Have you noticed the Obama lookalikes popping up on television lately? And I don’t mean on “Saturday Night Live.”
Among those cashing in on the Obama mystique are advertisers and producers. Examples of ads with Obama lookalikes are a couple of ads for insurance in which an agent comforts a blonde woman who’s just been in a car accident and a postal employee answers a question about shipping packages internationally, both of whom have ears like the President. Plus a new character on cable’s biggest hit, “Burn Notice,” is a younger, hipper, more coordinated, James Bond-like version of Obama.
Pre-Obama, the most famous black men tended to be dark. The bar was set by the fame of black performers Nat King Cole and Sidney Poitier who, for years, were the only major men of color players on television and film, respectively. Their popularity made the success of darker skinned performers like James Earl Jones, Bill Cosby, Richard Roundtree, Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Eddie Murphy, Taye Diggs, and a host of others possible. Both movie and television audiences were used to seeing black men performing on both the big and small screens, as well as live on stage singing and dancing in large musical venues, in small clubs, and off and on Broadway.
The colorstruck in the African-American community should be happy. This is what they wanted all along. The earliest movies made by and for African-Americans were almost mirror images of white films that cast dark skinned blacks in stereotypical roles: Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar-winning role in Gone With the Wind and a host of roles by Stepinfetchit and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Only instead of whites, in films by Oscar Micheaux, the most famous of black filmmakers in the 1920s-1940s, light-skinned, high yellow, or “redbone” African-Americans played the roles normally played by whites.
A common theme was light-skinned African-American men, who were the only ones sought out by women in those movies, being supported and adored by large, dark-skinned women who’d work hard usually as maids. These women would give all their money and love to these “hunks” that eventually left them for a thin, light-skinned African-American women, but only after telling the dark-skinned, hefty women how ignorant, low-class, disgusting, and ugly they were.
Yellow Man, a play written by an African-American woman gives a modern take on this old theme. But in Yellow Man, the light-skinned African-American man who has everything that should make him successful is a miserable failure; while the dark-skinned, fat girl he grew up with and fell in love with but could never marry, is the one who ends up having a successful life. I played the female role in the two-skinned play, actually using make up to darken my face slightly since I’m almost, not quite in the light-skinned category.
Light-skin has been so valued in the African-American community, especially in women, that some strange traditions have been created. In New Orleans, people have to pass the paper bag test to be accepted in certain groups. Held next to a paper bag, the individual’s skin color has to be the same shade or lighter. Families of light-skinned African-Americans stay that way by not marrying dark-skinned people. This is a long tradition in many African-American families, common among doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.
An example is a family in my home city. The father is a doctor and his wife works in the justice system. One of their children is mayor of the state capitol and is also married to a light-skinned African-American. I knew the family of another doctor like that in Lawton, Oklahoma, where I got my undergraduate degree at Cameron University. There are numerous examples in Historic Black Colleges, including the one I attended in Texas. You always knew who the doctors and lawyers children were there.
A frivolous tradition at the school was to pictorially display the “Ten Most Beautiful Girls on Campus” in the annual yearbook. My freshman year, I was appalled to see that all ten were light-skinned, except one, who was Hispanic and not the darker, brown-skinned Hispanic either. When I became editor-in-chief of the college paper the next year, I also became president of the press club and the automatic selector of the ten girls to be pictured as the campus’ most beautiful my sophomore year.
I relished the task and immediately set about finding girls of every hue and hair texture to grace that page in the annual publication. Oh, speaking of hair texture, that’s part of the requirement, as well. Light-skinned with “good hair,” meaning hair that is naturally curly, wavy, or straight – not nappy. The photo that I created for the yearbook that year had the entire range of “blackness.” I did get a copy of the yearbook, but let another fellow PV student from Oklahoma, where I went to live with my parents “borrow” it and it was never returned.
The love of light-skin and “good hair” has resulted in some tragic situations. I have a dark-skinned, large friend who would have done anything to get her light-skinned boyfriend with naturally wavy hair to marry her. Despite being over forty, she decided to get pregnant, thinking erroneously that being a Christian, he’d do the “right thing” and marry her. He didn’t and she had two strokes during labor. She’s presently resides in a nursing home due to paralysis of her legs and her “baby daddy” is married to a light-skinned woman and has custody of their beautiful little boy who is developmentally delayed.
Father and son came to visit me out of the clear blue one day and I just happened to be waiting for a food delivery (otherwise, I’d never have answered the door) and the little boy, who was five at the time, immediately fell in love with me and I with him. I got a feeling that his father thought that since I work in the field I might be more capable of being a mother to his child than the woman he married. However, there’s a code among some women about dating their friends’ exes. I couldn’t conceive of being anything more to father and son than a good friend.
Besides, I’m not attracted to light-skinned men, no matter how wavy, curly, or straight their hair – actually, I prefer men with no hair (or if they must have hair, I find dredlocks quite attractive). I think dark-skinned men are drop dead gorgeous. Oddly, I’ve only had one semi-serious with a dark-skinned man and it ended with me swearing never to see him again because I detected that he was a possible abuser, the biggest turn-off of all for me. I’ve probably dated more white guys than dark-skinned black guys.
However, skin color is not a determiner of who I date. Neither are things like height, weight, education, or income. I’ve dated men of all races (except Asians because none have ever asked me out), nationalities, skin colors, hair textures, heights, weights (I once dated a 600 lb semi-pro bowler who was the most flexible man I’ve ever known), educational and income levels (high school dropouts to advanced degrees), occupations (from doctors to roofers), and political persuasions – yes, I’ve dated right-wing conservatives.
The last man I fell in love with (the second in my lifetime) is dark and quite small in stature, while the first love of my life is tall and light-skinned. The man of my dreams is another man who’s presently unavailable – not married, just unavailable. He’s one of the darkest men I’ve ever known (what’s called “blue black”) and he’s perfect. He lives in my home state, was the last pastor of the church my great-grandfather founded, and wears a cowboy hat and boots better than any man I know.
There is absolutely no romantic connection between this man and me. We met and talked briefly a couple of times as intellectual equals on opposite sides of the political coin – he’s a conservative. However, his present obligations preclude him from any involvement with someone other than the mother of his two children. Of course, he’s a rascal in central Texas, a preacher with two children out of wedlock – oh, my! But I respect his not marrying a woman and then cheating on her, not to mention the respect I have for him because he’s a responsible father, taking care of his children.
While this cowboy preacher is my version of the ideal man, I don’t limit my choices to replicas of him. I recently told both my sister and my bff, both of whom are divorced and want to get re-married, to stop restricting their choices to African-American men. They’re both Christian women and there is a recent trend in interracial marriages among many Christians, including many conservatives. A white conservative man I worked with whose wife died has dated and intends to marry an African-American woman.
Although he and I are friends, he’s way too conservative to ever accept ANY of my liberal views and has convinced himself (and tried to convince me by locking me in a room with him and a Republican male co-worker for a political ideology intervention) that I am also conservative and just masquerading as a liberal. I admit, I am not always on the liberal side of things, but I’m far more likely to be liberal than conservative on most issues. This brings me back to the most popular African-American man on the planet.
I was never a supporter of Obama’s candidacy for President, not because he’s not dark-skinned and my ideal, but because I felt he should have waited until he completed at least one term in the Senate before running for President and, most importantly, because I supported Hillary Clinton. However, the support of the first black President of this nation was unbelievable and, therefore, I am not surprised that the marketability of the Obama image is occurring.
I just hope that Michelle Obama will make darker skinned African-American women just as acceptable and marketable.