Talk about words that sting to the core. Harry Reid’s recent comments about President Barack Obama‘s light skin and acceptable non-”Negro” vocabulary and speech brought back a rush of memories that I’m sure most African-Americans would like to forget.
Since the days of slavery, skin color has been used as a tool of separation and preferential treatment within the black community. The residue of the “house” versus “field Negro” divide has long remained with us, even as we celebrated black pride in the ’70s and hip-hop culture in the ’80s. House slaves were usually products of a relationship between a master and a female slave, so they tended to have lighter skin. The boss’s offspring would more than likely receive the special favor of doing work inside the house out of the hot sun. They’d eat better, often get taught to read and write, and enjoyed many of the liberties of nonslaves. Slaves with darker skin were usually stuck toiling in the fields. The anger over that old distinction has never quite gone away in African-American culture.
And Reid’s recent controversial and disturbing statements prove that no matter how hard we as African-Americans try to move past a racial stigma that’s haunted us for far too long, mainstream America just won’t let us let it go.