Monday, June 6, 2011

There Is More to Rihanna's Man Down Than Violence

There has been quite a bit of controversy over Rihanna's new video for the song Man Down.  It has generally speaking, focused on the fact that a rape victim decides to shoot her rapist in a public place. I am going to embed the video below, for those of you who have not seen it.

I am not a fan of Rihanna's music, but I decided to watch the video because of all the commentary and controversy surrounding it.  I watched it expecting to see more than I would on an average night of television, movies or even video games, and what I saw in terms of violence was decidedly tame.  I can understand as a parent wanting to protect a child from unnecessary violence; however, this is the job of the parent, not the media.

What did stand out to me immediately, was the race of the rapist.  The man Rihanna chose to play her rapist, was a dark skinned Black man.  Amidst all the talk of violence, revenge and sexual assault, there was obvious colourism in action, and no one decided to say a damn thing about it.  It means something when a light skinned Black woman, chooses to portray her rapist as a dark skinned Black man.  By saying this, I am in no way denying that intra-racial violence is a huge issue within the Black community; however, the silence surrounding her choice of rapists, tells me that once again colourism is something that many are far too happy to blatantly ignore, though it is incredibly harmful.

I don't know whether or not Rihanna is a survivor of rape, but we do know that Chris Brown, a light skinned Black man, is the one guilty of physically assaulting her.  As I watched the video, I kept wondering why she couldn't have chosen a light skinned Black man, Asian, East Indian or even White man to play the part of the rapist?  We know that most often in the media, when a rapist is portrayed, it is the dark skinned Black man that is chosen to play the role, that is of course, when they get a break from being saved by loving White families. Rihanna, as a Black woman, could not have been ignorant to this fact.

Colourism means that the worst attributes are always ascribed to darker skinned people, which means that far too often, they are seen as ugly, violent and in some cases even savage.  This is a direct result of the internalization of racism and slavery.  It was no accident that the dark skinned person worked in the field, while the light skinned person worked in the big house.  There was even a time when doctor's espoused that the lighter the skin, the more human a person was.  There are  Black families who worked generation by generation to eliminate the Black blood in their bodies, by specifically seeking out Whites to have children with.  There are also Black families that do not inter-marry with dark skinned people, and treat and dark skinned members in their family's, as if they are an embarrassment. In Soledad O'Brien's documentary Black in America, she interviewed Dr. Micheal Eric Dyson, and his dark skinned brother, who is serving a life sentence.  Dr. Dyson made it clear that he had opportunities that were denied his brother, simply because he is a light skinned man and his brother is dark skinned. Dyson said, "being a dark skinned Black man has an incriminating effect to many people."

Knowing the effect of colourism in the Black community, is it really possible to assume innocence in Rihanna's choices? I certainly don't expect White parenting groups to pick up on this issue, because it serves their interests to keep Blacks divided, but the silence within the community itself, is really rather telling.  We have had celebrities like Chris Brown openly say that they are only interested in light skinned Black women, and there are Black celebrities who cannot wait to get a White trophy wife on their arm, because White women are understood to represent the pinnacle of womanhood. To be a dark skinned Black person is to be attacked, as the preview for the documentary Black Girls has so clearly shown.

I am sure that people will continue to debate the issue of violence, revenge, and sexual assault, that the video presents, but it saddens me to know that once again colourism will be ignored.  Colourism is a sickness within our community, and though it does not originate with us, we perpetuate it in a million different ways everyday.  Intra-racial violence and sexual assault, are something we absolutely need to discuss, because Black women have long been devalued; however, while doing so, we must ensure not to create and affirm the oppression of other members of our community.