Alex Haley’s grandmother, Queen Haley, was born here just a few years before the American Civil War. As the daughter of the white plantation master James Jackson 3rd and a slave woman named Easter, her complexion was often likened to cotton. Queen was able to reap the benefits of being a light skinned house slave. She wore fancy European hoop dresses, her hair adorned with beautiful curls, and fancy designer bags. She traveled into town with the family to assist them, while most slaves never step foot off of a plantation.
After the war Queen was cast out the former plantation and thrown into a new and dangerous world. She realized that using her light skinned privilege to meet white men meant the difference between being fed or begging for food on the streets. Queen, a Black woman, knew she was luckier to have near-white skin and she utilized it to survive the Reconstruction period and well into the early 20th century.
The narrative of Queen Haley and other children of the plantation helped to shape colorism in America. After the war as Blacks escaped Alabama and the rest of former Confederate states. They ventured north into the big cities to escape Southern discrimination and to find work. Black populations swelled and transformed Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and many American cities. It was in these states that Black Americans believed they would find new lives. After all, these states fought against slavery. Blue states such as Illinois, New York, and California have a deep association as desirable havens for freedom. This is in many ways a myth. People that are not of color believe that because of how they vote, they do not exhibit racist or colorist behavior. Political alignment can function more like a hidden veil of colorism and racism.
The blue state of Illinois is the political home of Barack Hussein Obama. The skinny kid with a funny name emerged on the political scene like a political rock star. Obama is a biracial American born in Hawaii descended from a Kenyan father and an American white mother. When asked the importance of his Senate campaign, Obama believes it was due to the fact he was able to break down barriers through one-on-one communication. He traveled to rural Illinois, the red counties of his state. He organized, connected, and ran a successful campaign. Obama won in a landslide in Illinois. President Obama was a smart and savvy politician who listened to both red and blue voters and tried to connect and find common ground. His skin color, compared to darker Black males, made him a safer vote for the white electorate.
According to DivirsityInc.com, a study was conducted when two photos were compared side by side of President Obama. One pic was filtered darker with Obama’s skin tone in low lighting and another of a lighter skin tone and brighter lighting. According to Diversityinc, “Regarding the 2008 presidential election campaign, a study found darker images of then Sen. Obama were more frequent in negative ads against him, “especially those linking Obama to crime.” What if Barack Obama were a dark skinned Black male with a strong use of AAVE? Would he have won?
Even the Democratic establishment has made connections to President Obama’s success and his skin tone. When former Senate Majority Democratic Leader Harry Reid made a reference about Barack Obama’s color and dialect, it showed that Democratic white men are not immune to the slip ups that often associated with Republicans. According to NPR.com, “A new book, Game Change, recaptures a reference Reid made regarding then-presidential candidate Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American "with no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Reid suggested that Obama won the presidency because the country was comfortable with Obama’s lighter skin and speech. He was the Black presidential candidate that could win. He was safe for them. While many liberal newspapers denounced Reid’s comment, it was all too familiar with the colorism narrative that has been within the Black community since slavery.
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned he often had his wife Charlene by his side. DeBlasio’s wife is a dark skinned African American woman. Her children, Dante and Chiara, are light skinned and often wear their hair natural. In fact Dante de Blasio’s afro became a symbol of a new change from the billionaire Bloomberg era. When the de Blasio family is out together, there’s no denial that they are representing a modern American family. Or are they?
The natural hairstyle of the de Blasio children is not in line with European beauty standards. However, even as liberal and left as Mayor De Blasio is, he managed to slip with a poor campaign decision that turned heads. When Bill de Blasio tweeted on August 27, 2013, “RT if you #GoWithTheFro -Bill de Blasio (@deBlasioNYC)” it was meant to be a light hearted tribute to his son’s signature afro. This was the problem. Afro or natural hair is a trademark of African Americans no matter what shade to embrace their African genetics. “Good hair,” which is often connected to straight European texture is often a beauty standard that many African Americans no longer care to adhere too.
Solange Knowles explains it best in “Don’t Touch My Hair,” the song compares her natural hair to a crown. It’s often this crown that is devalued by white dominated beauty standards. Even for Democratic left leaning Bill de Blasio, it was a turnoff to the Black community when his son’s afro became a cheap and culturally dismissive battle cry.
As awkward as that moment was, the Black community and the liberal base stood with de Blasio and gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was elected New York’s mayor in 2014. Colorism issues hit New York again when Mr. DeBlasio made a statement about his biracial son. When no criminal charges against the white police officer killed Eric Garner. “This is profoundly personal for me,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I couldn’t help but immediately think what it would mean to lose Dante. Life could never be the same thereafter.”
It was bold, it was clear where the mayor of New York City and for the Black community it was clear de Blasio to an extent was “woke” on an issue many Democratic leaders stray from. It echoed from President Obama’s statement two years before, “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” After Obama’s statement the right wing had a firestorm complaining that Obama was dividing the country.
When two NYPD officers were murdered in cold blood, Wenjian Lie, and his partner Rafael Ramos, Mr. de Blasio gave remarks at his funeral. The large contingent of NYPD officers present--of the same NYPD that was found to unconstitutionally target Black and Latinx citizens with their stop-and-frisk program--turned their back to defy the mayor. By merely stating a fact about the effects of one cops tactics on a person of color, De Blasio was ostracized by the police. Liberal and blue Gotham was on fire that summer and New York City proved that the divide between red state and blue was in full effect within the 365 square miles of the five boroughs.
In the era of Trump, blue California has stood firm as a state influential to the anti-Trump movement. If America was Star Wars, California right now would be the the base of the Resistance. California’s U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick imposed a nationwide injunction against Trump’s January 25 executive order against travel by citizens of 6 Muslim-majority countries. The state also elected Kamala Harris, a woman of color of Jamaican and Indian ancestry, to fight the madness in Washington. Harris could be a 2020 presidential nominee. However, as in the previous examples stated above, California is far from perfect when it comes to color issues.
In 2008, Californians were faced with a vote to ban same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 passed while the nation elected its first Black president. How could this happen in California? The Black voter was immediately blamed by liberal outlets and LGBT media alike. One Washington Post article stated that 7 out of 10 Blacks voted for Proposition 8. A Google search of “proposition 8 Black vote” will generate loads of stories that piggy-back off of exit poll data disseminated within that week. Investigations after tell a different tale.
According to The Atlantic, after reviewing reports, “the 70 percent figure for Black support of Prop 8 is wildly overblown, and in conflict with all the other polling done. The study concludes that 58 percent is a more likely number. To put that in context, the study also concludes that 59 percent of Latinos supported prop 8. That isn't one-upsmanship--it just means we were about the same. Black people almost certainly did not account for 10 percent of the voters on Prop 8, they accounted for seven percent.”
What’s more, the share of the California electorate is too small to have swung the vote either way. Black voters being in line with other racial and ethnic groups would not have led to a Prop 8 defeat. The blame should have been on millions of white voters (still the majority of the Golden State’s voters), but instead was laid on the feet of Black voters, as simple scapegoating and anti-Blackness reared their ugly heads in the bluest of states in the nation.
At a LGBTQ anti-Proposition 8 protest in Westwood, the N-word was dropped on a UCLA Black passerbyer. Now, it can be assumed just by looking at voter data from 2008 that the person hurling the N-word in this instance most likely voted for Barack Obama, and was a Democrat.
Here lies the issue of Democrats and their position in blue states. A citizen may vote blue and represent liberal ideologies but the perversion of racism and colorism rear their twin ugly heads when it conflicts with their own individual interest. The voting behavior of Democratic party members does not dissolve colorism and racism.
These issues of colorism from the days of Queen Haley to Barack Obama show that skin tone affects a person of color’s success. For Queen Haley it was a survival mechanism, for President Obama his approachable looks were safe for many whites, allowing him to become our first Black president. Mr. de Blasio fumbled on being too comfortable by being a part of a family of color and using natural hair as a campaign slogan. The mayor also learned that by standing against police brutality it put him in the “nigger lover” category as he denounced brutality in NYC. After all, it could have been Dante. And even as California is a weapon against the Trump circus, it has showed it bares the scars of racism. Blue states may lean towards social progression but within their borders contain countless stories of colorism, racism, and inequality.
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