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Just my opinion on things I’ve read over the past week

September 15, 2012

Anton Ferdinand doesn’t want to shake John Terry’s hand

So what? He has had nothing public to say about the racial abuse he alleged but now he wants to publically show he doesn’t like the man? How petty. If anything came out of that farcical trial, it is the ‘revelation’ that footballers at our highest level are juvenile, vulgar and ungracious. To refresh your memory,  the trial revealed insults traded between the two to include ‘fist gestures’ and reference to ‘bad breath’.

I personally think John Terry did utter a racial slur against Ferdinand, because they were words you don’t even use to defend yourself (as he claimed he did) let alone use in assault. However, Ferdinand has had nothing public to say on the matter, said nothing particularly damning when he had his day in court, and quite honestly, just comes across as a clueless bloke who knows racism is unacceptable but doesn’t have a clue how to deal with it.  Blackness is for life, not just a racial discrimination case. Anybody who finds justice in the avoidance of a handshake is an idiot.

Zoe Salanda as Nina Simone? Would you ask Blair Underwood to play Bob Marley?

Firstly, it’s important to make clear that if you are not familiar or used to discourse and debate on skin colour and ‘colorism’, look away now. It’s a topic unfamiliar to many and be warned, you may read things here that will staunchly offend you if are into all this “anti-racism” crap, of which many people are (for a brief introduction to the anti-racism I am referring to, go here).

Nina Simone is one of America’s greatest voices (up there with Billie Holliday and Aretha and co.) but as a resident of America before, during and after the Civil Rights movement, had a life experience inextricably linked to the colour of her skin. Note that I am not referring to her race, which is African American, or black, or whatever you wish to label it. I am referring to her skin.

The ‘one drop’ rule is a rule is often misunderstood so I’ll explain it to the best of my ability here. Even though in America ‘one drop’ of blackness (i.e. an immediate family member or a closely enough connected black member of your extended family) rendered you ‘black’ and therefore subject to segregation and Jim Crow, it did not determine many other aspects of your life. Not everybody judged as ‘black’ were subject to the same judgement, expectations and prejudices from the hegemonic powers that were.

Indeed, the experiences of black people in America are diverse and have been divided by things as random as gender, geography, physical appearance, vocation, hair texture, education and so on. Put simply, a black man could expect a slightly different experience to a black woman. An educated black person could expect a different experience to an educated person, and so on. In this case, the difference with significance is skin colour. A light skinned black person would have faced different judgement, expectations and prejudices than a dark skinned black person.

Zoe Salanda could probably play Nina Simone, if the film was just a film about Nina Simone hanging out in her bedroom singing into her afro comb. However, the minute Zoe Salanda’s Nina Simone leaves the house and goes to the shops, gets on a bus, just generally interacts with people, the film becomes a falsehood. A whole facet of American cultural history cannot be included in this movie because it’s not relevant to Zoe Salanda’s appearance. Nina would not have passed a ‘brown paper bag test’ so that’s something the film will omit from America’s history. Nina may have browsed through the bleaching section of the pharmacy store but Zoe would probably have to ignore that and buy herself some cocoa butter instead. Nina worked as a prostitute and the one thing sadder than her having to do that is that she would have been cheaper than a light skinned counterpart. Will Zoe just give out a discount?

The sad thing about the casting of Zoe Salanda is that is doesn’t challenge the existing and prevalent media and black obsession with light skinned black femininity. It’s a fucking tragedy black men are still in the public eye saying they wouldn’t touch a black dark skinned woman with a barge pole (admittedly in the case of Lil Wayne and Craig David, I can safely say the feeling is mutual). If a white person said words to this effect, they’d be on trial, but there is a frightening acceptance for black people to self-hate publically.

Why is it okay for these people to say these things? Because the broader media actually endorse the implied message; black females will only be defined as beautiful on terms that retain the myth that white female beauty is the ideal. There are a minority of ignorant black men who will say this shit so the established media of the oligarchy doesn’t have to!

Casting a modern dark skinned black beauty in a potentially seminal picture is an image that Hollywood doesn’t think will sell around the world. Nina looks nice in grainy black and white archive footage but in full technicolour, on the billboards, on buses, and on Imax, only what is tried and tested will do.

Which brings me back to the missed opportunity that is the casting of Zoe Salanda of Nina Simone. Is she beautiful, talented and deserving of success?  Hell yeah, Zoe gets my vote of respect, even though Avatar was shit. However I cannot endorse this decision, because Nina Simone sang songs of suffering, self-realisation and emancipation, and this casting does nothing to further loosen the grip of racist ideologies designed to destroy our self-esteem that Simone did so much to free us from.

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