“I’m tired of talking about the problems. Do you have any solutions?”
Surely you’ve heard this sentiment before, usually in reference to a speech or article about some sort of social or political issue, challenge or deficiency. Whether or not the speaker is a certified expert on the matter at hand, or standing on the corner with some questionably researched reading materials, there’s usually someone there to say, “Enough of your talking, what are you going to do?”
They aren’t entirely wrong. Lip service is a booming business. There are loads of people who can (and do) talk all the livelong day about the perils of the world, but can’t lift more than a finger to a keyboard to complain. However, we can’t simply fire back with, “What you gon’ do about it?,” when they discuss racism, sexism, poverty or any other widespread malady.
Why? Well, it’s difficult to prescribe a solution to a phenomenon that hasn’t been universally accepted as a problem. A discussion of racism with the average group of White Americans, as studies have shown, would likely include remarks that race is no longer a major issue in this country. Similarly, attempting to engage the typical man about sexism and patriarchy can be a frustrating task. And if you dare to bring up race specific issues of gendered oppression and maltreatment with a Black man, more often than not, you better be prepared for him to run his LOLerskates all over your argument.
And even some of our cultural problems that seem to be widely acknowledged still rear their heads often enough to merit a discussion that invites folks who may not acknowledge or recognize them to take a serious look at the issue. For example, just over a week ago, one of the creators of the Mixed Chicks hair product line tweeted, “#teamlightskin sure hope all will try @mixedchicks to care for those curls.” #Teamlightskin and #Teamdarkskin are hashtags that have been used on Twitter by folks promoting all sorts of divisive foolishness about the ‘superiority’ of one’s complextion. This tweet was, of course, a PR headache for the small California-based company. Whomever maintains the account later went back and apologized in a few tweets, adding, “didn’t realize there was still a war. thought everyone celebrated differences like that. again, we apologize.”
I wasn’t angry at whomever the Tweeter was; I honestly think that the remark was made out of major naivete. Somehow, this person didn’t relealize that complextion is still a painful subject for a lot of folks. It’s odd to me that someone wouldn’t know that, but then again, I wasn’t raised by an interracial couple and I’m not surrounded by mixed couples/people. There are groups of people in this country who DO have that experience and some of the more nuanced, yet significant, matters of Blackness may not be constant topics of conversation. There are also Black folks who ARE dealing with very common Black issues, yet travel in circles in which they simply aren’t acknowledged or discussed as problems. I’ve heard full-grown Black people make statements about a certain complexion being “prettier” with no hesitation, no, “I know this is kinda bogus, but…” as if they were simply stating a fact.
The path to solutions is marked with a LOT of discussion. Now that the anonymous Tweeter is even slightly more aware of the color issue, hopefully she’ll look at things a little bit differently. Or, perhaps she’ll even take the time to do a little research and find out how such an “innocent” comment could get so many people upset. When dealing with matters that require individuals to adopt some sort of paradigm shift, there is a level of discussion and convincing that needs to take place to get them to that point. Increased diversity in the appearance of Black people in the media is a tangible step towards helping us end our issues with color; however, how do we expect the art directors and casting agents to choose a more varied pool if they haven’t first had some exposure to the problem? And if audiences respond most favorably to pictures of the man who looks like this and the woman who looks like that, then the conversation with the casting agent becomes even more complicated.
We can’t bypass discussion and skip to solutions. Furthermore, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. In some cases, the discussion IS the solution. And, in others, the two work hand in hand to get us where we need to go.