I Don’t Want The Black Jelly Beans!

It was the summer of 1996 I believe when I came for the first time to the U.S.A. on a brief scholarship. I was curious about how people in America were dealing with discrimination, so I proceeded to ask my questions and they so very kindly answered them. The intent was to create a book. But I got jostled about and so on. Again my apologies, but I shall publish it here, bit by bit.
Below follow excerpts from my chat with E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and literary activist, Director of the Afro-American Studies Resource Center, Howard University, Washington D.C.

You have students who come out of 4 years of college and have no desire to serve, see, they all want to make money! They have no desire of serving for a better society! If you go back to W.E. Du Bois he talks about a talent tenth concept. It’s like saying this 10% of the race which is able to get education, and and advance, okay? after doing that, must look back and help up the mass of people who have not been as fortunate, so you see, you just can’t say, “I got my education, you get yours!” [Laughs] You see? You can’t do that! The society would never develop. See, that’s individualism taken to an extreme, see, there has to be if you’re talking about oppressed people they have to be intellectuals, scholars, activists, who are committed to service, to helping the collective, the group develop, see, to move forward. You can’t say, “I got that you get yours!” You can’t say that! You can’t tightening the chains of oppression! You’re keeping the majority of your people still in bondage. Locked into their condition, in conditions of poverty and conditions that would be equivalent to like slavery and you’re not mentally or physically free. That’s bondage!

Well, you know, what you find when you’re dealing with I would call oppressed groups, okay, you have an oppressor, you have an oppressed, what happens is that the oppressed takes on many of the conditions and beliefs of the oppressor. I mean that’s how, that’s how they are kept oppressed. It is self-hatred, I mean that’s what it is! See, what happens is that in a society which is dominated by a particular group, that dominant group sets the tones and the terms of the values, okay, so if for example we are dealing with concepts of values of beauty, what constitutes beauty, well, beauty is gonna be defined by those characteristics of people in power! So, if for example we would look out the window we say, the dominant group would say, “Oh, there’s a beautiful woman!” what’s the criteria? “Oh, she’s blonde!” And if she’s blonde and has blue eyes and she’s slender that’s wow! that’s the type of woman! and so, okay, you have that as the standard of beauty.
Now, here is the oppressed group of another ethnic background who are small, stocky, have big butts, what happens with them? Right? So what happens, you know, or say, for example, say to Asians, okay? What’s the first that Asians want to do? They want to change their eyes! Right! Asian women want to change their eyes, they don’t want the eyes slanted, they don’t want the eyes slanted. See? Okay, if you’re, black people use to go to sleep with cloth pins on their nose! If you were a mother, if you were a mother and your baby is born, see, wow! my baby is born! I hope his nose is not gonna be flat! So you gonna pinch that nose! [Laughs] Because a straight nose it’s a sign of beauty, a flat nose is considered ugly. Or you have big lips. Don’t want big lips, I mean that’s it. The standard of beauty!
And it’s reinforced very heavily now thorough the media! See, this is what you have to battle and what happened here is very different because it’s not like this is 1862 or something like that, we’re dealing now with images bombarding our society, okay? It might be a person who is a famous movie star for the moment, one of the famous singers, and so what happens people want to be like that person so, you see, like T-shirts, that’s a big industry now, okay? So you have Madonna on your T-shirt. Well, if you have Madonna on your T-shirt, you want to look like Madonna, you see? So you make your hair like Madonna, see? If she pierces her ear, you want to have ear ring; if she has a nose ring, you want a nose ring, see? All these things! Why? Because it’s coming across the media, okay?
Just like you go back many years ago and there was a movie actress Bo Derek Cornrows! Bo Derek Cornrows! black people had cornrows for years. Bo Derek, who’s white, okay? movie star, okay? bikini, begins to cornrow her air, braids her hair! Big thing! Wow! This is like something new! All of a sudden this is the Bo Derek Row! Wait a minute! People been doing this for years!
And that open the door for hair rows, black people imitating Bo Derek, when their grand-mother have been braiding their hair that way they didn’t want to hear about being done that way, “Why are you braiding my hair, grandma?! I don’t want wear my hair like this in braids!” Now a white woman has braids, “Granma, can you…” And what happened, instead of going to grand-mother to get your hair braided, you go to a beauty parlor and pay $200 and get your hair braided, you see? It gets ridiculous.

The intellectuals are not in a leadership positions! If I am like a young person out on the street, I don’t care what the intellectuals says on the talk show, or if he writes a book saying I shouldn’t dye my hair yellow, I don’t care what they say! They only speak for themselves... They only speak for themselves; that’s what you run into, so the intellectuals don’t, it doesn’t matter what they think, see?
Pretty much what you see now is a market driven economy, okay? So the things that we like to have, what a person has or whatever, is pretty much the thing we’ve been bombarded with in terms of advertisements, commercials, and we adopt those things, we want those things, we wanna look like those people, because that’s what we’re being bombarded with! So all of a sudden in the middle of the night, instead of going and get a glass of water, you say, “God, I need a Pepsi!” Before in the middle of the night you go get some milk or water, right? “I got to get a Pepsi Cola!” See?

See, first of all, okay, if you deal with African-American community, right you have to acknowledge a fact that African-Americans come in all different colors and complexions, see, so you can’t say that a certain type of hair is the norm for black people, there are black people who’s hair is naturally blond! Is naturally blond! That’s in their genes! See, so you can’t say black people shouldn’t have it, but what you want to make sure is that someone who’s dark dark dark doesn’t bleach it blond, which is not real. You know, the key thing is for each person to be themselves, to look upon their natural beauty and accept it. There’s no reason why you got to change your hair, your nose or eye, the thing that you are beautiful, you know you are beautiful the way you are, I mean that’s that’s what if not you got all these people struggling trying to be something different than they are and that’s not good, it’s psychologically damaging.
Oh, I show you! I did this with my daughter! When my daughter was growing, and you could do this with young black children, if you take young black kids 3, 4 years old, maybe 3 to 5 years old, give them crayons and say, “Make a picture of yourself, or make a picture of your father and mother,” and the little black kids will draw and they’ll give you back pictures of white people, and you put black crayon in front of them, you say, “Why don’t you color it?” “Oh, black is ugly! I don’t want color them black! I don’t want to color them I don’t look like that!” and you put the crayons in front of them and they won’t color themselves! They continue to draw little white people.
I had this with my daughter.
Now, I got into a big argument with my wife, Why? Because I’m insisting that my daughter color herself in, right. You know what my wife says? My wife says, “Leave her alone! She’s just going through a stage!” I say, “Going through a stage?” I said, “I don’t know of any little white kids who’s calling themselves black going through a stage!” You see what I’m saying? I don’t see any little white kid color showing their mammy they’re black, you don’t see that! And what happened? I kept working with my daughter and she fought it and fought and fought it and what she began to do? She began to color the people blue, orange, anything but the color of herself. You see, she went through that stage, and I save these pictures. Then she reached the stage when she would color the figures in, but you know what’s interesting? She began to color figures in, but gave them no eyes, no nose, no mouth. They were just heads, colored heads, still no personality and then, eventually, by the time my daughter was like 7, I never forget, past 7, I went to the school, they had a school project with all the kids’ drawings, right? All the kids in the school, right. I knew my daughter’s! All these black kids, the only drawing of black people was by my daughter, all the other kids were still drawing themselves as if they were white kids, see. And that has a lot to do with how they see themselves, how they see themselves in terms of color, see?
Also, all of a sudden you look up and as a small child you don’t like the color black. Just like now, when I play with my children chess, you set the chess board out, “Okay pick the pieces,” immediately go to the black pieces. [Laughs] Now, if you go before the kids, immediately go to the white pieces. As I’m always saying even in the chess game the rule is the white pieces go first. [Laughs] It’s very funny, even with games, young kids reject those things which were black, “I don’t want the black jelly beans!” Anything, red, green, but you don’t want the black stuff, see? I mean, it’s that deep in terms of not wanting to be associated with anything black, they see it as very derogatory, see, and when you talk about correcting this, it’s so deep! See, because if you identify the problem and you try to correct it, like I try to correct it in my house, my wife! “Why are you doing it? Leave the child alone?!”
No! You can’t afford to leave the child alone because if one leaves the child alone, this is what’s gonna happen. My daughter, okay, what I didn’t do, when my daughter was young see my picture of my wife, her hair is very short, very short, see, like mine, very, very short, and what happened, what I should have done, I should have cut off my daughter’s hair very early so her hair would be just like her mother’s, she wouldn’t known any difference, but I let her hair grow and since she is in school, school friends, they all look like this, so you comb her hairs and sometimes for young girls it begins with dolls!
Many a time when you give a child a doll, the child plays with the hair of the doll, okay? When I was growing up, my sister, she’s older than me, there were no black dolls, If you found a black doll, was like a collected item, but you went to the store, there were no black dolls, so black kids grew up with white dolls, okay? So here is a girl, she has a doll, and she’s starting to play with a doll, combs the dolls hair, oh, nice and long, right? After a while what happens? She wants her hair like the doll’s hair, and man, if the comb doesn’t go pulling her hairs out! That’s what you dealing with, see?
So what happens now, you go out, you get five black dolls, but sometimes some of the stores don’t promote the black dolls. I remember my wife went out, ‘cause we had a rule, no white dolls in the house, see, and my daughter’ godfather bought her a two-doll set, one black, one white, two dolls like little Barbies. My daughter playing with the white doll all the time, combing her hair and stuff, and you know what I did? like in the Native Son, when she wasn’t looking, I took the white doll and put it in the trash. I had to throw the doll because I knew what was happening. She was identifying very strong with the doll. I threw the doll out, I had to do it!
Now my daughter, she’s reading the magazines and stuff, and all of a sudden now when I say, “Why not get a short haircut?” “I don’t wanna get my hair like that! Like my mother’s!” See, it’s too late. Maybe when she goes off to college, she might meet some friends and maybe in the sophomore years she decide she cut her hair off, say and she come home, “This is what everybody’s into!” who knows! but right now I can’t touch her hair, see, I can’t touch her hair, see. It’s very political, it’s always been very very political in the community, and many times the hair is also linked to complexion.
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, fight against racism being one of them, I’d be ever so grateful.

Thanks go to my family for their quiet support.
April 2nd, 2013
New York

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