I recently finished Same Family Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America by Lori L. Tharps. Tharps describes herself as a Black (medium-dark) woman with a Spanish husband. Of her three children, two are lighter-skinned than herself and one is darker. This led her to get interested in and explore colorism from various perspectives: after the introduction which largely distinguishes colorism from racism while always aware of the connections between the two, the book is broken up into sections on Black, Latino/a experience, Asian experience, and mixed-race families. Each section begins with basic historical research and continues with four or five interviews with people from multicolored families from the groups in question.
While Tharps is unwavering about the role of white supremacist society, commerce/industry, and media in colorism, nonetheless she chose to focus on life in families, specifically families with significant internal color variation. The research, which I found very useful, is really there to provide context for the interviews. Nonetheless, I found the research very useful. She largely debunks the presumption that the color division in Black communities is related to house slaves vs. field slaves, and she uses the historical sections to reinforce the ties between attitudes within a community of color and the larger white-supremacy culture. She documents an East Asian preference for lighter skin dating back to centuries before any Europeans set foot on those shores.
The interviews, the heart of the book, are a bit shorter and a shallower than I would like, but they are well done and with an excellent range of perspectives–people with lighter skin than their families, people with darker skin, people who were supported within their families regardless of skin color, people whose families placed great weight on skin color to their benefit, people whose families placed great weight on skin color to their detriment. She frequently addresses “light skin isolation,” the experience of someone who may have wider social acceptance because of light skin, but also may feel estranged from, or insufficiently part of, a darker-skinned family.
One of Tharps’ stated goals is to distinguish colorism from racism, again without any level of denial of racism. Another is to examine how family support can help children of different colors, and how family lack of support can be harmful, while also talking with people who ignored, or transcended, or reversed their families’ expectations and prejudices.
I read the book mostly because I am close to two young siblings with different colored skins. After I borrowed, but before I read, the book, I specifically used the word “chocolate” to refer to a baby’s skin color (on social media) and got kindly schooled by a friend of color who pointed out that some dark-skinned people are offended by the common use of commodity terms (and specifically commodities historically harvested by slaves) to describe dark skin color, so the topic is much on my mind.
Tharps uses words like “chocolate” and “coffee,” as well as color words (brown, tan, beige) and other terms as they seem to fit. Towards the end of the book she acknowledges that some people may be unhappy with some of her choices; she spends some time exploring possible color words.
While she is a huge advocate of change beginning within the family, she ends the book with a rallying cry to fight back against the multibillion dollar skin lightening industry, which is most thoroughly established in India but has footholds everywhere. Laurie and I have written about this before: boycotting Dove, whose parent company Unilever sells “Fair & Lovely,” a leading skin lightening cream, is a good start. After all, Dove claims to be committed to “real beauty.”
I knew absolutely nothing about traditional Inuit tattooing practices before I read this article … and now I know a tiny bit more. Juanita Nelson at CBC News interviewed Angela Hovak Johnson, and several of the women she tattooed in the Inuit community of Kugluktuk.
A Yellowknife resident, who got Inuit tattoos done on her own face eight years ago, Hovak Johnston wrote proposals and got the funding she needed to hold a five-day event that included a contemporary tattoo artist from Yellowknife and a traditional tattoo artist from Alaska. …
Catherine Niptanatiak, one of the women participating in the event, designed her own tattoos. … Niptanatiak says she did her research first before getting tattoos.
“Only chosen women got traditional tattoos and they were done at puberty and it meant she was capable of taking the full responsibilities of a woman, so going from young girl to young woman.”
“Because I’ve taken on the roles of a woman, I feel like this is the right time for me.”
Niptanatiak chose to have her wrists done using the traditional hand-poking technique using needle and ink.
Cecile Lyall, whose hands are shown above, chose “both the gun method and the traditional method to show her history.”
Reading about First Nations women reclaiming traditions makes the ongoing “skin whitening” pressure sadder and more frightening. Denise Oliver Velez has been fighting colorism since the early 1980s, and in this Daily Kos column she summarizes some of the current front lines of the fight. All the videos are worth watching, but I especially hope that millions of darker-skinned people watch this one by Wilbur Sargunaraj.
I feel like I grew up with the concept of the “biological clock” that theoretically describes internal pressure on women to have babies. I had no idea that the term is noticeably younger than I am, until I came across Moira Weigel’s article in The Guardian:
Women in many times and places have felt pressure to bear children. But the idea of the biological clock is a recent invention. It first appeared in the late 1970s. “The Clock Is Ticking for the Career Woman,” the Washington Post declared, on the front page of its Metro Section, on 16 March 1978. The author, Richard Cohen, could not have realised just how inescapable his theme would become….
The story of the biological clock is a story about science and sexism. It illustrates the ways that assumptions about gender can shape the priorities for scientific research, and scientific discoveries can be deployed to serve sexist ends. We are used to thinking about metaphors like “the biological clock” as if they were not metaphors at all, but simply neutral descriptions of facts about the human body. Yet, if we examine where the term came from, and how it came to be used, it becomes clear that the idea of the biological clock has as much to do with culture as with nature. And its cultural role was to counteract the effects of women’s liberation.
First, conversations about the “biological clock” pushed women towards motherhood, suggesting that even if some of the gendered double standards about sex were eroding, there would always be this difference: women had to plan their love lives with an eye to having children before it was “too late”. Second, the metaphor suggested that it was only natural that women who tried to compete with men professionally, and to become mothers as well, would do so at a disadvantage.
… The term was originally coined by scientists to describe circadian rhythms, the processes that tell our bodies when we should rise, eat, and sleep. In the 1950s, the US air force began sponsoring research into how the biological clock worked. Soon researchers were racing to develop drugs that could eliminate the need for rest. The idea was that if we understood the body well enough, we could overcome its limitations. In the 1970s and 1980s the meaning of the term shifted to the way we use it now: a description of female fertility. But is being female a weakness that we believe professional women should want to cure?
Weigel’s article is long, informative, and thoughtful.
Biological clocks are certainly related to birth control, and I can’t say I’d ever thought about birth control for military women, but pharmaceutical company Medicines360 has, and interestingly so. Here’s Sarah Kliff, reporting for Vox:
“A number of studies suggest that a third of servicewomen can’t get their preferred birth control method before they’re deployed,” says Jessica Grossman, chief executive of Medicines360, which manufactures Liletta. “A long-acting, reversible contraceptive might be particularly of interest to women in these situations.”
Recent studies have documented difficulties women service members experience accessing contraceptives, especially while deployed. One study found that four in 10 women had difficulty accessing their contraceptive of choice while deployed — and military women have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy than the civilian population.
Medicines360 is offering a very steep discount to the military, if they will provide the company’s IUD’s to military women. They are also trying to counter the pervasive myth that only women who have borne children already can use IUDs.
Despite my well-established bias against pharmaceutical companies, I have to say this seems like a good plan for everyone involved. My only question is, if they can really lower their prices from $675 to $100 for the military, what should they be charging civilian women?
On the other hand, the only surprising thing about this article about weight gain in Biggest Loser contestants, is that it’s by Gina Kolata, who certainly knows that the information isn’t new. Kolata, who wrote Rethinking Thin more than ten years ago, doesn’t reference her own earlier work, but rather writes as if this was new science.
Researchers knew that just about anyone who deliberately loses weight — even if they start at a normal weight or even underweight — will have a slower metabolism when the diet ends. So they were not surprised to see that “The Biggest Loser” contestants had slow metabolisms when the show ended.
What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.
“This is a subset of the most successful” dieters, [Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Obesity Prevention Center] said. “If they don’t show a return to normal in metabolism, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
Still, he added, “that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean we are doomed to battle our biology or remain fat. It means we need to explore other approaches.”
I’d love to know what the article looked like before the editors of the New York Times got their hands on it.
Perhaps Dr. Ludwig should just close his center, because here — in another completely unsurprising development — is more data that says fat is not unhealthy. Alan Moses wrote about it for U.S. News and World Report:
[Danish] researchers said that the risk of dying early for any reason is now the same among obese individuals as it is among normal-weight individuals.
Just as we knew about dieters regaining weight, we’ve known this for a long time. But somehow it always seems to be completely new, astonishing, and loaded with faith sentences, such as:
“I do not believe it has necessarily become safer to have what is classified by U.S. National Institutes of Health as an overweight BMI,” [Lona Sandon, program director and assistant professor in the department of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas] said.
On the other hand, “high heels are bad for your feet” is one of my own personal faith sentences, and Mary Karr, writing for the Uninvent This column in The New Yorker, agrees with me:
While the rest of my physique is mediocre by the laxest standards, I started adulthood with an exemplary foot. My toes tapered evenly, and my high arch was ballerina-worthy. I even copped a job as a foot model for an exercise sandal. Yes, I am bragging.
By sixty, those feet had gnarled up like gingerroot. I don’t grieve my less than pert tatas. When my ass lies down on the back of my leg, I think, Oh, rest, you poor thing. Given new bra technology and some spandex, I can squish stuff in and—spray a little PAM on me—still slither into a size 4. But standing for an hour in heels sets red lightning bolts blazing off my feet.
Karr doesn’t mince words:
I was a slave to the desire that rules our libidinal culture. And an elongated foot and leg just announces, Hey, y’all, there’s pussy at the other end of this. Yet every pair of excruciating heels also telegraphs a subtle masochism: i.e., I am a woman who can not only take an ass-whipping; to draw your gaze, I’ll inflict one on myself.
I have lots more links, so maybe there’s another links post in the near future. Meanwhile, though, I’ll close by telling you about this well-deserved tribute to Katherine Johnson. Langley Research Center has named its new Computational Research Facility after her, as well they should.
When Johnson began work at Langley in 1953, she was among a pool of African-American women whose role it was to be the “computers.” Hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, she and her colleagues performed the mathematical equations and calculations needed by the engineers to advance their aeronautical work.