So I did a thing and like any good Millennial, I wrote a thing about the thing I did–so that I knew I’d done a thing.
While making a video for my budding Youtube channel I had to shoot a still for the thumbnail using my DSLR. I forgot to turn off the flash and accidentally overexposed myself in one of the shots. On a coffee high, I resized the picture and put it on twitter with the tweet “When you’re about to change your race to ‘mixed’ on Grindr”.
It struck a chord with many people that follow me—all of them people of color.
But something sat on my spirit specifically: Why was it funny? Why did a certain demographic identify with it enough to want to send me to the Arctic to find chill? After the TEE HEE wore off, I re-examined the tweet with critical eyes and decided to outline and nip a few problematic aspects of the meme in the butt at the bud:
- The Meme plays on the “Monolithically Mixed” Expectation v. Reality
- This is the expectation that all mixed race people all look a certain way and are all automatically beautiful and/or worthy/desirable. Forming the basis of this assumption is overwhelmingly that the skin is light.
- There is also the idea that “mixed” only matters when one part of the genetic concoction is white or from a light-skinned ethnic group.
- The meme portrays the subject subscribing to the monolithically mixed expectation, ignoring the fact that many of the Black men invoking it are technically mixed in favor of a fantasy of recent miscegenation.
- Manually Creating a Closer Proximity to Whiteness
- Because I am not fair skinned (and my followers know this—and those who can see my avi know this) the overexposed image comes off as a crude (and too-frequently seen) way to appear light-skinned. An unsubtle attempt to “pass”.
- The meme openly mocks this practice (not only for the fact that it is done at all, but because of the lack of subtlety). With Photoshop, camera/instagram filters, etc, using a lamp or camera flash appears archaic.
- Colorism: A Legacy of Colonialism
- Colorism is all too real and creates the dehumanization of darkness (which I’ll address in a moment).
- Colorism creates a hierarchy in which dark skin (not tanned, not “swarthy”, but dark) is seen as the absolute worst and in stark contrast with angelic, pure, innocent, agent-holding white skin. Pointing out swarthy/tanned is meant to not conflate “all darkness” with an oppression many clearly do not face. The gradient encompassing skin colors in between is generally open for negotiation by circumstance—“light enough”, “not too dark”, “exotic”—all of which are violent in their own right and have other narratives placed on them—Orientalism springs to mind.
- Dehuamnization of Darkness
- Black men are often relegated to the realms of “thug” and “gangsta” with “big black cocks”. Even further, a black man is not seen as “person with big dick” so much as the dick is mobile and has a system of sustenance.
- In an effort to be accepted as fully human (and not an unlovable wrench attached to the prized penis), positively adjusting one’s proximity to whiteness becomes a navigational technique with varying levels of factors, results, and successes.
Wrap It Up! Wrap It Up!
Now Watch Me Take This Bow Off
The meme, taken at face value, is a parody that pokes fun at “self-hating” men of color in online dating/hook-up spaces. In reality, it can serve as a tool used to shame oppressed people for trying to (or even daring to) navigate violent space to achieve their own goals—whether it’s nookie for the night or finding Mister Right. I think that after having taken these points into consideration, we should seek to further understand what the images we convey mean and work to dismantle the systems that give rise to predictably necessary coping behaviors like trying to appear lighter for acceptance or to be seen as a human being.
While I meant to direct this post to darker men of color as a whole, I spent a lot of time talking about Black men because I’ve most seen this in Atlanta among Black men when I lived there and also y’know, being a Black man…. Also, when goodness in your society depends on literally demonizing what is viewed as the opposite of white, there’s less room to navigate for darker skinned Black folks.
Thanks for reading! This big black gangsta Mandingo thug is finished and looks forward to hearing what you’ve gotta say! Tweet me or comment below!