by Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn, originally published at Digital Femme
Long ago, when I was much younger than I am today, my aunt purchased a VHS tape of cartoons for my cousins and I to watch. She quickly removed the plastic wrapper, slammed the cassette into the VCR, and promptly left the room in order to tackle the long list of chores she had that day.
My cousins were toddlers. I was a small child.
I’m sure that my aunt believed that what she had set us down in front of was harmless. And it initially was. My cousins and I laughed at silly cartoons of goofy animals. The images were dated, but still quite funny. And watching them made me feel good.
Somewhere around the middle of the tape, the images changed. The animals vanished. There were no longer quick-witted bunnies or dim-witted pigs. There were black people. Black people that were designed to look like animals. Gargantuan lips. Inhuman noses. Blue-black skin.
Images all based on caricatures designed to ridicule the features of black people. Images that I saw before me.
I cried. I actually cried until I made myself physically ill. But I wouldn’t tell anyone what was wrong.
A few days later I approached my mother and told her that I didn’t want to be ugly anymore. I told her that I wanted to be white.
My mother looked at me and smiled. She told me if I waited in the bedroom for her that she would make me white. I waited, and after a few moments she entered with a bottle of lotion. She spread the lotion out in a thick layer on my legs as if she was icing a cake. My chocolate brown skin began to slip from view.
She stopped after a few moments and looked at me.
“Doesn’t that look silly?”
I nodded as she bent over to wipe the lotion from my legs.
“See? You’re not supposed to be white! You’re exactly how God made you to be. You understand?”
I understood perfectly. God meant for me to be black. He meant for me to be ugly. And I believed that for a long time. Because that’s what the images I had seen had taught me to believe.
I’m actually terrified to have kids. Because it’s inevitable that my children are going to come across the same type of caricatures that I did as a child. Why? Because comic and cartoon fandoms cling to these caricatures and cherish them. They create new ones based upon the older incarnations. They place these images above the basic human dignity of black people. They tell black people that nostalgia is more important than their humanity.
What am I going to tell my child when he or she comes across these images? How am I going to rebuild his or her spirit when the images break it? Because my mother’s initial approach? Did not work. And fandom simply isn’t going to let these images go. They don’t respect us enough to do so.
So, what am I supposed to do?