Recognizing and eliminating anti-Blackness brings greater clarity to “DEIA” work. It does the work to intentionally identify and eliminate race based oppression. Today’s post asks my readers to examine one of the ways anti-Blackness becomes a subconscious act. I think in examining one of the ways we become programmed to think of Black as something bad, we can further our work to understand how we’ve also been programmed to the Black people, dark skin people, are less than as well.
Anti-Blackness is something we’ve addressed for a long time in youth literature, particularly because of the imagery in youth literature. Think of books like I Am Not You Bad Mood, or The Bad Seed that use blackness in a negative way. Children’s book, implicitly and explicitly transmit our culture and values. Using dark colors that represent negative thoughts or situations will reinforce the negativity of Blackness. And, that will translate into people with ebony, hickory, or walnut brown complexions less likely to be in movies, on book covers or even to be hired when people of lighter or whiter skin are available. Because Black people are less often seen, they are made invisible, and if we can’t see them then, we can’t hear, or value, their voices. To be clear, colorism isn’t unique to people of African descent. It also occurs in Caribbean, Asian, and Latine/x/a communities. It affects who gets to tell stories, whose face is used to promote stories, and the colors of the people in stories. I’ve read a research article that use AI to find that children are typically lighter than adults in children’s books and women are lighter than men. What is that about?
Anti-Blackness. The darker we are, the less white we are, the less acceptable. OK, maybe it’s not the best time of year for such a real and necessary talk but, try this. Listen closely to the lyrics in your Christmas carols this year. I wish I’d kept track of all the songs I deleted from my playlist because of their bigotry. Why is coal, a black lump, the awful thing in the stocking? When James Brown asked Santa to come straight to the ghetto, do you think he was imagining a white Santa? But, how often do you see a Black Santa? Why is the manger scene, originating in southwest Asia, filled with white Europeans? Why don’t Jesus, Mary and Joseph have a darker hue? I don’t know practices in other faith traditions to question these practices but, I’m sure they’re in the manger because colorism itself is traced back to early Christian, Jewish and Muslim scriptures.
Keep reading imagery in children’s books through a critical multicultural lens. I’m not the first one to point this out. I’ve seen it mentioned in articles from the 1970s and I’m certain colorism was mentioned before then. And, it still continues. Publishing too white? Kudos to the striking workers at Harper Collins who are demanding more diversity in their workplace!
To begin examining how pervasive anti-Blackness is, I’ve gone through a few dictionaries (Merriam Webster, Oxford English Dictionary and the online urban dictionary.
- Of the darkest colour possible, that of soot, coal, the sky on a moonless night in open country, or a small hole in a hollow object; designating this colour; (also) so near this as to have no recognizable colour, very dark.
- In figurative senses, chiefly with negative connotations.
- Very evil or wicked; iniquitous; foul, hateful.
- Wearing white clothing, a white emblem, etc.; spec. belonging to an ecclesiastical order distinguished by the wearing of a white habit.
- Of paper: blank, not written or printed upon; †(of a document) unendorsed (cf. white-backed adj. 1) (obsolete). Also in figurative contexts. Cf. white paper n. 1a.
- Designating a sweet cake, sponge, etc., of a whitish colour, typically with a plain or vanilla flavour.
- In figurative senses, chiefly with positive connotation.
To record an adverse vote against (a candidate) for membership of a club or other society by placing a black ball in the ballot box; to exclude (a person) from a club, etc., as the result of such a ballot.
Hateful, malevolent, cruel; black-hearted. Also: melancholic, morbid, morose.
A banner or pennant of black cloth displayed as a warning of death, deadly intention, anarchy, etc.; spec. a sign that no quarter will be given or asked; (variously also) the ensign of pirates; a symbol of hunger, or of mourning; the signal of a criminal’s execution.
Having a black heart (in various senses). Chiefly figurative: having evil intentions; malevolent.
A place of confinement as punishment.
A list of the names of people, groups, etc., who have incurred suspicion, censure, or displeasure, and are typically therefore subject to a ban or other punishment
Originally: to extort money from (a person, etc.) by intimidation, by the unscrupulous use of an official or social position, or of political influence or vote. Now chiefly: to extort money from by threatening to reveal a damaging or incriminating secret; (also) to use threats or moral pressure against.
A (formal or official) record or notification of a person’s misdemeanour, bad behaviour, poor performance, etc.; (figurative) disapproval, (a mental note of) censure
Illegal traffic or trade in officially controlled goods or currencies, or in commodities in short supply; a place where this trade occurs. Now frequently in on the black market: in illegal trade; illegally.
A foul-mouthed person; a slanderer. Now rare.
A parody of a hymn; a discord of harsh sounds, esp. one expressing contempt or dislike, typically to an unfaithful spouse.
A disreputable or unsatisfactory member (of a family, etc.); a bad character.
Given to malicious or slanderous talk; foul-mouthed.
To blacken the character of; to cast aspersions, disparage.
As opposed to whitewash: To conceal the faults or errors of; to free, or attempt to free, from blame; to provide with a semblance of honesty, respectability, rectitude, etc. Frequently with negative connotations.
Wednesday 16 September, 1992, when a massive surge in sales of the pound, perceived to be weak and overvalued, forced its official devaluation and the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.
A witch who practises black magic; one who uses witchcraft for malicious purposes. Opposed to white witch.
ill-smelling European herb with rugose leaves and whorls of dark purple flowers.
a severe epidemic of plague and especially bubonic plague that occurred in Asia and Europe in the 14th century
An air of fury or ill-temper. 2. An especially foul, angry mood.
a discoloration of the skin around the eye from bruising; defeat or setback; a bad reputation