The photo above is for an upcoming fete in Barbados. It invites attendees to bring either a pack of chocolate teatimes or a pack of vanilla teatime cookies to indicate one’s preference for either dark-skinned black women or light-skinned black women. Except that we know from Buju Banton and from Patricia Mohammed that there is much more going on here than mere individual preference: (hetero)sexualising, commodifying and consuming women, equating them with food, reducing a woman’s value to her attractiveness to men, producing norms around beauty, hair, attractiveness and body size that are racialised and gendered; and of course, our history as plantation societies and its attendant anti-black racism and sexism which excludes some black women and includes others insofar as their bodies can be consumed through sexual labour, service and desire. In short, the colonization of our very desires. The very intimate reach of power.
In Patricia Mohammed’s article she makes the point that in Buju’s apologetic “Love Black Woman” the black woman gets respect, not desire. Desire is reserved for the brownin. The ad above clearly shows both the “darkie” and “brownin” both as objects of desire. And that’s not progress, that’s the problem. Women remain as objects of male desire. In our recent #catchafyah tweet chat women shared their dislike for being disrespected, objectified and harassed on the street. Some, however, admitted to wanting “a sweet word” when they walk by and to feeling disappointed when no such sweet word was forthcoming. One shared that as a teenager with low self-esteem not feeling desired by men left her feeling bad about herself.
Edited to add: Creative Commess argues that the term darkie (at least in the context of Trinidad and Tobago) is used for both men and women and
functions as an important reaffirmation of Afro-descendant beauty, by calling attention to a certain skin tone in all its chocolate splendor. Its contemporary usage in Trinbagonian society is also markedly different from the American term “darky” (or other cultural uses, with or without a “y”) which is an old termed racial slur, rooted in the era of blackface, epitomizing the negative stereotypes of all dark-skinned people.
At CODE RED for gender justice we have an ongoing project which examines race and gender in Caribbean advertising. (See also Rum and Rape Culture, our most popular post to date.) Please email us your submissions at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com.