Mon | Feb 18, 2019

Garth Rattray | On fair skin and fear skin

Published:Monday | January 21, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It was about 43 years ago. My father was circling the block in downtown Miami while I looked around in the popular La Epoca store for something that I wanted to buy. I didn't find it, so I exited the building and joined the group of people that had already started on the pedestrian crossing. I needed to be on the opposite side of the street for ease of pickup.

I was last in line and cars were waiting patiently for their turn to go. As usual, I looked at the cars to see if it was still safe to continue crossing the road. As soon as my eyes settled on the vehicle at the front of the line, I noticed that the driver, a middle-age Caucasian female, was staring intensely at me. Her facial expression was frozen halfway between surprise and terror. Her eyes tracked my forward movement and she hurriedly pushed the button to lock all the doors on her vehicle.

It was the loudest "CLICK!" that I have ever heard. It was significantly amplified by the realisation that, just seeing me cross the street in front of her, elicited immense fear.

Perhaps she had a really bad experience with someone of my complexion.

Perhaps I looked like someone whom she feared. Perhaps my skin represented some sort of threat to her safety. Or, perhaps her socialisation caused her to be prejudiced against everyone with my colour skin and she expected violence from me.

Who knows? Whatever made her that way, her reaction to me cut so viciously and deep into my psyche that it caused me to feel animosity towards her - if only for that moment. It only took a fraction of a second for me to understand the genesis of interracial tensions.

In spite of my appearance, dress and demeanour, my colour has caused the entire staff, including security, of an electronic store in the USA to walk behind me like baby ducks behind their mom until I turned around and said, "Here, hold on to my wallet until I'm finished browsing." Embarrassed, they dispersed.

 

HOTEL SERVICE

 

And back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was denied hotel rooms right here in Jamaica because of my colour and nationality.

Fear is worse than hate. Fear leads to hate. Fear of poverty can lead to greed and cause exploitation and poverty for others. Fear of rejection can lead to abuse. Fear of loss of power can lead to oppression and disenfranchisement. Fear of hunger can lead to all sorts of crimes and even murder.

Worst of all, fear is easily propagated.

Most people don't fear fair skins, they fear dark skins. Over the centuries, in some societies, the dark skin has become the fear skin. In the minds of many, being designated 'white' endows pink people with purity. And, conversely, being 'black' gives the impression of darkness and impurity. Therefore, people with dark skin are often treated as inferior beings.

Skin colour is literally only skin deep. However, the effects of skin colour go deep into the innermost regions of our psyche. The average Jamaican is far more trusting of people with a fair skin than those of dark skin, so much so that fairer-skinned individuals usually enjoy a distinct socio-economic advantage.

This leads to socio-racial dichotomy within society, with one disproportionate number of individuals trending towards poverty and criminality while the other trends towards privilege and prosperity.

In the resultant immiscible, heterogeneous milieu, fear begets a cycle that becomes perpetual hate, discrimination, prejudice, disenfranchisement and resultant crime.

If we are to achieve social harmony, we need social strategies/programmes and conscious individual effort to break the fear/hate cycle associated with skin colour.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com andgarthrattray@gmail.com.