So, What Color is Your Skin?

With February coming to an end, so ends Black History month. No longer will we be forced to see annoying blogs and Facebook statuses complaining about the lack of a White History month (Seriously, guys? Every history class is White History).

People of color and their contributions have systematically been eradicated from general American history, and this doesn’t only apply to America and it isn’t a recent occurance.

For centuries, White’s have attempted to rob people of color of their contribution to world history. The biggest and most widespread abuse than I can think of is of Jesus himself. Prior to the 1400′s, images of Jesus depicted him accurately as a darker-skinned man who was physically more like Jews and Muslims than White Europeans. But that all changed under Pope Alexander VI aka Rodrigo Borgia (who was quite the controversial Pope himself).

Cesare Borgia and Jesus

Long story short, he got himself involved in the crusades and thought that fighting an ‘enemy’ that greatly resembled the man who his religion was built around was probably a hard pill to swallow. And so, in the late 1400′s he had every image of Jesus destroyed and practically rebuilt the Vatican. He commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to recast the image of Jesus in the likeness of his son Cesare Borgia (the worst Borgia of them all). And the result of that recasting is the image we have of Jesus now.

And then there’s Beethoven, a man who has been described by his contemporaries as “the black Spaniard” and with “Negroid traits, dark skin, flat, thick nose.” According to Fanny Giannatasio del Rio in the book An Unrequited Love: An Episode in the Life of Beethoven, “His somewhat flat broad nose and rather wide mouth, his small piercing eyes and swarthy [dark] complexion, pockmarked into the bargain, gave him a strong resemblance to a mulatto.”

Yet this is the image we have of him. Granted, it seems as if the man himself hated being treated as an interior due to his skin color and may have been complacent with these pale depictions.

Ludwig van Beethoven

For a while, Cleopatra was also a victim of such ‘white-washing’, but now I’ve gone far away from my original point (phew, this was quite the tangent). Fast forward to present day, and people still talk about race. A lot. In fact, all the time. And more so, White politicians talk about race. A lot. In fact, all the time.

Arabs, Illegals, Blacks, Mexicans. You name it, White politicians have an opinion about them. How much money to give them? How much money to take away from them? Should they be here, why are they here, and how did they get here? I wonder if someone so obsessed with the color of my skin really knows what it’s like to be a person of color. They can think in terms of my color and your color but have they ever thought about themselves in terms of race? Probably not. Being White, they have the luxury privilege of not having to think in terms of the color of their skin.

I, however, do not have that.

Everyday I think about my race and everyday I am reminded that I am a minority.

Presidential candidates like Ron Paul speak of eliminating Affirmative Action and have attempted to eliminate desegregation in schools (what?) in order to create an equal opportunity for all peopleno special treatment for anyone. But what such men fail to acknowledge or even realize, simply because they have never had to, is that in this nation, the color of their skin affords them the privilege of not being judged. They already have an advantage, they are already part of a special group.

These men look in the mirror and see, not a White man, but a man. Race never comes into play because their race isn’t reviled. They are a part of the majority.

Not all Muslims may be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims — at least all terrorists capable of assembling a murderous plot against America that leaves 7,000 people dead in under two hours. -Ann Coulter

As a woman of color, I am constantly defending my identity and pondering it. I don’t see a woman in the mirror, I see a Brown woman.

A nurse once asked me “why is your English is so good”. She made an assumption based on the color of my skin. I look foreign and therefore foreign means I shouldn’t possibly be able to speak English well.

Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks. - Excerpt from ONE of the notorious Ron Paul newsletters

Often, people don’t know how to react around me. Should they ask me about my heritage? Should they ask me where I am from? Should they discuss politics? Am I Muslim? Why aren’t I wearing a headscarf? Are terrorist jokes too much? Let’s test her with terrorist jokes. At the risk of sounding cliché, if I had a nickel for every time somebody decided to break the ice with me by cracking a terrorist joke and then continuing to do so every time they saw me, I’d have at least $15.

How about this for a change, why does it matter? Ask me about my job or my ambitions. Ask me what I like to do or why I like to wear a certain color. And if that conversation leads to my culture, that’s okay because I do, after all, have a different culture. And if you have an honest curiosity about things, ask me. But don’t make assumptions about me and don’t think that all I want to talk about is my race and my roots. I am more than the color of my skin. Don’t associate my complexion to foreign.

I am in an interracial relationship. His curiosity about my culture, language, and customs is genuine and real. And while I appreciate that, there are other’s that don’t.

I live in Baltimore city, so the atmosphere here is relaxed and open. However, further down into the countryside is a totally different experience. We have received our fair share of dirty looks from conservative old ladies and Obama-hating truck driving country boys. I’ve also received judgmental glares from South Asian men and women. I almost always find myself assessing where we are and whether I should prepare for scrutiny.

And that’s the thing about racism and discrimination. It’s been taught and passed on for generations upon generations… for some, it’s a way of life. For others, it’s passive and quiet but there nonetheless. So how can Ron Paul hope to give all groups equal footing when that equal footing itself is nonexistent?

Many times in conversation, I’ve heard White friends say “…the Black cashier” or “…the Chinese manager” instead of “…the cashier” or “…the manager”. Sometimes when telling a story, race plays into it but more often than not, no one needs to know the cashiers race. I almost never hear someone say “…the White cashier” or “…the White delivery person”. Without even realizing it, people immediately identify people by their race.

Within months of Barack Obama becoming the president, the FBI and CIA noted a frightening amount of activity and growth among hate-based organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Part of the Tea Party movement is based on hating colored skin.

Racism, passive or active, is a normal part of my life.

When I go to the airport, I wonder if I’ll be selected for a “random” search or asked to come into the room at the back (which has happened before) and I can’t ever check-in online (even when I am accompanied by non-Browns).

Look back at the New York City Mosque/Community Center fiasco and really listen to the hateful things that people had to say. Racism towards people of all colors is alive and very active and don’t forget: There are people who hate me because of the color of my skin.

“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money. – Rick Santorum 

So, the next time any White politician talks about money and Blacks or removing Mexicans, or even something as harmless as creating an equal platform, remember that we don’t live in a raceless society and right now, we are further away from such a utopia than we have been in a long time. Think about what it is like to be a person of color and perhaps, you’ll see, that these people are simply playing into racist values rather than attempting to eliminate them.

*A variation of this post appeared earlier on my blog.

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  1. Posted February 24, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I knew about the history of depictions of Jesus, but have never heard the descriptions of Beethoven. Always interesting to learn things.

  2. Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I can’t speak for everything in this article, and I wouldn’t want to try given the wide range and lack of any citation.

    I will state however, that the material on the Borgia papacy and destroying early images of Christ is patent nonsense with no basis in history. There are tens of thousands of images of Christ from earlier than the pontificate of Alexander VI, so if he had tried to destroy all of these he was monstrously unsuccessful. Nor would Borgia, a man with great political acumen but little religious feeling, have had any particular interest in changing the face of Christ. He was not especially involved in crusading, which in any case was rather nearing the end of its utility even as rhetoric by the beginning of his reign in 1492. Quite the contrary of what is presented here, Borgia was actually rather modest in his renovations of the Vatican (especially compared with popes like Julius II who replaced St. Peter’s basilica with the structure we know today). And contrary to the claims that Borgia had something to do with white-washing European art, the frescoes he commissioned from Pinturicchio for the Vatican palace, in fact, include among the best surviving images of Muslims in the Renaissance (including a portrait of Bayezid II’s brother Cem). As for Leonardo basing the newly rediscovered “Salvator Mundi” on Cesare Borgia, this too is without basis in fact. In any case, portraying Christ as rather similar in features to men of one’s own era is a pervasive practice in the Christian West (less so the Greek east, where the tradition of icon likeness prevailed).

  3. Posted February 26, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    To be constructive rather than just point out problems, the following are excellent sources worth reading if you are interested in questions on the connotations of blackness in western art and the presence of sub-Saharan Africans and their descendents in pre-modern Europe.

    Kate Lowe and T.F. Earle, Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (Cambridge U.P. 2005) – especially the contribution of Paul Kaplan.

    David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Image of the Black in Western Art (reprinted and revised Harvard U.P. 2010 and ongoing)

    Maghan Keita -any of his fantastic work but especially, “Saracens and Black Knights” Arthuriana, vol. 16, no. 4, 2006.

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