may surprise some readers to hear that the woman who reportedly said this (and much more) is black. This is an example of intra-racism. Fortunately, this woman didn’t get away with stating this. She was challenged by beautiful, fierce Fátima Oliveira, a Doctor, writer, and  feminist in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. You can read the full riveting, true life account here:

Link: http://www.blackwomenofbrazil.com/2012/12/the-racist-manicurist-when-racism.html



Black Women of Brazil is my new favorite site:

Black Women of Brazil Website

Black Women of Brazil Website



Another example of intra-racism, though I’m pretty sure EX-ESPN Analyst Rob Parker doesn’t think so, is calling someone out for not being “black” enough:




Leonard Pitts Jr.: How black is black enough?

By LEONARD PITTS JR. The Miami Herald



. . .  Parker, who is African-American, analyzed what he saw as the insufficient blackness of Robert Griffin III, rookie quarterback for the Washington, D.C., football team that is named for a racial slur.

Having returned their team to relevance for the first time since the Clinton era, RG3, as he is known, can do no wrong in the eyes of Slurs fans. But Parker, saying that the young man’s fiancee is (gasp!) white and that he himself is rumored to be – cover the children’s eyes – a Republican, found him lacking in the area of authentic blackness. “My question,” he said, “which is just a straight, honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother? He’s not really .?.?. OK, he’s black, he kind of does the thing, but he’s not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us. He’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the guy you really want to hang out with .?.?.”

That explosion you hear is the sound of my mind, blown. I’m left second guessing my own blackness.

I mean, I listen to Bruce Springsteen, for crying out loud! There’s even a Dixie Chicks album on my iPod. Should I download more James Brown and Al Green to save my, ahem, soul?

Link: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/01/13/4008533/leonard-pitts-jr-how-black-is.html#storylink=rss




For more examples just google Halle Berry, Paula Patton, Zoe Saldana, basically any person of color who doesn’t somehow fit another’s personal litmus test on “blackness” for comments and threads that veer from opinions on their talent, to their racial makeup and appearance.  Sometimes a celebrity endorsement adds fuel to the fire. One example is Beyonce’s L’Oreal ad. While Jennifer’s Lopez’s ad for the same company, with the tagline of 100% Puerto Rican caused a few ripples, Beyonce’s ad was hotly debated as the entertainer diluting her black ancestry:


Beyonce LOreal ad



For a mix of comments both pro and con on the ad, this thread on TOPIX may be of interest:

Link: http://www.topix.com/forum/afam/T591EBPVNFOA8Q25Q



What is the definition of Self-loathing, also known as Self-hatred?

Hatred, disregard, and denigration of oneself. Shame resulting from strong dislike of yourself or your actions

Link: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Self-loathing



What is intra-racism?: 

” . . . Among the limited number of studies exploring the existence of intraethnic group racism, research suggests that U.S. blacks once endorsed the idea of lighter skinned superiority (Gatewood, 1988; Okazawa-Rey, Robinson, and Ward, 1986) and routinely blocked darker skinned blacks from valued resources (e.g., matriculation at select historically black colleges and universities, as well as membership in some predominantly black fraternities and sororities, churches, and social/business organizations) (Neal and Wilson, 1989; Okazawa-Rey et al., 1986). Published research investigating the independent effects of intraethnic group racism, as well as the interactive or additive effects of intraethnic group racism and interethnic group racism, on health has yet to be published.” *

Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK25532/pdf/TOC.pdf

*The date on this PDF is 2004. There may have been a study on the adverse health effects completed after this.



Examples of self loathing from select fictional characters:

Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones: [Taking an assessment test] There’s always something wrong with these tests. These tests paint a picture of me with no brain. These tests paint a picture of me and my mother, my whole family as less than dumb. Just ugly black grease, need to be wiped away, find a job for.



Precious, featuring actress Gabourey Sidibe



Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones: Sometimes I wish I was dead. I’ll be okay, I guess, ’cause I’m lookin’ up. Lookin’ for something to fall,
[chuckles to herself]

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0929632/quotes?qt=qt1050493



Precious, featuring actress/comedian Monique. Note the makeup, several shades lighter that show the character’s self loathing of her complexion.



Quotes from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye:

“Each night Pecola prayed for blue eyes. In her eleven years, no one had ever noticed Pecola. But with blue eyes, she thought, everything would be different. She would be so pretty that her parents would stop fighting. Her father would stop drinking. Her brother would stop running away. If only she could be beautiful. If only people would look at her.”

“Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike.” pg. 45

While Precious and The Bluest Eye don’t sugarcoat the intra-racism present in these works, The Help attempted to portray the primary African Americans as “admirable” maids, when they were simply stereotypical Mammies. Some readers fell for Aibileen, Minny and Constantine being considered “good” because they lavished attention and humor on Stockett’s white characters, respectively Mae Mobley, Celia Foote and Skeeter.

But a closer look at the origin of these characters and their dialogue tells a far different story of self-loathing and intra-racism. But this isn’t something new in fiction, especially fiction written by white authors:


In Edna Ferber’s original novel Showboat, Queenie calls her husband Jo “lazy” and a “no-account”



Fannie Hurst’s 1933 novel Imitation of Life Delilah labels her ex husband a “white nigger” and a “bigamist”



William Styron’s 1968 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner has its protagonist thinking in beautiful prose, however the ugliness and intra-racism of Styron’s Nat Turner caused such an uproar, a planned big budget movie was shelved. There was also a response in the form of a novel penned by ten black writers:
Ten Black Writers Respond to William Stryon

Ten Black Writers Respond to William Stryon

In Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Aibileen calls her ex husband “no-account” and “Crisco.” Minny calls her father a “no good drunk” and “no-count.” No white male is demeaned in this fashioned. Stockett’s males paired with Skeeter and her childhood friends are all soap opera handsome, loyal, and written as though they only follow segregation simply because they’re hen-pecked, especially by she who must be obeyed, which is Jackson’s resident outspoken segregationist, Hilly Holbrooke. 


Quotes from The Help (some words are highlighted, since many readers missed Aibileen’s lack of self esteem and loathing of being black):



Tate Forrest, one a my used-tobe babies long time ago, stop me on the way to the Jitney last week, give me a big hug, so happy to see me. He a grown man now. . . he start laughing and memorizing how I’d do him when he was a boy. How the first time his foot fell asleep and he say it tickle, I told him that was just his foot snoring. And how I told him don’t drink coffee or he gone turn colored. He say he still ain’t drunk a cup a coffee and he twenty-one years old. It’s always nice seeing the kids grown up fine.” (Pg 91, Aibileen)



That night after supper, me and that cockroach stare each other down across the kitchen floor. He big, inch, inch and a half. He black. Blacker than me. . . (pg 189, Aibileen)



“We was all surprised Constantine would go and . . . get herself in the famly way. Some folks at church wasn’t so kind about it, especially when the baby come out white. Even though the father was black as me.” (Pg 358, Aibileen)



Viola Davis as Aibileen in film version of The Help and young actress as Mae Mobley



There’s a difference between self-doubt and self-loathing. Quote from actress Viola Davis, in a moment where she reveals overcoming self-doubt:

“Crying like a dog,” Davis listened as Tyson, who costars in “The Help,” told her it was OK to embrace her success. Says Davis, “Cicely told me, ‘I know the road.’ And what she meant by that was she is a dark-skinned black actress. She has the full lips, the dark skin, that look that doesn’t meet any conventional standards of beauty…. She understands the obstacles that were placed in front of me, and she knows that I was able to achieve what I achieved only through hard work. A lot of times people have to give you permission to enjoy your life.”

Link: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-en-viola-davis-20111110,0,2609985.story



Viola Davis on Essence Mag cover

Viola Davis, looking lovely on a Essence Mag cover



Here’s more on the quote, to keep it in context, per the question Davis was asked:

“If you didn’t object to the dialect, were there aspects of the book that did bother you?

Davis: The one thing I don’t embrace in any book about black women is I don’t embrace how the looks are described. I always erase that. I don’t care if it’s the greatest writer in the world. I know these black women. The first woman of beauty in my life was my Aunt Joyce, and she was over 300 pounds, and we thought she was Halle Berry to us.

Every time she came to visit, she would have these earrings, and these clothes and the beauty of her skin. We would all sit around her touching her hands and her face and her skin and she was beautiful. I didn’t see the bigness. I just have a different idea of how we look, the hues of our skin, how we exude sensuality and sexuality and how our hair looks. So I always just interpret that for myself. It’s like Chris Walken cuts out all the exclamation points, and the periods. I cut out all the descriptions.”

Link: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/31/entertainment/la-ca-the-help-excerpts-20110731




It’s been a year since Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were basking in the glow of Oscar nominations. But here are a few responses the actresses gave during their whirlwind media tour:



Excerpts from The Hollywood Reporter and The Daily Beast:


The Hollywood Reporter: Have you done roles that you were disappointed by afterward?

Octavia Spencer: I never watch my work, so I can’t say that I’m disappointed.

THR: You haven’t seen The Help?

Spencer: I sort of had to. [Davis and I] saw it together.

THR: Did you like it?

Spencer: I did like The Help. I was really scared that I would just hate everything. When you watch yourself, it really does take you out of the purity of that world that you create. I’m thinking? “Really? Does my stomach look like a smiley face? Really? You went with that take? Ugh, there was one that was better.”

Read the full article here:





The Daily Beast Roundtable with Viola Davis, Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, and Chalize Theron:

“There are two very dangerous [kinds of actors],” Davis says. “The ones that just haven’t put in the time yet, and they experience success at a very young age. And they take it too seriously. Or people who have been in the business for 40, 50 years and never experienced the success they thought they should have had. And so they want to punish you. I’ve had the old bitter ones.

“There just aren’t a lot of roles for—I mean, I’m a 46-year-old black actress who doesn’t look like Halle Berry—and Halle Berry is having a hard time. You know there’s not a lot of leading roles.”

Theron jumps in. “I’m going to have to stop you there for a second.”

“Why, you think I look like Halle Berry?”

“No. You have to stop saying that because you are hot as shit. You look amazing.”

“I appreciate that, but I have an absolute understanding and awareness of the image I project, and there’s just not a lot of roles for women who look like me. And so the pizza …” It speaks volumes that Davis is the only actor at the table who hasn’t had a chance to experience romantic chemistry onscreen.

Read the full article here:





So what happens when a person of african ancestry feels the need to either bleach the skin they’re in, or use plastic surgery to give them the face of their dreams? Some examples of individuals who’ve taken it to the extreme:

Lil Kims original face and skin color

Rapper Lil Kim’s original face and skin color



Lil Kim's Badboy record No Time featuring Diddy

Lil Kim’s Badboy record No Time featuring Diddy, formerly Puff Daddy



2012 photo fo Lil Kim.Entertainer's skin has been lightened and she's had plastic surgery

2012 photo fo Lil Kim.
Entertainer’s skin has been lightened and she’s had plastic surgery. Nose job, cheek implants, and perhaps a chin implant.



Sammy Sosas original skin tone

Sammy Sosas original skin tone and eye color



Sammy Sosa now and back then.His hair has been straighter, skin has been chemically alterered and he's wearing contacts to make his eyes appear lighter in color.

Sammy Sosa now and back then. His hair has been straightened even more, skin has been chemically altered and he’s wearing contacts to make his eyes appear lighter in color.



Please keep all this in mind when you read some of the responses to Spike Lee speaking out about Django Unchained. It’s important to note that Spike has been at odds with Tarantino for quite a while. This isn’t the first time he’s been less than complimentary about Tarantino’s obsession with the N word (in fairness, I’ve always believed that when you open that door without regard to how others may intrepret it, there’s bound to be issues later on). But here’s what Spike stated in a tweet, which apparently set off a fresh round of personal attacks on the director:


Spike Lee tweet that set off a firestorm

Spike Lee tweet that set off a firestorm



According to the site Shadow and Act, here’s what Civil Rights activist and former comedian Dick Gregory had to say:

“That lil thug ain’t even seen the movie, he’s acting like he’s white…so it must be something personal, because when I looked at all those black entertainers, that know Spike Lee, how are you going to attack this man and don’t be attacking them… You’re saying, ‘everybody’s a fool but me?’ [Talking about] ‘it offended my ancestors,’ but when you did ‘She’s Got To Have It’ and some of those other thug movies you did… when you took Malcolm X and put a Zoot suit on him, red hat…did that offend your ancestors, punk?”


Okay . . . moving on, from that same Shadow and Act piece, here’s what rapper Luther Campbell, of the raunchy 90s group 2 Live Crew, and writer of the songs “Me So Horny” “Pop that cootchie” among others had to say. Campbell once went by Luke Skyywalker until he was sued and lost the use of the name.


“Screw Spike Lee… Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ is a brilliant flick that more accurately depicts the African American experience than any of the 15 movies about black culture Lee’s directed in his lifetime…”

“Lee needs to get over himself. He’s upset because Tarantino makes better movies. The man who put Malcolm X on the big screen is Hollywood’s resident house negro; a bougie activist who wants to tell his fellow white auteurs how they can and can’t depict African Americans… Spike is upset because Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie is just like him: a conniving and scheming Uncle Tom.”

Link: http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/what-to-make-of-the-ad-hominem-attacks-against-spike-lee



Well, like Spike Lee, Gregory and Campbell have the right to voice their opinions. But while slavery and domestics during the civil rights movement aka The Help treated both these dire subjects with hilarity, I notice Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln will have none of that.


Part II of this topic will be covered in the post:

WE ARE NOT IN CHARGE: Thoughts on Django, Lincoln and piling on Spike Lee


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