Post Date: 22nd Oct, 2007 - 8:04pm
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On Being A Darkie, Spanish, Whitey, or Reds
Yesterday I came across this blog which discusses the issue of what it means to be a "Darkie" as well as "Spanish" and other terms we often hear in Trinidad. I must confess the way the terms are used here are absolutely different as how I personally would use it, specially the term "Spanish".
Anyhow, you can read the entry blog and add your views. Do you find the term "Darkie" insulting or nothing wrong with it?:
So I"Ve been thinking about language and the various forms it takes on through those deeply imbued meanings and societal meanings through popular colloquialisms. Specifically though, I"Ve been thinking about those various instances while walking down the street in Trinidad and some random man at the side of the road hisses, "Darkie" to me in a licentious tone as I walk on by. It usually brings a smile to my face these days and it's not just nostalgic because I spend most of the year in school in the States. The contemporary usage of the word "Darkie" fascinates me. Despite the scope of this blog, I am a feminist, so I believe that it is no where near as offensive as say, a man shouting, "Yuh have REAL nice breasts!" (Which has also happened. Cringe.) Funnily enough, it seems as though it's not really me, or this female body that I possess, that is being objectified per se (Though technically, it's still a kind of catcall). It's really largely attributed to the fact that I am a particular shade. While catcalls of darkie are still sexist to a certain extent; it is not reserved solely for women. Men can be darkies too. When someone says darkie to me, it's not as overtly sexist as some other things one might say. Its contemporary usage here is also markedly different from the American "Darky" (With a "Y") which is an old-termed racial slur rooted in the era of blackface and epitomizing the negative stereotypes of dark-skinned people.
Which begs the question, are you a "Darkie" because you are dark-skinned and perceived as attractive by the said individual or are you one just because of your dark skin tone? Depending on the context, the answer may fall somewhere between a combination of the two. And so I find myself contemplating the way in which the term "Darkie" is used at home. I like the term darkie, in fact I am quite fond of the word itself because it is rooted entirely in skin color. But not just any skin color but a dark skin tone. It's more than just descriptive as well. More like a verbal sound-kiss against ebony skin. One that is not heard too often in many other places. Darkie is an offspring of the word dark and exists on the opposite end of the spectrum from "Light." It is talking specifically and entirely about a beautiful dark skin tone, in all its chocolate splendor. Especially as it is frequently paired with an equally endearing qualitative adjective, 'sweet."
As in, "Dat is one sweet darkie dere." I love it. I cannot think of any other endearing descriptive term that is located entirely in a dark skin tone. "Black" people are all tones and it's kind of a neutral term. "Darkie," is full of warmth, at least when used by a Trini and even more complimentary when you place 'sweet" before it. I"Ve had some Latinos call me a "Morena," and depending on who you ask, it either means a Dominican female, a black female from anywhere, a black Latina or any female with African ancestry mixed in there somewhere. My Trini friend studying in Brazil (Who might be a few smidgens "Lighter" than me) told me once about the Brazilian men referring to her on the street as "Mocha." I am not exactly sure if it was always positive or negative or mixed.
One term that comes to mind in correlation to "Darkie" is "Browning" and the two terms function differently in very distinct ways. Patricia Mohammed in her piece describes the usage of "Browning" in Jamaican culture as connected to "A preference for "Brown" as opposed to black women or unmixed women." Furthermore, a Trini friend who did her degree in Jamaica, complained to me once that everyone there thought that she was rolling in money only because she was "Brown," even though she was not and this was always annoying to her. "Browning" then functions in Jamaica as a kind of perceived socio-economic marker as well. It is class, color and status all rolled into one in a way that the term darkie is not. The term "Darkie" does not confer any particular social or economic status for the ascribed individual other than, well being a dark-skinned person. This need for a kind of induced othering (That is other than black that is), exists in many places to varying degrees. This comes as a result of slavery and the high value placed on white culture and by association, anything that was further from African-ness was closer to white and therefore better. Black was visibly other than white and therefore bad. Saying darkie is like calling attention to that which others fight to be other than.
Black Americans instituted the "Paper bag test" which followed the same theory that the category of "Browning" seems to allude. Probably "Red-bone" in the States as it is used today particularly in urban culture is closer to "Browning." Just as Mohammed references the Buju Banton song "Love mi Browning," in the States, the "Red-bone" is almost always a desirable female of a particular shade. She is the counterpart of the desirable brown skinned woman and the much sought after mulatta. It is interesting to note that it is always women who get color categorized the most by societal terminology. Colorism serves an important function of separating certain people from quote-on-quote "Blackness." You know, if one happens to be so inclined that is. It allows people to safely attribute some ambiguous mixed heritage with just the right amount of African heritage.
In Trinidad, Aisha Khan in her piece notes that the term "Spanish" functions in that way, where ""Spanish" is used in part to affirm an ethnic hierarchy where 'softened" or ambiguous "African" or "Black" convey and confer a higher status that modifies the perceived stronger or more clear-cut expression of "African" or "Black" attributes." The thing is in the West Indies, significant amounts of people are in fact mixed. What concerns me though is the ease with which we tend to steer away from an African connection as though it is sickening like the plague. All these terms in effect serve as "Ethnic modifiers" of blackness. That is to say, this is where they are historically rooted. As though it is something dirty that we"D rather not be tarnished with. That's kind of sad, the fact that people are so deathly afraid of being linked to "Blackness....