I want to write about an article I read in the timestoday: “Beach Essentials in China: Flip-Flops, a Towel and a Ski Mask.” I came to the computer to comment on this. Perhaps I will eventually write a haiku to tweet with the URL, but I feel like the article on masks to keep women from darkening their faces on a Chinese beach simply ridicules the phenomenon without examining any of the secondary antecedents. Dan Levin does point out the cultural bias that exists within Chinese culture and notes the class distinctions that pre-date European colonization of China in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I am sure that the “Mandarins” of the north who had run the Empire for millennia had cast aspersions on the southern laborers who spoke Cantonese and probably had to work outside more. I am also certain that it was not the working the fields that caused the Darker Skinned Chinese their pigmentation, but natural selection for living in a warmer, more fecund, climate. This nicely parallels the Teutonic pretensions of the colonial powers of Northern Europe of the colonial age.
I feel like the deep seated bigotry that I am writing about here needs some discussion. While I do think “White Supremacy” is a serious problem and had both culturally and institutionally corrupted human society; the societies that don’t even have “whites” in them also suffer from this bigotry. Interestingly, like religious bigotry (anti-semitism, anti-agnosticism [forced religiosity] and the late-comer Islamophobia) is really a place-holder for economic and cultural hegemony. Most racism is actually just a tool of entitlement, privilege and wealth. We dress up our vicious and venal fight for our “things” as a “religious” or cultural battle. The truth is we are fighting tooth and nail to keep things the way we are comfortable with them: maintaining our position and privileges. If we looked at life structurally or materially rather than emotionally this would be clearer. Of course the leaders, who use the colorless language of diplomacy in public, understand this perfectly.
The uneducated believe the lies of racial inferiority and proudly adhere to it in the hopes of acquiring some of the privileges unfairly denied the underclass.
“A woman should always have fair skin,” she said proudly. “Otherwise people will think you’re a peasant.”
This quote seems to lie on the cusp of the class-race North-South distinction. In the speakers mind is a rough bastardization of the “light supremacy” of the ancient mandarins (& colonial Northern Europeans). Indeed, I argue that the real Brahmins, Mandarins, and Patricians only understand this as a way to hold those who have had to work for them down. When someone is actually an intellectual or morally elevated profiteer, my experience shows, that “they” (the ‘light’) accept those who can profit them fairly readily. The overclass will continue to publicly spout these racist/classist/pigmentationist truisms, but they will not let them interfere with the acquisition of wealth.
A “peasant” is someone who believes these nonsensical distinctions, not someone who has browned in the sun of manual labor. [Digression Time] Indeed, when you have people of color integrated into a power structure that casts aspersions on colored people you see the “wheels of rationalization” grinding the cane of racist statements into the sweet treacle of their exceptionalism. When I played on my HS Hockey team I was one of those people who accepted the class distinction argument of race to excuse the knuckleheads who gave me associative power. The rationalization goes something like this: “I’m not a Nigger because I am not a poor ebonic speaking African American who participates in x, y and z behaviors.” So I’m not a Nigger because these people, my “friends” and “accomplices” understand how I’m different. I will ignore how they are my only “pass” in the white supremacist world that these utterances create and continue. [END digression] The poor who are not well represented in the New York Times except for Somalia-like pathogens or snake-handling coal-mining eccentrics, believe the lies that their cultures tell them: dark skin makes you a peasant, vulnerable to the white sails of colonialism and exploitation. To believe the woman’s fear of melanin you have to think that Europe and America are rich not because of the 18th century military-industrial advantages, but because they have light skin, untarnished by agrarian manual labor.
The New York Times author and editor are free to ignore this subtext because though it is comic puff-piece that ridicules Chinese (read indigenous/3rd world) culture.
“People just don’t want to get tan.”
This statement by someone who obviously subscribes to the “light is better” ethos that benefits the ruling elite, the European Americans that subscribe to this paper and, presumably, Levin, the author of this (incomplete) piece. A bit more inquisitiveness would have drawn out the cultural antecedents that make “tans,” as signifiers of work, a symbol to be eschewed. Indeed, throughout the “Globalized World,” dark skin is a liability, at least subconsciously. [Digression Time] “Globalization” is the heir apparent to white supremacist capitalism. Now anyone can participate in globalization, however they cannot participate in it without using the tools of an unfair and rapacious system that disproportionately benefits the scions of “traditional capitalism.” I want to note here that what I mean by “traditional capitalism” is not capitalism, rather the centralization that benefits those in power. The Soviet Union, now devolved to so many dictatorships and potentates, was no less a “capitalist state” in my understanding. We, the subjects of these oligarchies, are no freer from the tyranny of the multinationals than the Soviet Subjects were free from Josef Stalin & Chairman Mao’s 5 year plans. [END digression]
I used Diigo stickynotes to compose the first draft of this. I have proofread it and continued with the rough-draft-on-line-composition. Let me know what you think, if you can stand my scribbling and actually get to the end here. Perhaps this could be a new way of teaching critical analysis and staging research papers for my students. Any comments (Even those like “Tom” below) are helpful.