Moonlight Gathering Highlights Colourism
Date: Tuesday, September 19 @ 23:57:09 UTC
Topic: Black and White
By Ras Tyehimba
Event Date: September 09, 2006
Posted: September 19, 2006
"Truth be told
Many of us sellin our soul
Dressed up in condiments
To savour the flavour of the disguise
So we could swallow the lies
That we feed ourselves
And so we present ourselves
Wearin masks of themselves
Truth be told
Many of us sellin our soul
Everytime we say
"U see me I is a black man that only like red skin woman"
Or me, me eh want no hard head black man
I want a soft head chile
A light skin chile
Cus I so shallow and dumb
I can't figure out that when I say that, I practisin racism
Against my own
In a society created by themselves
Yeah u heard me, "themselves"
Is dem self who does advertise skin lightener
And is dem self who tell yuh that yuh need relaxer
And for those of you who didn't pick up on the blatant deceit
Jus know that is dem self who tell yuh yuh could only wear dreadlocks if it neat"
Excerpt of 'Themselves' written by local poet Akilah Riley
This past weekend, the Moonlight Gathering was held in Blue Basin Park in Diego Martin. Held in an open space in the alluring ambience created by the big bright moon, the Moonlight Gathering featured poetry, singing, drumming and dialogue. The Moonlight Gathering was created to be a free-flowing, relaxed forum for creative expression in all its various manifestations. Among those sharing their expressions was poetess Akilah Riley, singer Jossette Thomas, Collis Duranty, Mohammed, Jervae Caesar, and Sista Ava. The Jaramogi Cultural Drummers from Fondes Amandes in St Anns, lead ably by Maximilia Jaramogi, provided powerful rhythms throughout the night.
The genesis of the Moonlight Gathering occurred about 3-4 years ago, when a small group of us grew tired of the lack of availability of forums in which we could express our various talents and views. There was a scarcity of events and activities that spoke of our history and our experiences in the social space. Oral traditions are a powerful aspect of African cultural traditions and given the talented array of poets, drummers, singers, actors, and artists within our informal network we decided to create our own forum.
The power and energy of the gathering is in the fact that it is not just entertainment; it is not poetry for poetry's sake, or songs for singing sake. It aims to draw from the best of the ancestral wisdom in building on the rich and powerful African legacy of oral traditions. In Trinidad and Tobago, there are many issues that are consistently ignored and sidelined in the education system and mainstream media. The narrow conceptualisation of culture means that the visible aspects of culture are not connected to the deeper understandings, struggles, and perspectives that underlie them. As a result, in the mainstream, culture usually translates into mere entertainment. The moonlight gathering however aims to connect the most visible aspects of culture to the underlying experiences and understandings so that people can get exposure to the perspectives they are denied in the mainstream.
Powerful poet Akilah Riley shared her poem 'Themselves', quoted at the beginning of the column, which initiated the dialogue segment that focused on the issue of Colourism. Colourism is the general preference for lighter-skinned people in all areas, including the choices of spousal partners, symbols of beauty, friends etc. The experiences of people with respect to how light skin and stereotypical European features (straight hair, thin lips etc) are falsely associated with beauty, intelligence and success started to emerge. As people began to share different experiences and perspectives relating to Colourism, the debate started to heat up. One of the participants in the discussion, Leslie emphasized how important it is in the quest for justice to address the issue of Colourism, which most heavily affects dark-skinned people. What also emerged was a strong defensiveness and resistance to the issue of Colourism being discussed. Some questioned whether the dealing with Colourism is divisive and/or an attack on light skinned people. In the context of the deeper dynamics of Colourism being such a sidelined and unfamiliar topic, such defensiveness is understandable, but not acceptable.
The discussion on Colourism was heightened by the entrance of guest speaker Mr. Hotep who began to address the intricacies of Colourism. Quoting recent research from Matthew Harrison of Georgia University, he explained that in the United States, economic status between light and dark-skinned Blacks is equivalent to the gap between Whites and Blacks. Mr. Hotep refuted notions that the experiences of persons of different skin colors should be ignored in preference for shallow attempts at self-love, which he explained undermines dealing with Black issues. Highlighting how lighter-skinned children are generally given more attention in the family and pushed harder to succeed in the formal education system, Mr. Hotep spoke of his experiences in another forum, where upon addressing the issue of Colourism, a number of parents broke down in tears as they realized that they had been behaving in ways that gave more attention and privilege to lighter skinned children. Likening Colourism to a cancer that eats away at peoples' core, Mr. Hotep outlined how it negatively affects both those who falsely value lighter-skinned persons and those who receive the brunt of this false value system by having dark skin.
The Moonlight Gathering is part of a wider drive to foster self-awareness and growth by presenting and encouraging perspectives that have been neglected, hidden, lost or misunderstood. As such, the debate on Colourism was an important step in dealing with an issue that is constantly ignored, sidelined and distorted. The evening after the gathering, a first timer to the gathering called me and related that she had been experiencing certain things throughout her life and from the dialogue on the Colourism, for the first time she got clarity in respect to her experiences around colour. Another person related to me how the discussion made her more conscious of how and why she relates to various people as she realized that her many light-skinned friends may be reflective of an unconscious preference for lighter-hued persons.
The Colourism issue is an issue that has not only to be dealt with by the African community but also other communities, including the East Indian community, as all segments of the population have been socialised in a context in which lighter-skin is highly valued and associated with positive traits. Among the East Indian community, the legacy of the caste system added to being transplanted into a society built on race and color stratification means that there is a high preference for lighter-skinned persons within the East Indian community. The popularity of skin-lightening methods and the concept of the 'Miss Fair and Beautiful Beauty Pageant' attest to this.
There needs to be honest dialogue and exploration of the colourism issue as there is too much resistance, dishonesty and defensiveness surrounding it. Part of the defensiveness and denial is connected to the fact that understanding the depth of the issue is related to experiencing it. As such, for light-skinned persons who automatically benefit from false light skin privilege, a more evolved sensitivity to the issue can only come from learning humbly from those who experience the worst of racism and colourism, that is, dark-skinned individuals. However, some seem intent on defending their illusion-filled bubble of privilege.
Moonlight September Gathering - in Pictures