Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


V027-04_colorAdamWF2When news began to flow out of Australia about Lebanese immigrants being attacked by gangs of “whites” on Sydney’s beaches I was reminded of what one of former colleagues on our faculty at SDSU went through back when Iranian revolutionaries raided the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held its occupants for 444 days. My colleague came into my office (I was “chair” at the time) rightly upset that he was walking home when a car drove by and some youths yelled “Go home, you Iranian-Muslim bastard, or we’ll kill you!”   My colleague was an American citizen with a Ph.D. from an American university, and a Hindu from Calcutta. “I’m not Iranian,” he protested.”

“I know that,” I replied, ”but you’re a ‘swarthy guy’; just the wrong shade on that side of the street.”   He wanted to know where ‘swarthy guys’ were from, and I told him “lots of places,” resisting the impulse to say “Why Swarthia, of course.”

The Australians were reported to be attacking anybody with dark skin. They probably would have attacked my colleague.   And they probably would have attacked me.   I’m a ‘swarthy guy.’ And proud of it!

Eventually, Swarthies will dominate the world, at least chromatically.   Interracial marriage continues to increase, and gradually the tinting of the human race will evolve into some polychromatic mongrelization that Nazis (paleo- and neo-) are always ranting about.   But for the time being, that bleached look seems to be preferred. Almost all peoples of color, it seems, prefer lighter shades of pigmentation; lightening creams, bleaches, and other nostrums sell briskly to those bent on achieving that elusive “lightness of being.”   Take a look at the most popular entertainers or the commercial ads in countries of people with color, actors and models with the lightest pigmentations predominate.   It begins early, this preference for lightness.   Peruse children’s cartoons and animations and very often the evil person is cast is darker tones.   And let’s not forget Darth Vader.

I am quite content being a Swarthie, and even resentful when the nearest box I can check on a form is “White,” or when I am in Hong Kong and I a referred to as a “gweilo” (white ghost) despite the fact that I am shade darker than most of the Chinese people there.   Now, I figure that different amounts of melanin in our skin has some relationship to the environments in which different members of our species spent lengthy periods of evolutionary time.  

Fundamentalist Christian would prefer not to address the question as on of evolution, of a process whereby different humans “adapted” to the different climatic conditions they evolved in, that skin pigmentation has some sort of function, like kinky hair, Semitic noses, squat or lanky bodies, and such.   That would open doors they just don’t want to go through because it might not square with scriptural accounts of things.

OK, we won’t go there.   So, what was God up to in making those “in His own image” in different colors.   Maybe God, the white guy in the center of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is a bit of a puppet master, messing around in his creation, particularly our lives, a little bit like Zeus and the ancient Greek pantheon.   God the dramatist.   Let’s face it, without some entertainment, heaven as we have imagined it must be a pretty boring place. [1]  

For example, I imagine that God, when He was doing his creation thing, decided it would be interesting to see what would happen if he made people different colors.   Which color would rise to the top, he might have wondered (that is, of course, unless as so many believe, He had a favorite color—you know, the color He is on the Sistine ceiling—all along), what color would have become dominant if He just left things alone.   It would be like a race to see who is the favorite color.   “Hey, there’s a good idea,” God said, “I’ll call that difference “race”!   In a race there is a winner and losers.”  

We, of course, no matter what color we are, are supposed to figure out what the hell to do with this reality.   Are we just supposed to conclude that God made us these different colors so we could, like uniforms, know what team we are on?   Are we supposed to match our color with those on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and figure out which race God must like best? [2]   Maybe we are supposed to figure out what part of the world suits our skin color the best and go, and stay, there.  

Or, and this is the most interesting of all, are we supposed to pass some sort of test, the test being that we must figure out that the color is something we are supposed to learn to see past and to see the essential humanity of God’s creation, eventually make race a matter of no consequence.   Maybe God is not a racist, but wants to see if we can overcome our racism.

But when you see photos of the Australian “whites” screaming racial epithets at Lebanese immigrants, and the poor African-Americans of New Orleans all but being ignored by their government, and even members of the same race discriminating over different shades of skin tone, well, it seems like people still might not have figured out what the “game” is really about.

We Swarthy guys are right in the middle.   We know that our “color” is a matter of context.   Put us in a bunch of really “white” people and we look darker, put us among very dark people and we’re the “whities.”   We have to be careful not get into the color game ourselves.   We also have to learn how to duck.   It will probably be like that until the time when everywhere is a “Swarthy.”

Still, I think if he had to do it all over again we should take away God’s box of Crayons.

©2005, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 12.20.2005)

[1] The Greeks figured that out early; Olympus was like a soap opera and they were always popping down to earth to get in on some of the mortal action.

[2] It seemed that God was getting a little darker over the years from candle soot and such, so he was recently whitened up by the art restorers.