The Cost of Self-Hatred

One of the most tragic consequences in America of racism and sexism is that they have resulted in a huge swath of people – women of all colors and black and to a lesser extent, brown people – who hate themselves.

There is an obsession with Eurocentrism in this world; anything white or Nordic-looking is deemed to be better and superior, and the world bought into it generations ago. Hitler, in his racist craziness, was looking to create a “master race,” but the concept of that master race being white, blue-eyed and blonde didn’t originate with Hitler. It came right from these United States.

Racism was written into the Constitution with black people being relegated to being on 3/5 of a person. The framers of the United States Constitution made it clear that this nation’s foundational document meant fully to exclude slaves, women, Indians and even white indentured servants. White men were written up and held up as “the fittest,” and in later years, the Eugenics movement in this country sought to wipe away individuals who were designated as being “inferior.” The only people the Eugenics movement sought to perverse, according to Edwin Black, author of War Against the Weak, were those who confirmed to Nordic stereotypes.

That belief undergirded national policies, including segregation and forced sterilization. Black says that upwards of 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized. Major corporations, including the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation, funded the work of the “scientists” who did work to “prove” the superiority of Nordic-looking Caucasians, and some of this country’s most elite universities, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton, produced scientists who offered their intellect and time to prove that the Nordic race was, in fact, superior.

The history of all of that is too much to go into here, but the result of the spreading of the lie that Europeans, specifically Nordic whites, were superior, has had a devastating effect on black and brown people, and on women, too. Black people have been so demoralized by being designated as ugly and intellectually inferior that many have tried to get as far away from their heritage as possible. White people as well, who did not fit the Nordic prototype, have struggled with feeling inferior; when I was in high school and college, I saw many white women ironing their hair and dyeing it blonde, in order to fit into the accepted definition of beauty.

The disregard of anything and anyone which does not fit the Nordic model is part of the pathology which undergirds the treatment of black people by whites, and specifically the treatment of blacks by white police officers and by other blacks. We tend to see ourselves through the lenses of other people; the lens of white America sees or portrays black people as being brutish and and criminal. That lens despises black skin, black hair and black body types. A black person, then, is a thing, the personification of the 3/5 designation given by the United States Constitution, and is to be feared rather than protected.

Both white and black people look through the same lens. White people hate black people, but too many black people hate themselves and therefore each other. White people objectify black people, but black people objectify each other as well. In spite of great gains made that have made the African American population accept itself more than it has historically, there is still a great gulf between self-love and self-acceptance and the bigoted image and prejudiced view which has been the American reality.

White people are still hyper-critical of how black people look. Consider the horrid things which whites have said about Michelle Obama, who is a beauty in her own right. It is a tribute to her inner strength that she has endured the racist criticisms and put-downs that have come her way, but many African Americans, especially young girls, do not have that strength and they struggle with who they are and how they look – still, in this, the 21st century – wanting desperately to be anything other than black.

Black people still talk about “good” and “bad” hair, bad being, of course, their hair. Relaxers made to straighten out the kinky locks of black women have in fact done so much damage to black hair that it will take years to reverse. What is sad is that there are still too many black mothers who put these toxic and dangerous relaxers on their hair of their little girls, whose hair is way too delicate to handle the chemicals. Too many black people are still concerned with the fullness of their lips, even as white women get injections to make their lips bigger. In essence, what this means is that while many young African American women have a much more healthy self-image than did even their mothers, there are still too many little black girls and young black women wanting to be white.

There are a lot of consequences of not liking oneself, but one of the biggest is that when one is consumed with self hatred, he or she cannot bloom in his or her own fullness. The refusal of legislators to allocate money for schools in urban areas, themselves filled with contempt for black people,  is depriving this nation of incredible intellect and talent sitting in those schools, cultural and societal barriers to the same notwithstanding. It would help if advertisers could get away from their own biases, still holding up the Nordic look as the standard of beauty. Little black girls see white women with long, blonde flowing hair, and they want to be like that. The media does the most damage to the possibility for the image of beauty to move away from being lily white, but the media also helps keep little black girls captive to a standard of beauty which keeps them bound and incapable of realizing their highest potential, a fact which ultimately weakens this nation.

It’s not just the way the media portrays the standard of beauty which is problematic; it is its refusal to correct the misconceptions about how black people function in this world. The media still portrays “the bad people” as being primarily black. Black on black crime is held up as proof that black people are not viable, valuable American citizens. We hear little about the very real phenomenon of white on white crime – which doesexist. According to the US Department of Justice statistics, 84 percent of white people killed every year are killed by other whites. In an article which appeared in the Huffington Post, the author pointed out that in 2011, “there were more cases of whites killed whites than there were of blacks killing blacks.” That same article said that from 1980 to 2008, “a majority (53.3 percent) of gang-related murders were committed by white people. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kerry-coddett/white-on-white-crime-an-u_b_6771878.html)

The tragedy is that the media doesn’t pick up and carry those stories but stays instead in the place of myth, pushing the myth that only black people kill black people, not whites, and that that “fact” again proves that black people are not good people, good citizens. White people get a pass while black people struggle to love and respect themselves even as the society goads whites here and all over the world, to hate and despise them.

Black people have climbed over the lies and deliberate attempts to vilify and denigrate them, their looks and their intellectual capacity, for generations. That climbing reveals an inner strength that blacks too seldom celebrate. The curse of racism is a perpetual cloud which hangs over everything in this country, and that cloud, which contains the condensation of racial hatred that is bred and cultivated on American soil, has traveled all over the world.

We, as black people in this nation, have got to look at phenomenon of self-hatred square the face and renounce it, and the white people in this nation who rest arrogantly in the false image of white supremacy need to understand that the supremacy is a myth.As the myth is continuously revealed, with all of its holes and weaknesses, those who have hidden under it will be sorely affected, but that affectation must come.

It is time for the foolishness, wrongness and  amorality of white supremacy to end, and it is past time for African Americans and people of African descent all over the world to stop living in a desire to be something they will never be. It is time for African Americans to walk forward and proudly, no matter their hair or body type.

In fact, it is past time.

A candid observation …

 

Is God Perfect or Not?

Galton's view of social structure in the UK
Galton’s view of social structure in the UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever since I was young enough to hear and to understand, I have been told that God is perfect. God can do no wrong. God does not make mistakes. God is …omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. The lessons of God’s perfection have been deeply engrained in my soul.

And yet, the more I listen to study phenomena like racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, and other “isms,” the more I wonder about my theology.  Is God perfect or do we have it all wrong?

I have been squirming with this question for a while, but when an Indian-American, Nina Davuluri, won the Miss America title a couple of weeks ago, the conversation over her being too dark gave me pause. There were some in America who were angry that she, being of Indian descent had won, but there were people who said that in India, she never could have won “because she is too dark.” Apparently, the quest to have light skin to white skin is an obsession in India, with young women participating in pageants taking medications to alter their skin color – i.e., to make it lighter. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/miss-america-nina-skin-color_n_3935348.html)

Historically, people have wanted to be white, in this country and in others. People have tried to pray their gayness away.  Being a female has been a hindrance and not a help, too often, in the workplace.  And yet, God made all of these …untouchables, …these undesirables. Could it be that God isn’t so perfect? Could it be that not only is it not true that God doesn’t make mistakes, but that God apparently has made a lot of mistakes?

If all of these groups of people – blacks, browns, women, gays, lesbians, females – are a problem, why in the world did God create them?

There is something extremely sad about any group of people trying to deny and change themselves to fit into image of a group of people who have decided who is worthy and acceptable and who is not. The European standard of beauty has been internalized by people all over the world. Little girls in Africa carry around white baby dolls, many of them.  Studies have been conducted that show that little children in this nation think that black and brown people are not pretty and not as intelligent as are white people. Homosexual people are presumed to be morally inferior to straight people.

What in the world was God thinking when He/She created people who were not white, Protestant  males?

In the eugenics movement, which came into being largely on the efforts of Charles Benedict Davenport in the 1890s, there was a quest to create the “perfect” person. That person was white, but not any old kind of white. To be desirable, one needed to have Nordic features – blonde hair, blue eyes. Dr. Davenport, who was a Harvard-trained biologist, influenced a lot of people, including one Francis Galton. It was Galton who coined the term “eugenics,” and he defined that as “the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally.” (Eyes Right: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash, . 213)

The eugenics movement was fascinating and troubling, all at once; the purpose of this article is not to go into it in-depth – but the point is that a whole cadre of very intelligent men (!!) constructed hypotheses which upheld and justified white supremacy …and their work was so titillating that the Nazis used it to justify and construct their own system of racism which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews.

What, then? Did God mess up when God didn’t create everyone with Nordic features? Did God commission people to “improve upon” what God had created? If that’s the case, is God perfect? Can the notion of God’s perfection be trusted?

Years ago, I was chastised by a preacher whom I respected deeply because I would not say, and could not say, that only Christians would be saved. It was inconceivable to me that God would create a whole world full of different people who practiced different religions, and condemn them all to hell. That notion of God did not fit with my notion of a loving and inclusive God. Jesus was the Christian way, the Christian mediator, so to speak, between God and humans. Other religions had their mediators, but all of them, I argued, were valid. There was no way that God was that …small, that provincial, that…narrow-minded. The perfection of God did not mean to me that God intended for everyone to be the same. In fact, because of God’s omniscience, had that been what God had wanted, God would surely have done it!

I was eliminated from the ministerial student group after my talk with that pastor.

Stung and stunned, I asked God why He/She hadn’t intervened on my behalf. Like the psalmists demanding an answer, I asked God to speak up and tell me why He/She had let me be skewered as I defended the basic goodness of God and of God’s intentions.

Of course, God was silent.

But every now and then, the question of God’s perfection comes up. When babies are born deformed or sick, does that mean God was not and is not perfect? When people have addictive personalities, does that mean God is not perfect?  When little boys grow up to be serial killers, does that mean something happened in the womb that made that child’s brain program him into being a murderer? When a child gets a debilitating disease, like Michael Murphy Odone (“Lorenzo’s Oil), caused by a malfunctioning of his ability to metabolize fats, does that mean that God put a wrong gene in the wrong place when the child was growing in the womb?

Is God perfect or not? Are people of color, Jews, gays and Lesbians….mistakes?  If we are to listen to the chatter of people who are always putting a group of people down because of who they are, we might begin to question God’s creative genius, mightn’t we?

A candid observation …