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Brownings, bimbos and other drivers of underdevelopment

Published:Sunday | September 18, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Glenda Simms, Contributor

The outrageous headline 'Brownings, please', published in The Sunday Gleaner on September 11, has set off a firestorm of responses by a wide cross section of the Jamaican population.

Tyrone Reid, the newspaper's enterprise reporter, has informed the nation that many local business owners have requested that the state-run training centre, the HEART Trust/NTA, place only light-skinned trainees in their companies.

In other words, the so-called brownings are the desired front hall representatives of the Jamaican society.

It is interesting to note the outrage and disbelief this revelation has triggered. We are all scandalised by the idea that racism is alive and well in this country. In spite of the fact that any serious sociological, anthropological or psychological analyses of the Jamaican society will reveal that the slave plantation continues to flourish in these contemporary times, the majority of us who are undeniably and obviously black, like ostriches, keep our heads buried in the sand. Others continue to be court jesters when they are let into the browning club. They dare not rock the boat by refusing to go along with the status quo. They do not want to be accused of pulling the race card.

Part of our collective insecurity in confronting and seriously dealing with those who are determined to rob black people of their inherent human rights and dignity in this post-slavery society is linked to a history which has conned black people in general, and black women in particular, into believing that they have been fully emancipated from the mentality of the slave and the descendants of the slave drivers.

Powerful statement

Let's be clear: The preference for the browning is a powerful statement about the devaluing of black womanhood and the continued dumbing down of the society so that Jamaica, a country with a large majority of black people, will be unable to move beyond its Third World status and mentality.

Indeed, when the big man - brown, black or otherwise - gives the order and establishes the corporate culture that values the light-skinned over the dark-complexioned, he is not targeting young men. He wants the browning girl with or without brains or abilities. He wants a 'gyal' for his sex toy and as a generalised titilator to entice the customers who all have been socialised to prefer light-skinned people.

A gendered analysis of this sordid historical preference for everyone who is not too black will reveal that black woman who toiled side by side with our male slave ancestors was forced nightly to accept the rape of her and her daughters in the stinky recesses of the slave huts in every corner of 'slavedom'. From these rapes emerged a significant population of mulatto, octoroon, quadroon and other non-specific hued boys and girls who, over time, played the role of enforcers in the fields and in the kitchens and pantries of both the historical and the contemporary plantations.

It was within the most inhumane conditions that generations of black women were forced to become breeders to produce children who would eventually become oppressors of their own mothers.

In due course, these black women began to internalise their stigmatised self, and as their history unfolded, they started to like the idea of producing light-skinned children who they could valorise and take pride in calling 'pretty pickney'. It is this 'pretty pickney' that has evolved into the pretty girl whose image and looks are the desired features of those who compete in the many beauty contests held on the island.

The idea of the special privilege of the light-skinned woman is now moving beyond the bathing suit parades and the light-headed responses to the inane questions of the judges of these beauty spectacles, to the arena of the most mundane of workplaces.

We sometimes wonder why so many of the most disadvantaged youth are bleaching their skins. It is no mystery. They bleach so that they can be accepted in the front office of even the most disorganised and rat-infested haberdashery downtown or uptown .

They bleach to have some small possibility of being mistaken for a real browning. If they are men, they might be able to attract a reasonably good-looking young woman who is looking for a light-skinned boy. On the other hand, if they are young women, they might get a job in a bar where the drunkards like to see a fat brown girl around the counter. Not only will she be expected to serve them with a smile, she must also be available for sex before they get home to their 'high-brown' trophy wife.

In all of this stew of racial prejudice and the continuing devaluation of women and girls, we have to ask ourselves why the militant decade of the movement to capture the idea that 'black is beautiful' was so short-lived and so quickly forgotten. I would like to argue that we have forgotten who we really are because we have stopped caring about our inherent dignity as black people. We have forgotten how hard our ancestors fought to set us free.

Also, we have lost the skill of selecting the best for the job.

If being a browning is enough and appropriate qualification, how will we ensure that bimbos and their henchmen are not keeping our country in a state of underdevelopment?

Glenda Simms is a gender expert and consultant. Email feedback to and