I'm doing a reaction of the documentary "A Question of Color" Kathe Sandler's documentary film "A Question of Color" begins with a sequence in which a group of black men and women of varying...

I'm doing a reaction of the documentary "A Question of Color"

Kathe Sandler's documentary film "A Question of Color" begins with a sequence in which a group of black men and women of varying complexions recite many of the terms, from "high yellow" to "chocolate" to "blue-black," that are used to describe differences in skin tone. From this formal opening, the film plunges bravely into the ticklish subject of color consciousness among blacks

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This discrimination among African-Americans regarding the variance of color among them, while sometimes used merely to describe someone for purposes of identification is, indeed, often deprecatory, as well. And, the practice of using pejorative terms among themselves does, indeed, exist today, especially in areas where populations are more concentrated such as the Deep South. The roots of this color consciousness go back to the days of slavery in which the lighter-skinned slaves usually worked in the owners' homes while the darker were made to work the fields. Since the house slaves were given jobs that were less arduous and were often treated quite well, they felt themselves more fortunate than others, and they may have developed a certain attitude about themselves that carried over in their population. Whether or not this is true is probably not documented, however.

But, it is a fact that mulattoes held a place in society that other, darker blacks did not. In New Orleans, for instance, French Creole plantation owners of Martinique and such areas often came to the markets and kept a mistress in that city who was a mulatto. Children of these women, who were usually very pretty, were well taken care of financially and enjoyed some privileges not afforded other free blacks, such as attendance at black colleges. (e.g.Talladega College was constructed for the sons of white men to attend). One practice that went on in New Orleans was the Quadroon Ball, here described by Alexis de Tocqueville 

Quadroon ball. Strange sight: all the men white, all the women coloured, or at least of African blood. Single tie created by immorality between the two races. A sort of bazaar. The women vowed as it were by law to concubinage. Incredible laxity of morals. Mothers, young girls, children at the dance;still another harmful consequences of slavery. Multitude of coloured people at New Orleans…

This ball carried such magnitude that duels were fought over these women.

In his book Black Like Me, the white journalist John Howard Griffin disguised himself as a black man by ingesting large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug Methoxsalen, trade name Oxsoralen; he also spent up to fifteen hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp, and he shaved off his hair. Riding Greyhound buses in 1959, Griffin subjected himself to the rigors of being black in the Deep South. While he met with much prejudice from whites, he also experienced some from blacks who were light-skinned. Griffin found that the more one resembled a white, enhanced by fashioning the hair to resemble more Caucasian hair, wearing certain styles of clothing, etc., the more favorably one was treated; and, he discovered that the lighter African-Americans exhibited biases against darker ones. Perhaps, then, some of this attitude carries over into today's populations.

Speaking from personal experiences in Alabama classrooms, African-American children tease one another unmercifully, at times. Those who are of mixed parents are often called "pinkies," and the darker children are called names, too. Sometimes this ridicule causes the darker ones to feel inferior and disliked--even ostracized from the others. Once, a boy who was failing because he did not complete assignments and study for exams, complained to his high school teacher [white], "I know you don't like me because I'm so dark."  One darker teacher related how she was belittled at college by the lighter students; however, she said this motivated her to work harder and succeed over them. At any rate, there is no question that African-Americans see color themselves. Some remarks are for descriptive purposes only, many are in fun, but some are meant to be cruel.

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