“This is disgusting,” I say, tearing the poster off of the register and holding it up for the man and woman behind the counter. “This is the reason people hate themselves, people kill themselves, people kill each other. You’re contributing to people dying…how does that feel?” - Carlos Andres Gomez
Some stuff in this article has me side-eying real hard….. REAL HARD!!!
I needed to sit with this for a little while before I could break down what I was feeling.
I have definitely been that person before. One minute, you’re out and about trying to do A, B, or C and then something happens. You encounter something that sends you to that really intense - ‘this shit is just too much, too real, too deep’ - place and suddenly you have to let it all out or risk being consumed by the intensity of what you’ve just experienced. I think that’s what happened to Carlos and I can really relate to that.
It reminds me of this one time when I was doing undergrad in Connecticut. I was at a smallish house party that was almost completely people of color. Latin music was being played loudly and a bunch of us were sitting around drinking and talking about some recent altercations with school’s public safety officers stemming from some questionable (racist) campus security emails that were being sent on a weekly basis. My boo at the time, a rich light skinned half Korean half white man who had grown up in a rural environment, started to crack jokes about how if the cops or public safety showed up, he should be the one to go out to talk to them because he (in his mind) looked white. At first we all kind of laughed but as the joke kept going, you could feel the mood shift completely and folks became uncomfortable. Suddenly, there was no humor in what was being said.
Later, when we were alone, he asked me if I was mad at him because of his joke. I told him that ‘mad’ wasn’t the word - I felt talked over. For me, the joke stopped being funny when it became clear that he really was telling us to ‘stay inside the house’ while he handled things with the police. I told him that I’m sure he had the best of intentions in wanting to help out his friends but what he really was doing was reinforcing some fucked up dynamics by asserting that he would be the face of our group (subtext: because his face was more acceptable). So not only did we need to be silent (not speak to the officers) we also needed to be invisible (stay inside, out of sight). There were other light skinned folks present, my self included, but there was a reason he didn’t think that we should go outside - we were light Black and Latino folks. I told him that sometimes offering to do something is very different than saying you should be the one to do something.
Of course, that situation is different. But for me, it was an example of when good intentions manifest themselves in questionable or problematic ways. I think it would be a mistake to brush aside critiques of Carlos’ story or the “side eyes” it may receive as being from people who aren’t invested in this in any kind of real world way. I’d like to think that I’d have follow up questions for Carlos regardless of if I knew him - I mean, maybe even more so then.
His words leave me feeling very unsettled at moments:
Suddenly I feel a lot taller than everyone else. As I soak in the moment, I realize that I am in fact about half a foot taller than every person in this store. Right next to the fashion district. In this tight-knit neighborhood, crowded meeting place for so many newly-arrived West African immigrants trying to sell their wares, hustling hard, to survive in America after winning a lottery (more precious than any I will ever know) to get into this country –
made for people who look like me.
I see the two daughters of the mother from Guinea staring at me, a bit bewildered by the entire exchange. Both fear and admiration in their curious young eyes, watching me, the lightest skinned fool in the room hold court –
with my green eyes from my WASP mother, my light skin, and my shade under six foot build, having just berated and shamed and belittled every person within thirty feet of me. You happy now, Carlos?
“I’m sorry, sir,” the man behind the counter says, “I’ll tell the owner what you said. It’s just that people buythis stuff. I don’t think it’s right, but they do. They can’t live without it. We might not have a store if it wasn’t for this.”
So what about those girls? And the man of color who works in a store that he doesn’t own and that might not exist were it not for the demand for this skin cream? What do they walk away with? In his own words, Carlos acknowledges that what he’s done is berate someone.
In conclusion, Carlos writes:
I don’t care what your race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, ability, nationality, language, identity, or story is…we need to make the world a safer place for each other. We need to make sure that when we see things like Skin Whitenizer in a store window that we say something – every single time. Because it is a terrorist threat. More real than any other about which we’ve been warned. It is in fact more than a threat. It as an act of the most horrific aggression, a weapon that terrorizes us all, but most harshly targets those who are disenfranchised and oppressed, convincing us the greatest lie ever told:
You are not enough.
I can certainly relate to Carlos’ passion and his feeling of being fed the fuck up with all the ways in which society tries to tell us that our bodies and our lives ain’t worth shit and I definitely agree with his belief that “we need to make the world a safer place for each other” but I think we need to think critically about how we do this. If you say you’re trying to empower me so that I have pride in my self, what does it mean if when you walk away, I don’t feel that all? So, what happened to the people who were the receptacles for Carlos’ outpouring? What does it mean for them to have encountered this light-skinned Latino man who wants to them to understand color politics the way that he does?
And that is where my own look of concern comes from.
frankly, his rage was misdirected and as a lightskinned POC berating darkskinned POC who will never enjoy the lightskin privilege he was born with, and feeling SUPERIOR to them on top of it
is how you do it WRONG. there are power dynamics and all he did was play to them on some savior shit, as someone who is above them on the social scale to begin with. know your motherfuckin place, when you preachin about how you *know* about the hierarchy better than those below you.
he dead ass wrong. does he do that shit to the WHITE people who got us here? prolly not.
boy bai, not w them shoes on.