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“Pretty Color ‘n Good Hair”:

Creole Women of New Orleans and the Politics of Identity

Chapter 2 (pp. 29-52) in R. Spellers & K. Moffitt (Eds.) Blackberries and Redbones: Critical Articulations of Black Hair/Body Politics in Africana Communities. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

The purpose of this study is to critically re-examine the current definition of the “color complex” to conceptualize issues of skin color politics among individuals of African descent. Authors of the highly cited The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color among African Americans (1992), define the “color complex” as “a psychological fixation about color and features that leads Blacks to discriminate against each other.” Through an examination of intergenerational skin color politics among women self-identified as Creole in New Orleans, Louisiana, this chapter illustrates manifestations of skin color politics at levels far more dysfunctional than the definition of “color complex” suggests.

In the spring of 2003, I conducted interviews with eight residents of New Orleans selected using the snowball method of sampling. Consisting of six females and two males, and ranging in age from 28 to 91, and in education from a fourth-grade education to a terminal graduate degree, all eight participants grew up in “middle class” New Orleans and had spent most of their lives in the city. In an attempt to illustrate and emphasize the intergenerational continuum of Creole values and identity, the attention of this chapter is focused on the lives of three of the eight participants – three women self-identified as Creole – “Ma’Deeya”, her daughter “Inka Boo,” and Ma’Deeya’s granddaughter, Inka Boo’s daughter, “Red.” Each interview functioned as a conversation initiated by the grand tour question – “What does it mean to be Creole?”

Participants’ narratives serve as testimony of the degree to which skin color has come to signify privilege, beauty, value and identity, and furthermore, the degree to which skin color prejudice and discrimination has undergone several generations of rationalization and now constitutes “logical order.” The purpose of this chapter then is to critically re-examine the current definition of the “color complex” to conceptualize issues of skin color politics among individuals of African descent.

To read the chapter in full, purchase your copy of Blackberries and Redbones http://blackberriesandredbones.com/