Wyatt O'Brian Evans

Hollywood (and All that Jazz)

Filed By Wyatt O'Brian Evans | April 14, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, black power, black-on-black, Denzel Washington, Doug Cooper-Spencer, Hollywood, Jamie Foxx, John Selig, Mel Jackson, racism, Richard Roundtree, Wesley Snipes

Editors' Note: Wyatt O'Brian Evans is a Bilerico-DC contributor. This is part of the series "The Cancer that Slowly Consumes Our Very Souls: Racism" that we're running on Bilerico Project.

According to that 20/20 broadcast, Hollywood perpetuates and reinforces the bias. "The Black Power Movement was supposed to change those attitudes, and it did change some things. Suddenly there were some dark-skinned male stars who played the 'hero' - photoweek6.jpgRichard Roundtree played 'Shaft,' and other stars followed, like Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx," reported Stossel.

But the acceptance of darker skin seems to apply mostly to the macho guys. The part of the successful, educated Black almost always goes to someone with lighter skin.

Actor Mel Jackson says light-skinned men like him tend to get the role of the 'business executive.'

"'If the character's supposed to be more successful or more articulate or have a better background, they'll easily cast me in that character,'" he said.

Stossel continued, "Actress Wendy Raquel Robinson (who played the lead character of a high school principal in the popular sitcom The Steve Harvey Show) has noticed the difference. 'I've never been offered, you know, the crackhead or the distressed mother,' she said. 'I play the very upscale, educated young lady,' Robinson said. 'I do have some peers that are a lot darker than myself. They don't get the opportunities.'"

According to the program, colorism is particularly common in music videos. "The darker woman takes on what I refer to as a 'Ho' complex. She is the prostitute," said Karen, a University of Maryland student. "The lighter a woman is, well, she's the goddess. She's the untouchable. She is the woman that all the men in the video aspire to have," she said.

Markita (one of the other Maryland U students whom Stossel interviewed) sees it as a straightforward message. "If you want to be successful, this is what you have to do. You have to become more white. You have to assimilate yourself to the standard of beauty," she said.

Have we come a long way, or what? Not.

Dark Or White Meat?

Black-on-Black racism can have a powerful and driving influence on whom African-Americans (of any sexual orientation) pursue romantically and sexually. Last year, Chong-suk Han's "They Don't Want to Cruise Your Type: Gay Men of Color and the Racial Politics of Exclusion" for the journal Social Identities examined this mindset.

mixed_race_gay_couple.jpg"The primacy of white images in the gay community often leads to detrimental results for gay men of color, particularly manifested as internalized racism. In "No Blacks Allowed," Keith Boykin argues that "in a culture that devalues Black males and elevates white males," Black men deal with issues of self-hatred that white men do not. "After all," he notes, "white men have no reason to hate themselves in a society that reinforces their privilege."

Han continued. "Boykin argues that this racial self-hatred makes gay Black men see other gay Black men as unsuitable sexual partners. Obviously, such racial self-hatred rarely manifests itself as such. Instead, gay Black men who don't want to date other Black men simply rely on stereotypes to justify their behavior rather than confront their own self-hatred." For example, Boykin notes that most of these men justify excluding other Black men as potential partners by relying on old stereotypes of the uneducated, less intelligent Black male.

He went further. "Ironically, the same Black men who rely on these stereotypes to exclude members of their own race rarely enforce them on gay white men, as evidenced by Boykin's example of the gay Black man who has no problem with dating blue-collar white men, but excludes Black men on the assumption that they are 'uneducated and less successful than he is.'"

Han concluded, "What's worse is that not only do gay Black men fail to see each other as sexual partners, white men also ignore them. In such an environment, Black men compete with each other for the elusive white male partner."

Our (GLBTI) Voices--One Black, One White

I consulted Doug Cooper-Spencer and John Selig, two respected and vibrant gay voices - one African-American, the other Caucasian - to get their take on the issue of Black-on-Black racism photoweek7a.jpgand white supremacy in general.

Cooper-Spencer is a long-time gay rights activist, writer and commentator. He's the author of This Place of Men. His new novel, People Like Us, is a story of love, marriage, and coming out. His informative and popular blog is The View from Here.

According to Cooper-Spencer, racism is "a simple, portable and convenient idea that anyone can use anytime they deem it necessary. Since the notion of racism is so portable, it's ridiculous to think Black people can't carry it around in their own heads just as much as anyone else.

"For instance, it's been shown that some Black teachers expect less from Black students than from white students; some Black consumers will trust white businesses over Black ones (now, I know you've heard this--'that's why I don't hire Black people to do anything.'). And of course, there's the dilemma of skin complexion."

John Selig also is a long-time gay activist, as well as a writer and photojournalist. His popular podcast, "John Selig Outspoken," includes interviews with GLBT role models and opinion leaders, as well as commentaries and interviews with GLBT writers. He has been featured in the New York Times, Dallas Voice, Newsday, U.S. News & World Report, among others.

photoweek7b.jpgSelig commented on Black-on-Black racism. "Certainly, any group that has been as disenfranchised as African-Americans would experience that."

He then spoke about what can be done to stamp out white supremacy, the root cause of Black-on-Black racism/colorism. "White GLBTs need to do bridge and coalition building with other segments of the GLBT community. We need to march with Blacks and Latinos. We need to do outreach to the African-American community in such a way that that community can see and hear it." (Addressing the GLBTI community's heartbreaking defeat regarding Proposition 8, Selig unequivocally believes that not enough outreach was done in the Black church.)

Next, Selig made the following comments, which are slices of gourmet food for the heart, mind and soul. "It's harder to hate somebody you know and love than a stereotype. The fabric that we call America is made stronger from the diversity of the thread from which it is woven.

"And, if an African-American is discriminated against, so am I. That very act diminishes me."

This is part of the series "The Cancer that Slowly Consumes Our Very Souls: Racism." Originally published in Qbliss, the article has been modified slightly for online readers. For more information on Wyatt O'Brian-Evans, you can visit his website or check out his Bilerico-DC bio page.


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Anthony in Nashville | April 15, 2009 1:16 PM

Thanks for mentioning that Social Identities essay, I had not heard of it. There are many gay male people of color who refuse to date anyone than white men.

On the other hand, there are white guys who exclusively pursue people of color. I think when you start discussing sexual desire/dating, a lot of messy issues of racism/prejudice are lurking in the background.

Wyatt O'Brian Evans | April 15, 2009 3:07 PM

Anthony

Thanks for your comments. I totally agree.

Great thoughts were brought up and expressed in your writings today. Makes you stop and think of the racial self-hatred issues and how people tick!!

What a shame it can come down to what shade someone's skin is. But, what you have said is true and it hits home to many of us.

Great info and thoughts from Cooper-Spencer and Selig. Please continue your great articles, I am looking forward to them weekly and what you are expressing, hopefully will help all of us.

Thanks Wyatt,

Tomas

Great post. It reminds me a bit of what Jason Tseng posted about here last week with respect to Asian Americans.

A. J. Lopp | August 7, 2009 4:19 AM
Suddenly there were some dark-skinned male stars who played the 'hero' - Richard Roundtree played 'Shaft,' and other stars followed, like Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, and Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Jamie Foxx," reported Stossel.

Stossel neglects to mention one dark-skinned male star that precedes the Black Power Movement: Sydney Poitier won the 1963 Oscar for Best Actor (Lillies of the Field).

That film was black-and-white and might be difficult to judge, but Poitier's shirtless scene in Guess Who's Coming To Dinner a few years later makes it clear that he would not be commonly regarded as "light skinned". Morevoer, while his role in Lillies was a "good guy" he was not so much a "hero" as he was in later movies, particularly In The Heat of The Night and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs; in fact, in both those later movies it was specifically southern racism that he was heroic against.

Secondly, I have a counter-comment for this quote from Han:

... Boykin argues that this racial self-hatred makes gay Black men see other gay Black men as unsuitable sexual partners. ...

Speaking as a white gay man who in his later dating years was entirely open to dating black men, I found that for every black gay man who dated only white men, there were four or five gay black men who wished to date only within their own race. And this was in southern California --- when I moved back to Indiana around the turn of the millennium, I found that inter-racial dating is still almost non-existent in the Mid-West, with the possible exceptions of the largest major cities, such as Chicago and Atlanta.

Now, we need to come to an agreement about whether it is OK for someone to restrict his romantic life to members of his own race. It is unfair to call it racism when white gay men do it, but say it's "brothers being with brothers" when black men do it. I can see it both ways, but whatever standard you choose, make the playing field level.