When I started this blog I promised myself not to use it as a platform to rant. If this post violates that promise I apologize, but this struck me as something I wanted to say. After a week in the sun in Mexico we have returned to Calgary, where shirts are definitely required both for etiquette and for survival. Not so in these hotter climes, and this doffing of clothing in worship of the sun gods got me thinking.
While sitting around a pool at a resort hotel you see all kinds of interactions, or lack thereof with the sun.
Caucasians remove shirts, spend large sums of money and risk pain, cancer and other hazards just to be tanned or darker.
African-Americans in general avoid the sun, presumably because being cool is more pleasant, and the sun won’t have much effect on skin colour either.
Just adding any old colour to our white skin won’t do. Red is bad and perhaps indicates a lack of common sense or recklessness. Too brown and we seem vain, lazy or perhaps foolhardy in the damage we do to ourselves. No … we are after that perfect, uniform, golden-brown suntan that screams … “Look at me! I’ve been south! I must be pretty prosperous to take time off in the winter just to get a tan!”. In short, in our western society the perfect tan is a form of a status symbol.
It hasn’t always been so, however. In feudal China and Japan, the paler the skin tone the more prosperous the individual, as it implied that the owner of the pearly white hide was wealthy enough not to have to toil in the sun on a daily basis. When they ventured outdoors, it would be with a parasol (umbrella) to shield their delicate skin from the darkening rays.
Tim, a friend of mine from the Caribbean, points out to me that a similar phenomenon exists in the Afro-American community … a desire for lighter skin. We are all familiar with the most famous of these cases being Michael Jackson, but it may be more common than the Caucasian community knows. Tim had the following to say about this …
“The Afro-Caribbean voice is simply…look at these crazy white folks who kill themselves in the sun to have skin more like mine but treat me like I am less than human because of the colour of my skin. The flip side however is that within the Black communities, people with longer/straighter hair and lighter skin are seen as more desirable and are treated better.”
So what is my point through this? When seen as described above, this pursuit of the perfect skin tone sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it? Haven’t we humans been making judgements about the merits of others solely on the colour of their skin for centuries? Hasn’t darker skin generally been something that society has discriminated against? And yet we seek it for ourselves? Does this make sense?
Can we just get over this petty differentiation and consider it possible for people to connect with anyone, be given an opportunity to grow to their fullest capacity and allowed to contribute to our global society based purely on the gifts they were given and skills they have developed, without creating expectations based on the colour and tone of their skin?