Sunday, June 28, 2015

Skin deep

Like many in North America I have been following the story of Rachel Dolezal. This woman has been claiming to be black for a number of years. One article I read asks how she could be a black woman without first being a black girl! Dolezal also had sued the traditional black school, Howard University, for racism against her being white! I don’t really know what to think about this. I am white but given the “one drop rule” my children and grandchildren are black. I worry how this woman’s actions will effect their future. My grandson is very blond and has hazel eyes and could “pass” easily. While it would be nice to think the colour of one’s skin does not matter, it does. Some people predict that everyone will be a shade of brown in the future. Who knows! Race is and probably always be a very complicated issue.

The first book I read on race was the classic Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. In 1959, journalist John Howard Griffin was a white native of Dallas, Texas. Under a doctor’s care Griffin darkened his skin colour through drugs and a tanning lamp. He spent six weeks traveling through the racially segregated southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia posing as a black man. During his trip Griffin did not change his name or alter his identity. If asked, he told the truth about his racial experiment. This book was very eye opening to me as a teen. Since it was published 15 years previous I believed the world had changed. Little did I know!

Andre Brink was a white anti-apartheid South African novelist. His novel, Other Lives, is three interconnecting stories in post-apartheid Cape Town. The story I want to concentrate on is the story of David. He is a white architect who wakes up one morning to discover while looking in the mirror that he is black now. Ever the opportunist, David sees that this colour change could be used to his advantage in the new South Africa.

Jess Row’s debut novel, Your Face in Mine, presents less of the broad blackface of a minstrel show but a more nuanced touch. Martin Wilkinson, nee Lipkin, grew up in the 1990’s, a time when black rap culture spoke to teen rebellion and the world’s injustice. He self diagnoses himself with “Racial Identity Dysphoria Syndrome.” Martin travels to Bangkok for racial reassignment surgery, and in doing so transforms himself from a white Jewish man to an African American one. This company does not just perform white to black surgeries. Oh no, they have turned a Japanese man into a Jamaican Rastafarian and a Korean woman into a Gwyneth Paltrow type.

I will never claim to be an expert in any topic. Culture is one that I am very interested in and I hope that in reading these books you also learn something yourself.

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