Monday, May 17, 2010

The Color of Color

I never cease to be amazed at what's in the recesses of people walking and talking our streets attired as if they were civilized, until they let slip the sheer, blind tribalism they've brought with them from their caves.

Saturday I attended a party in honor of a friend of a friend at which there were many former Americans abroad, specifically, folks whose aging parents had toiled defending the indefensible in Latin America, in this particular case, Ecuador. Suddenly a woman who became aware of the predominant group in attendance chimed, "I didn't realize there were that many white people in Ecuador."

There was no mistaking the meaning. She meant "white" as in White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, among whose trash she had obviously been reared. Her defense was that her surname, obviously through marriage, was "Ruhmeerezz."

White? "European," one peace-at-any-pricer offered.

Last I checked, however, Spain was in the European Union. Indeed, they went to Ecuador 500 years ago from Europe, long before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock. Indeed, many descendants of Spaniards in the U.S. West and Southwest think, with some historical evidence on their side, that it's really the Anglos who are the illegal immigrants there.

Part of the problem is a subtle change in the way even the most educated and liberal people speak of ethnicity in this allegedly "post-racial" era. I keep hearing at seminars and symposia the phrase "of color," applied to African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc. It's the new easy shorthand.

But, folks, white is a color. It's not a color of skin, however. Ever tried to draw white people with crayons as a kid? There used to be a color specifically for that (don't know if there still is) and it was not white.

That's because the people called "white" aren't really white. They come in skins that range from a sickly to mottled pink, to a tan that can be indistinguishable from some of the lighter folks of other "races," to a quite brownish brown.

Indeed, the people who think they are "white" today, weren't always considered "white," as one of my favorite and scholarly blogs notes in the recent post Before I Was White.


Cecilieaux said...

Comments are back! Sorry about that.

Geneviève said...

Color already matters in the Bible, in the Song of Songs:"I am black and however I am beautiful"....

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly. When did our ethnic background become colors? How does one truly know their original roots? On the census this year I filled in other and wrote out slavic, german, irish. This may be true of my grandparent and great grandparents. It is unknown to me for generations further back. The Story of Eve reported that we are all linked and there are seven genetic link line back to Eve.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Interesting post. I have always believed that the idea of color coinciding precisely with race is absurd, and that every human being is his or her own race.