Above, from here, a woman, how to put it de-li-cate-ly, "of color". She disappears into the Earth.
Below, from here, the very good, very light Glinda. She travels via the Sky.
Light is idealized and dark is devalued in this story that permeates our culture. The war of dark and light is the metaphor that perpetuates racism. The metaphor itself derives from Indo-European mythology, and Merlin Stone argues that it originated as religious propaganda that justified the conquest of dark-skinned peoples by light-skinned Aryans. The Indo-Europeans carried it to the East, where they conquered the darker Dravidian people of India. In the West, it filtered through Persian and Greek thought leaving its traces in the Old Testament. Finally it molded the imagery and symbolism of Christianity. It provided justification for the murder of women. (Witches met, after all, at night, and were charged with worshipping the Lord of Darkness.) It legitmized pogroms against dark-haired Jews, and gave a religious justification for the conquest and enslavement of Africans, Native Americans, and other dark-skinned people, whose color was seemingly, proof of being cursed by the God of light. The light/dark metaphor was the underlying theme of Nazi propaganda extolling the virtue of the pure, blond, Aryan race and warning against the threat of pollution by the dark Jews. We are taught the symbol system early: in how many fairy tales is the light-haired sister pure and good, while the dark-haired sister is jealous and evil?
The same splitting of light and dark buttresses the splitting of spirit (light) and body (dark), of male and female, of culture and nature. The split becomes the metaphor of hierarchy, of high (up, out, away from this world, this earth, out-of-body, spiritual, good) and low (base, beastly, bodily, earthly, animal, evil). It supports power-over.
Beware the organizations that proclaim their devotion to the light without embracing, bowing to the dark; for when they idealize half the world they must devalue the rest. -- Starhawk, a white Jewish ecofeminist witch, in Dreaming the Dark, p. 21
Another white Jewish feminist, and lesbian, Andrea Dworkin--frequently termed two words that rhyme with itch, spoke out against the racist danger of biologising male supremacy, in a formidable speech to mostly white women. She stated: I'm a Jew. That is what matters.
She spoke through her fear, to the angry, pale, lesbian face of dangerous ideologies; in this instance the ideology was not promoted by the dominant rulers, but by the oppressed few who have never had any police or military might to carry their erroneous ideas forward against anyone. Not so with their white brothers, and any other group of men, who have demonstrated time and again the entitlement to be grotesquely inhumane in racist and misogynistic ways.
Biologising socially/culturally systemic political harm is not just a dead end in understanding why oppression happens, but it is one of the Master's most popular tools. Along with the belief that women, femininity, femaleness are each inferior to men, masculinity, and maleness, respectively, the ideological foundation of biological explanations for things like rape and racism it is not fit for profeminism. That is my view.
So when someone, even someone I am growing to love, tells me that there's something intrinsically evil about gentile German blood, my blood runs cold fast. "No, that's not true", I want to say, whether or not I do. It isn't true and it won't become true no matter how many times it is repeated. But Truth is rarely the issue in white male supremacist states. Maintaining myths and symbols of white man's greatness is. The section immediately following the passage above from Dreaming the Dark deals with the myth of the Great Man. I recommend reading it.
Maleness isn't evil any more or less than femaleness--whatever those terms means. This means, of course, that femaleness isn't any more dangerous than maleness, in case you're not getting the point here. This is the case despite the fact that dominant cultural forces including my beloved Beatles want me to believe that women are possessed by the devil--even in their heart, that the phrase made famous in song by Electric Light Orchestra, Evil Woman, is not really an oxymoron. Women of color are often portrayed animalistic in white men's imaginations, even while he is Hungry Like The Wolf. The woman is almost constantly called a B*TCH because of that word's origins--a female dog in heat. Animals are more "of the earth" than are white human men, according to white human men's religious and cultural ideologies.
I'm a Jew. And a white one at that. But not blond, pale, or blue-eyed. You aren't likely to convince me that use of dark to mean dangerous, and black to mean bad, concurrently with a proclivity to associate light with safety and security and whiteness with purity and holiness, has no significant relationship to or bearing on white male supremacy's own health and well-being.
It doesn't especially matter to me whether these associations are made in comic books, song, literature, theatre, or by the Phantom of the Opera himself, who sings lustfully of the Music of the Night. andin contexts that are not explicitly referring to humans is harmful to people of color and bolsters white supremacy. Or when such terms are referring to humans but not race or ethnicity I still believe there is cultural loading in the lingo.
A white knight.
Healing white light.
Dark days lay ahead.
Black sheep of the family.
The incredibly lightness of being.
There's a light at the end of the tunnel.
White lies are better than any other kind.
Black magic is the understood as the most powerfully dangerous of all.*
How can such acts of language not be bound up with racism and white supremacy? Will someone please explain how that can work? Because, frankly, I neither see it nor feel it. Experientially, I cringe whenever I hear someone, including people I respect and admire, use these terms in those ways: night, darkness, blackness as negative; the brightness of day, lightness, and whiteness as positive. I can't help it.
Consider this phrase: The dawn of a new day.
Curiously, for Jews, the new day begins at dusk. Adolph Hitler thought us evil, dirty, a contaminant, and in need of extermination. The quicker the better. The world ought to belong to the light-skinned people, was his thinking, called "rational" and logical" and proven by "science" at the time.
I don't accept that these and hundreds of other phrases across languages have no relationship to RACE and RACISM. I have grown a tad recalcitrant on this matter not because it is so beneficial as a radical to be recalcitrant. My radicalism demands a greater regard for on-going self-interrogation and supports the personal-social-political imperative to repeatedly question fundamental beliefs and perspectives.
I am open to hearing compelling arguments that this is not so. What I've gotten thus far is more or less tautological or circular, or misuses white men's science, or Western Civilisation as it's grounding in Truth. To say I question whether white men's truth is Truth is an understatement. The arguments, at least as I hear them, never really successfully escape the european myths and history spelled out by Starhawk, and detailed by Marimba Ani in Yurugu: An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior, and, more recently, chronologically laid out in the less spiritual and philosophical and more strictly ethno-historical book, The History of White People, by Nell Painter.
This matter of symbology, language, imagery, and "light and dark" posed as a linear continuum from safe to scary, good to bad, holy to evil is rather central to my political work and spiritual understandings. And it is an on-going and sometimes contentious conversation among myself and some friends. I would argue it is something entirely different in the world of racist ideologies and white supremacist institutions. In societies permeated by white male supremacy, it is a symbology that, in action, spells degradation, subordination, slavery, and death for dark people and all those seen as psychologically-politically dark, such as women, whether light-skinned or dark-skinned. And socially speaking, since whiteness was invented, make no mistake about it: it helps to be lighter. Hence the number of women systematically making their hair blond and trying to make their brown eyes blue.
What follows is all cross posted. Click on title below to link back to Sociological Images blog.
lisa, 13 hours ago at 10:58 am
Last week NPR reported on a scale developed by a forensic psychologist, Michael Stone, on which murderers could be placed according to how evil they are (from slightly evil to really, really really evil). To illustrate the scale, NPR developed this graphic:
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the artists designing this graphic did not purposefully associate darker skin-like colors with more evil and lighter skin-like colors with less evil. I think this is a fair assumption, though I don’t know for sure that this is true. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
If they didn’t do this on purpose, then race never consciously entered their minds. Once you notice that the colors are skin-like colors, and if you are a member of a society that discriminates against darker-skinned people, you immediately see that this graphic reproduces those stereotypes… AND YOU CHANGE THE COLORS. Any color, going from light to dark, will illustrate intensity. How about red? In Western societies, red is associated with anger. If you insist on using black because black signifies evil in our culture, how about using a true black (that is very rarely if ever seen on people) and a gray scale? How about any color other than brown?
I think this is likely a case in which the producers of the image did not think. And not thinking is one of the most insidious ways that racism and other bigotries get reproduced. People who don’t think about race are the most likely to endorse racial stereotypes. When people who think about race are distracted — with another task, or loud music, or some other intervening stimulus — they are more likely to think stereotypically than when they are not distracted. We can’t be colorblind. Our unconscious is steeped in racial meanings. Consciously fighting those associations is the only way to be less racist.
Not thinking about race is a cousin to thinking racist thoughts. Only thinking hard about race helps alleviate racism. And this graphic is an excellent example of why.
UPDATE: Some readers say that the colors, on their computer, look yellow, orange, and red; others see the skin colors that I see. So there may be significant variation in how these colors appear on different monitors… which is a whole other interesting problem for people who produce web content!
[10 Dec. 2010 ECD addendum: A woman wrote to me noting that some terms that include "black" as negative precede the use of the term "Black" to mean "of African descent" or, in some cases, a U.S. historically specific term replacing "Negro" or used around the same time as the term "Afro-American". In the last thirty years or so, Black has been the preferred term among many African Americans, and the point of this piece isn't that all terms like "black sheep", "black mood" or whatever are intentionally designed or created to be racist (white supremacist); the point is that if they continue to be used in a context of white supremacy, they become part of white supremacy; they become part of how racism is fused to language in the present. For once a society comes to identify a population of human beings as Black or once an oppressed population puts forth the term, Black, to mean "African American" of someone or group from sub-Saharan Africa, we cannot pretend that those other seemingly apolitical, non-racial terms have no political meaning. And, as Starhawk and other herstorians and historians have noted, many terms using "blackness" to mean something negative, bad, or dangerous, did so quite intentionally to promote anti-Black racism and genocide against darker-skinned peoples. But, I'll add that I know people of color, non-white people, who use some of those terms without meaning them to be racist. And it is for any person of color or dark-skinner person to decide how and whether to use any terms they speak or write. I'm putting forth a viewpoint that says that under white supremacy, anything that is "black" or is termed "black" will be degraded and stigmatised as something to be feared or destroyed. And my evidence is what is happening to darker-skinned peoples the world over, at the hands and industries of whites.]