Them & us: Can we ever stop thinking in terms of exclusion?

Candice Louisa Daquin

As a kid, people would ask my mom if she was my nanny. My mom’s Egyptian and she has dark skin, dark eyes, dark curly hair. As a kid I had white blonde hair, light eyes, and pale skin. As I grew up, I was taunted for being so fair, ridiculed for not being able to tan, told I wasn’t dark enough. Meanwhile my best friend was picked on for being Pakistani, and was told that she was too dark. We both used to wonder why the world was so obsessed with skin color and the need to divide and exclude people.
 
Nowadays genetics understands two dark-eyed people can have a light-eyed baby. Once known as ‘throwbacks’ to a previous generation, nowadays it’s widely understood how fair babies can be born from dark-skinned parents, and vice-versa. That should mean we set aside ideas of color, but they still perpetuate. 

In ancient times, some cultures venerated light-skin (this veneration pre-dates European invasion) whilst others preferred darker skin. Ultimately it wasn’t the most important factor, hence why in Ancient Egypt, Pharaohs came in all different shades. Color was not a symbol of power, simply a difference between people, thus the formation of racism is a more recent phenomenon, a nuance that has been perverted to act as justification for atrocities. 

Sometimes conquest brought prejudice, other times it already existed. Before European invaders super-sized the slave-trade in Africa, there was a great deal of slave trading going on (worldwide) among people of all colors. With Europe’s demand for slaves from Africa, this began to become more a ‘black’ and ‘white’ issue. To justify the mistreatment of slaves in general, Europeans used fabricated doctrine to preach the idea of superiority and inferiority based on skin color. This may not have been the first time this idea was used to enslave or denigrate people, but it became a widely held (despite being fabricated) concept among those who profited from (slavery). 

A classic example of this would be the African slaves used in plantations by European Colonialists. Another would be the wide-spread murder of Native American (indigenous) populations in America by invading Europeans. In both cases, the concept of whether people of color had a ‘soul’ and thus should be humanely treated, was at the core of justifying atrocities. For a long time, people of color were assumed to be sub-human but this was no innocent racism, this was calculated dogma to justify what was done to them. In other words, the deliberate propaganda of a known falsehood, to benefit economically. Once established, the idea of a person of color being ‘less’ took off, because it made those who weren’t of color, feel superior. In essence, this gave ordinary white folk a sanctioned punching-bag. Sadly, many humans like punching bags, it helps them feel less wretched if they know someone is beneath them in perceived status. 

The Quakers (a religious off-shoot of main-stream Christianity that isn’t very large now, but in the early days of modern America had a powerful voice in the political and social world) were among the first to condemn the mistreatment, murder and subjugation of any people based on skin color. They were against slavery (although to be fair, many had profited from it) and believed in the equality of all humans. This wasn’t very convenient for those who continued to profit off the death and mistreatment of slaves. Most of you know the rest of the story, it led to the American Civil War (although it is a mistake to think it was all about human rights, so much as control). It certainly wasn’t as simple as everyone in the American South was a racist and everyone in the East a social reformer, the lines were blurred and many who could profit from slavery would do so even as they petitioned for its reform. This is why nowadays America and other countries struggle with their former histories, because the history of exploitation based on skin color cannot be papered over or dismissed but equally, its complexity means many don’t really understand the intricacies involved. One could argue it doesn’t really matter as much as the end result, slavery and subjugation. 
 
But was it really all about skin color? Or was it about control and power? If the Europeans had turned up in Africa and the Africans had been albino, my guess is, they would have mistreated them and enslaved them anyway. Just as Africans were enslaving each other, as part of a pre-existing slave trade that had existed long before European exploiters arrived. We could argue it’s the nature of humans not ‘white’ humans, or ‘black’ or ‘brown,’ to abuse one another when given an opportunity, if that abuse leads to the furtherment of power and control then means of justification are employed to perpetuate it. 

Equally it could be argued this is just a Eurocentric justification for the atrocities committed by Spain, Portugal, Holland, England, France, Germany etc. By people of developing nations to those they deemed undeveloped. Perhaps it’s easy to remove the racial element when it doesn’t suit, and consider suppression of rights, a strategy of power rather than the idea that racism is endemic in some groups. This is a larger argument than I have room for here, but one we should revisit regularly, as I suspect, it is neither as simple as ‘all white skinned people were racist,’ or that ‘all dark-skinned people are subjugates or victims.’ But what I know for certain is, humans will use anything to step on the backs of others, in their urge to conquest and skin color, just as with gender (the greatest subjugation of all) sexual orientation, education, class, etc., are used to achieve these ends. 

You may condemn me for not taking a harder more ‘black’ and ‘white’ approach to race relations and critical race theory, and assume my ‘white faced’ privilege is at the heart of this. But I urge you to consider, this is more about removing the ‘black’ and ‘white’ approach and seeing the intricacies of race relations on a deeper level, with a view to preventing a repeat of history or a continuation of racism. The goal is the end of racism. Is this ever going to be possible if we use the faulty tools of the original oppressive system? Yes, easy for me to say when I’m not leaving school without an education because I went to a poor underfunded school in a mainly black neighborhood, easy for me to say when I’m applying for jobs and not getting them because black men are considered a risky choice for employers who still carry irrational media propagated fears of black men. Easy for me to say when I’m not stared at on the train by white women who think I’m going to rape them because I’m wearing a hoodie. Yes, easier for me to say. But that doesn’t disqualify the value of what’s being considered.

Ultimately then, it’s never as simple as ‘black’ and ‘white,’ but so often despite this, the war seems to be centered solely on color. Which might seem obvious, given a black man is more likely to be shot by a police man, begging the question, isn’t skin color alone a huge determining factor? So, let’s consider color and what it really means. If a mother who is dark-skinned can have a fair-skinned baby, that baby will grow up with privileges their mother didn’t have. The baby won’t automatically be considered ‘the help’ whereas the mother, with brown skin, will be. The baby can ‘choose’ to identify as mixed-race or ‘pass’ as white/Anglo and have possible access to those privileges. The same isn’t true if the baby is dark-skinned. They cannot ‘pass’ as white/Anglo even if they are technically mixed-race, and as such, they are more likely to be racially prejudiced against. 

If you compare this with being homosexual, say, then you can argue a homosexual person can be in the closet, and pretend not to be gay, but a black person cannot be in the closet, neither can a woman pretend to be a man. There are certain immutable. I would argue though, irrespective of whether you can hide that racial or gender status, there is pain in having to disguise who you are because you are either made to feel ashamed, or inferior, or just do it for survival or to improve your chances. This is a negative experience and thus, an oppressive one. Ultimately then, whether able to hide your minority status or not, you experience the sting of oppression by knowing consciously you belong to that minority group that is oppressed. Ultimately then, being subject to oppression is oppressive versus those groups not subject to oppression.
 
However, these days, the delineation between those of color and those who are not, has become once more, a very strategic and stratified codex. Sometimes it’s as simple as: If you are brown-skinned you belong to the minority group. If you are light-skinned you do not. Which has always struck me as absurd for a number of reasons. Half the ‘white’ people I know can tan and go as dark as nearly all the ‘brown’ people I know. Some of the ‘black’ people I know are lighter than most of the ‘brown’ people I know, and a great number of the ‘white’ people I know. It isn’t always as simple as ‘black’, ‘brown’, ‘white’. 

There are increasing numbers of people with ‘white’ skin who are mixed-race, an increasing number of people who have ‘brown’ skin who are technically ‘white’, an increasing number of people who have ‘white’ skin who are genetically ‘brown.’ There are ‘black’ people who look ‘white’ and ‘brown’ and ‘Asian’ and there are mixed-race people who don’t look ‘black’ or ‘white’ but are both. With the increased genetic diversity in the West for example, a person’s surname, or where they live, or what they look like, doesn’t always denote who they are genetically. More often, the disadvantage lies in their economic opportunity (as a result of racism preventing equal access to economic opportunity or immigration status). 

I live next door to a married couple; the wife is technically ‘white’ but she is always mistaken for being Mexican because 65 percent of people who live in my city are Mexican-American and she’s a brunette who tans darkly. The husband is technically ‘Hispanic’ but is always written off as ‘white’ because he has light skin. Their child is browner than both of them and always presumed to be Mexican-American although he is not. It’s a parody of the kinds of assumptions made by taking something at ‘face-value.’

My other neighbors are from San Salvador and are assumed to be ‘white and identify as ‘white’. The husband is actually half Hispanic/half Chinese. The wife is 100 percent Salvadorian (Indigenous Indian/Spanish) both are fairer than I am. My other neighbors are African American, the wife is dark-skinned, the husband lighter than most of the Hispanics on the block. He is often mistaken for Mexican-American or ‘Anglo’. As most ‘Anglos’ here are deeply tanned year-round. 

This might seem absurd because you can argue ‘well if you test their DNA everything will be obvious’ but remember, racism existed long before we could test DNA so it was based purely upon appearance. Even then people’s appearances were shifting and misleading, because we assume certain ethnic characteristics are immutable and they’re not. The more we understand about genetics now, the more we understand why like my Hispanic friend, who has 4 brothers, one brother has blue eyes, despite nobody in the family having blue eyes. Or why some African-American children look ‘white’ whilst some Anglo children look Hispanic or mixed-race when they are technically not.
 
But for the kid who is bullied for being a ‘dirty Mexican’ in a mostly white school, or a black kid who is stopped by the police just because he’s in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood, this isn’t a comfort to know the nuances of race are complex. Often the initial impression of a person by those who are ready to make snap-judgements has awful outcomes:  A tomboy girl is ‘correctively raped’ in case she’s a lesbian. A working woman is beaten for taking a man’s job, a black man is assumed to be a criminal as the real criminal gets away, so it goes on. Racism is at its worst in those lightning assumptions, so it’s no consolation to be told we have exceptions to the rule, such as ‘white looking’ kids being born in ‘black’ families, so what? If you’re beaten for the color of your skin, what difference do nuances make? And yet, increasingly, nuances exist and antiquated systems of categorizing people based on appearance are becoming less and less accurate and more potentially harmful. 

The whole skin color thing needs to be revisited. By those who are oppressed by it, as much as by those who are racist and oppressive. In fact, more so by those oppressed, as we know racists aren’t going to revisit anything that doesn’t suit them, you can’t change a closed mind. But you can avoid falling into the same pitfalls as racists do, by being less cloistered in how you think about skin color. It’s not as simple as responding to racism by repeating the prejudice as a reaction to exposure to racism: “a white person comes into a room, everyone assumes they’re privileged in some way, or could be, and doesn’t include them” Whilst a person of color cannot technically be a ‘racist’ because they are responding to racism they have experienced in their expression of mistrust or prejudice, if you really think about it, some people of color do hate other races, and so it’s perilously close to the idea of reverse racism. 

You might argue, why are you talking about reverse racism which doesn’t exist, when there is so much racism still around? And you’d be right. Racism hasn’t gone away, so why even ‘go there’ with ideas of reverse racism? If a Native American hates a white person, can you really blame them? With their history of annihilation at the hands of white people, isn’t this a natural response? Justifiable? Absolutely. But will it help anyone if those who were racially abused, become haters themselves? And technically if you hate any race (all ‘white’ people, all ‘brown’ people, all ‘black’ people) it is a prejudice that is so similar to original racism it’s almost indistinguishable. Ask the question, isn’t the goal to reduce hate not further it? 

So, what to do? If you are very justified in your hatred of a particular color, because say, as an African American your ancestors were enslaved and murdered by white plantation owners, or because as an Indian your ancestors were murdered by white British colonialists, or because as a Japanese person your ancestors were raped by black American soldiers, don’t you have a right to your anger? Absolutely. But essentially hate is not so different to racism, it has a cause, which original racists did not have when they swept through populations condemning them on the basis of their skin color (although it can be argued they condemned people because it was an easy way to justify their enslavement of them, which was the real objective and they would have found another ‘justification’ if not skin color, to achieve their ends of slavery). Otherwise, the outcome (hating someone based on skin color) is the same, and thus, a form of reversing modes of racism. 
The reason people say reverse racism doesn’t exist in any form, is two-fold. Firstly, if you are the victim of racism the focus should be on that, not on suggesting you may have some racism of your own, because that feels a lot like blame. Secondly, because racism was perceived to be 100 percent about oppression and hate of a race which often included skin color and a black person who is racially attacked is only responding to that pre-existing-racism with prejudice – not racism. But racism isn’t always about skin color. Some Chinese and other Asians are fair-complexioned yet ‘invaders’ would be racist toward them, even if their skin color was similar. Maybe they would be called ‘yellow’ just as Native Americans were called ‘red’ but this is not just a skin color issue, it’s a racial difference issue, again, to justify exploitation and overrunning that population. After all, invaders didn’t invade to kill an ethnic group, that was the outcome but not the original purpose. The original purpose was exploitation, seeking power, land, and wealth. If they had turned up on a land with people who looked exactly the same way they did, there may have been less blood shed or there may have been the same amount, as with the Vikings and Alexander the Great and others, it’s power that they seek, and racial condemnation comes afterward, almost as a way to justify the actions. Thus, any color of person can in theory have racist responses, depending upon their experience with another race. 

Look at a justification of reversed prejudice: The massacre of nearly all Native American populations in America by white-skinned people. it may be so understandable for a Native American today to hate all white-skinned people because of their knowledge of what was done to their ancestors and how they might still be feeling the inherited scars of this exploitation economically and spiritually. But is it any better really, than the original racism that caused the first damage to engender hate as a best response? In other words, reversed hate of another race isn’t the answer. And to deny it happens, is naïve, when we’ve all seen Black people being racist to Asians and Asians being racist to Black people and Hispanics being racist to Asians and Asians being racist to White people and White people being racist to everyone and so it goes on.
 
I was told off for saying reverse prejudice/modes of racism was a thing, because it is understood academically and psychologically that it cannot be any kind of racism because it’s a response to (abuse) not originating without that abuse, thus not the same origin as original racism. It’s reverse prejudice. When we use ‘reverse race’ we’re suggesting a Black person would be racist to a White person if they hadn’t enslaved them, but we can’t know that. In other words, racism must exist without due-cause for prejudice. I think we do ourselves irreparable harm and continue the legacy of racism when a minority group ‘hates’ another group based on skin color (because it can’t even be race anymore, since we’re all so mixed) and that skin color hate might be justified in some ways, but what good does it actually produce? 

By stating this, I’m not implying the original exploitation of people is on par with the hate a Native American might feel toward a white person. The reality is Native Americans enslaved other Native Americans but the scale of mass extermination and slavery and abuse Native Americans suffered at the hands of whites coming to America, was unprecedented and resulted in the genocide of an entire ethnic group. Their land is still technically ‘stolen’ by those who originally stole it. They essentially lost everything and continue to be mistreated in the way Reservations are marginalized today. Native Americans can never be replaced just as Māori and Aborigines can’t because they are unique people who settled the land so long ago, they became indigenous, so when they are wiped out, they are gone for good. 

We must never forget these atrocities that happened and continues in racist systems that perpetuate the inequity of people of color but equally, we shouldn’t resort to hating another group as our best response. By emulating racists in some way, we only become what we don’t want to be. If we tell our ‘black’ sister she is ‘too white’ or our Indian brother he is ‘too dark’ we repeat within our own sub-groups of color, the same errors. If people of color were to think less in terms of color, and more in terms of shared ideology, that would produce less division. We need to stop lightening our skin because we are trying to measure up to false outdated ideas of beauty, we should embrace beauty in all forms, meaning changing mainstream cultures fixation on mostly ‘Anglo’ ideals of beauty. This is happening, really fast, and it’s about time. but what’s also happening is the complete opposite. Now people who are fair are being ridiculed, now people who aren’t a ‘minority’ are being left out, how is this any better than what was done in the first place? 

One could argue ‘it’s about time you had a taste of your own medicine’ and on some levels that makes sense. Affirmative Action, for example, helped people of color go to university where disadvantages may have prohibited them previously. But take it too far and it breeds the same feelings of extinction that were felt for hundreds of years by people of color. Inclusion means everyone. And if we understand it was as much about income/access to wealth/economics as it was prejudice of skin color, we understand the real ‘racism’ in any country is unequal access. Which doesn’t consider skin color as much as wealth, power, or position. If a person of color has wealth, power, position/influence then they are not as subject to racism. As with gender studies that show women’s greatest inequity aside the vulnerability of becoming raped or pregnant, is economic, then we understand the true fight is against inequity more than shades of skin color. 

Would it surprise you to know brunettes have always been considered en masse, more attractive than blondes, contrary to the rise of people like Marilyn Monroe. And when studied, most people find mid brown skin more attractive than light skin, so the idea a blonde white girl is the ideal never really existed, it was more an idea used as a weapon against people of color, though ironically the racist might sexually desire a person of color more than any blonde ideal. That’s because it wasn’t a loathing of skin color, so much as a means of exploiting people for gain, which involved having to justify that exploitation and what better way than using something obvious like the difference in skin color? And the enjoyment of some exploiters in perceiving themselves superior. 

By this, I am not obviating those who truly do seem to hate people with dark skin. But I would say, in modern times, those people are hating an idea more than an actuality. Take Jews for example, a group my family belongs to. We were told we were ‘dirty Jews’ ‘dark filthy Jews’ and one might assume this was a skin color/appearance-based hate. But it wasn’t. Hitler and his henchmen had an ideal of Teutonic perfection that included white skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, but some of this is thought to come from Hitler’s self hatred (as a dark haired, dark eyed small man who may well have had some Jewish blood). Many times, when someone hates someone else, it is a projection of something they hate within themselves. Of course, that doesn’t help those who are hated.

The Jews were hated more for their hold on power and wealth, as well as their being an obvious ‘different’ target, as with the gypsies and homosexuals. All were murdered based on being a minority status. Just as women, despite being 51 percent of the world, have been treated as a minority and abused as a minority. Men, when they did this, did so in response to fear and a need for control, such as post-Black Death where a third of the world had died from the plague and men feared women having power, wishing instead for them to repopulate. What better way of achieving this than accusing any working woman of being a witch, enforcing restrictions on education, encouraging procreation through doctrine and essentially throwing out any infertile woman seen as without worth? This is every bit as bas as what was done to any person of color, just as the deaths of thousands of gypsies and homosexuals was about their vulnerability and the dominant groups power over them. 

Does that sound familiar? This is what some Muslim sects are doing to women right now, in countries like Afghanistan and Iran where women are shamed, controlled, disenfranchised and controlled. We can criticize them but let’s not forget, Christians, Hindus, Jews and others were as guilty of this behavior in the past. To assume women are no longer at risk is a fallacy, to assume women in certain countries could never have this happen to them is also foolhardy. Consider the state of Texas in America, who at the time of this writing, effectively made abortion illegal, and legalized anyone to carry a gun regardless of possessing a license. This is why to believe any minority (women included) are ‘suddenly’ safe from their former oppression, is a naïve fallacy. The push and pull of power continues, as the dominant group sway the undecided, and in a blink, rights can be taken away. Why does this matter? Without the right to choose what happens to your body, a woman is subject to pregnancy, which is fine for many, but can leave her in a vulnerable position. By possessing the right to decide the fate of her own body, she is truly equal to a man. Can you imagine for one moment what a man would say if he were the one capable of pregnancy and a woman told him – no I decide.
 
Some racist groups truly do think blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned people(s) are superior, but simultaneously there are many instances of prejudice that are less to do with racism than humans’ nature of condemning groups while elevating others. In other words, a power play. In the UK today, with the highest number of redheads, there has been more hate crimes against redheads in that country than anywhere else. This may seem petty, because it’s not racial, but hate crime is hate crime, and some redheads have died, targeted purely on the basis of their red hair. Whilst in other countries, being a redhead would be considered beautiful, exotic. The perception of inferiority isn’t as simple as ‘black’ and ‘white,’ or ‘brown’ and it is a horrible part of our nature to use language and group think to condemn one group over another as it suits our agenda. My point is, the agenda is not all about hating skin color, that is the outcome used to further the agenda. 

But what does it matter I hear you ask? Hate is hate. And if you are brown-skinned and hated for it, what does it matter the intricacies of why? You suffer as a consequence, it might ruin your life, isn’t that what we should be concentrating on? Yes absolutely. The eradication of racism and hate is our ultimate goal, but despite that, it continues, because as much as some of us really want to get rid of it, many of us seem to perpetuate it in some form or fashion. And our unhealthy habits, of repeating racism in reverse prejudice only doom us all to repeat history. 

I know there’s no miracle fix. As long as one group can overpower another. And our social systems are still suffering under the draconian rule of old, which puts many people of color at a disadvantage and it is this inequity which is the legacy of racism and a continuation of subjugation, mostly economic. Hence why the great-great-grandchildren of the original racists might have enough family financial security to attend the best schools and get the best jobs. While the great-great-grandchildren of former slaves may still be impoverished because they’ve not had the advantages of the former. This means our system is still breaking under the racism of old. In other words, it hasn’t left us so we can’t say it's not relevant. But becoming hateful toward a group of people whose ancestors might have once subjugated your ancestors is a faulty response too, because it’s just as likely they have shared ancestors with you, that they have mixed-race blood and we’re all so mixed now, there is no one guilty party, much as we may wish to find one and hold them accountable. 

Rather than seeking to condemn others without knowing for sure they had anything to do with the former subjugation of any of your relatives, isn’t it better to find ways to obtain what was denied your ancestors so you can have the life they deserved to have? Ideally it would be good to go back in time and punish all those who enslaved people and murdered them, even I would shoot down the Colonialists who tried to wipe out Native Americans or the Plantation owner who raped his female slaves. But we can’t do that, and we can’t either, look at a ‘white’ face or a ‘brown’ face or a ‘black’ face and think we know by that hue, who that person is, and what they are. 

Ultimately our degrees of separation are infinite, and whilst there are still visible racist targets that need action and activism to bring down and change such as the racism endemic in the prison system in the US, or the many needless deaths of young black men at the hands of police, we must also not assume everyone is guilty of this. And we must consider the nuance of each case and not whitewash an entire group as being responsible. Just like feminists cannot assume all men are guilty of what was done to women historically. And Jews mustn’t think all German’s are former Nazi’s. When we make assumptions, when we think everyone of a certain group is guilty, we lose those within those groups who might be our best advocates. We also repeat the same mistakes of homogenizing groups that were done to us, when we were prejudiced against for being a person of color, a lesbian, a goth, a Jew, a Muslim, an immigrant, etc. 

I’m not saying stop being outraged, or stop protesting racism. Brown and Black lives DO matter and speaking about their marginalization is at the core of change. I’m saying let’s do it with more consideration of how much we have all changed and how by seeing things as ‘them and us’ it’s like revenge, we become as bad as those who committed the original act. We cannot ‘know’ someone based on skin color alone. We are such a mixture now, and this can lead to a positive end of hatred if we avoid repeating the temptation we humans have, to divide us.
 
About the author: 

Candice Louisa Daquin is of Sephardi French/Egyptian descent. Born in Europe, Daquin worked in publishing for The American Embassy and Chamber of Commerce in London before immigrating to the American South West to study and become a Psychotherapist, where she has continued writing and editing whilst practicing as a therapist. Daquin has worked at Jewish Community Centers and Rape Crisis Centers both in Texas and Ontario, Canada. Her area of specialization is adults sexually abused as children. Prior to publishing her own poetry collections, Daquin regularly wrote for the poetry periodical Rattle and The Northern Poetry Review. Daquin is currently Senior Editor at Indie Blu(e) Publishing, a feminist micro-press. She is also Writer-in-Residence for Borderless Journal. As a queer woman of mixed ethnicity and passionate feminist beliefs concerning equality, Daquin’s poetry is her body of evidence. She is Editor of The Pine Cone Review. 


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