Colorism in the Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter Film and Why It Does Matter

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In the film, Lincoln is portrayed as this fierce ax-wielding warrior, who is out on a mission to avenge his mother’s death as well as end slavery from the blood sucking slave masters, who of course, are vampires, who only enslave black folks to maintain their food supply. Not to give the film away too much but it’s a half way decent allegory of an institution that was way more complex than what is actually portrayed on screen. Lincoln wasn’t always the benevolent abolitionist, in fact he also harbored a lot of white supremacist views, and the institution of slavery including the Civil War, was buffed out and painted over. If anything, the film fits neatly in the category of the tired white savior troupe, which is basically lies white people tell themselves about history in order to relieve their guilt.

However this is not just about a horrible movie plot. This is about the images we see in popular culture, which have a profound effect on us. It’s part of the reason why folks fight so hard against Hip Hop and shows like “Basketball Wives.” While children of European ancestry have dozens of depictions of Abraham Lincoln, the same sort of reverence for black figures such as Tubman has yet to reveal themselves to mainstream viewing audiences. When they are, often times they are distorted or exhibited the same level of color consciousness, which has become so rampant in most of Hollywood.

Likewise, we can’t ignore the insurmountable evidence that colorism isn’t just a matter intra-racial jealous and bitterness.  A study commissioned by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, found that multiracial people tend to fall between blacks and whites in the American social hierarchy. A University of Georgia study shows that dark-skinned blacks face a distinct disadvantage when applying for jobs, compared to a black person of a lighter hue.  Another study reveals that light-skinned black women were sentenced to 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counterparts. And even in college, the place of so-called bastion for sophistication, a majority of African American students polled at one university thought lighter complexions to be more attractive than darker ones.

Skin lightening is on the rise all over the world in countries where dark people exist. Folks got through all sorts of emotional and physical changes, including reaching back in their ancestry to pull out whatever great-grandmother, who had ¼ blood of non-black heritage, in order to lessen any traces of their African ethnicities. Hip Hop artist constantly rap about their love of “redbones” and Little Kim, among other celebrities, tries to be one.  So yeah when I hear people, particularly our people, dismiss the impact that these visuals have on us mentally and emotionally, I can’t help to remind them that it does matter.

Being a brown skinned with a clayish red undertone, my skin color was never an issue for me. While I wasn’t as light-skinned as my mother and my younger brother, who often get confused with being Hispanic, I became well aware early on in life the social perks, which came from having more a socially respected complexion and hair texture. I was aware when my grandmother would sit me down in her kitchen and pinch my nose together in order to “fix” the “defect” of my flat, wide nose. I was aware when folks commented all the time about my “pretty” skin tone and often questioned about my “real” place of origin. And I was aware when a dude was I was dating once decided to confide in me his hatred of dark skinned people, unbeknownst to him that my father was one of these people, he despised.

It mattered when I worked one summer as a camp counselor in a racial mixed town in upstate Pennsylvania when I had to stop several of the biracial and lighter skinned girls from teasing the only dark skinned girl about looking like an “African Booty Snatcher.”  It mattered when two of my best friends in high school confided in me that they always hated their color and when a good friend in college broke down in tears after recounting how she was teased and ostracized in school by the guy for being “too black.” It mattered two years ago, when the then 11-year old dark skinned girl up the street from me tried to convince me that she wasn’t really black. That her dark brown skin was only her temporary color and that her “real” Indian and Puerto Rican heritage comes out in the winter.

Feminist Author Pearl Cleage once wrote in Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot, of her own encounter of being lighter skinned pedestal woman and the resentment she got from darker skinned sisters. Upon telling her mother about enduring teasing of being “light, bright and damn near white,” her mother told her to not take it personal as it is an indignant response to years of racism and abuse by the white power structure. Instead she told her to make it clear to them that they are her brothers and sister and that she too is black. Cleage writes that, “I tell this story here for two reasons. One to show that I understand the complexity of being part of a racial sub-group that is both punished and rewarded for the genes it shares with its former masters, and two because my mother was right. Being a light-skinned black American isn’t necessarily cause for condemnation, but it must bring with it a recognition that the only way to repay the debt owed for the unearned privilege afforded by the strange circumstances of racism is to understand that to whom much is given, much is expected.”

So yes, it matters when dark skinned historical figures, even in the most trivial of representations as a Vampire Huntress, are lightened to meet the needs of a color-struck palette. I firmly believe that somewhere along the lines, we have become so accustomed to the notion of not offending that we allow our own sensibilities to be trampled upon. But it’s one thing to be colorblind and another to have on your color-blinders on to the ways in which Hollywood, as well as society at-large, seems much more comfortable with women who look like Flemings than black women who look like Tubman. Therefore, it is our duty as sisters of all hues to call it out. TO stop supporting these entities, which seek to rewrite and whitewash us and to create and support people who seek to counteract these images. In the immortal words of Tubman,  “I freed a thousand slaves, I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

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