Can “color talk” be a proxy for “race talk”?

by JeeJee Yoon

Throughout the centuries, the world has evolved to become closer and smaller society, as trade between countries and the world population have increased. People share each other’s cultures and economical interests in daily life within this global village. The number of immigrants and migrants occupies a large percentage, so it is easy to find people who look different from the local people in many places (except some closed societies such as North Korea). As situations are changing in this way throughout the world, it is not an abnormal situation to see people with different outlooks anymore.

As the world becomes more and more diversified by having all different types of people, however, the category has been created to divide people into superiority of haves and have-nots. Because of the long history of colonization and African slave era, whites take up the higher part of the stratification of the category while blacks occupy the bottom part. With the appearance that one possesses, whether the person has bright skin color, pointed nose, or oval facial shape of white features became a criteria of racial categorization.

Talking about race, however, can hurt people as it reminds them of their history of the past being oppressed and ruled by the invaders (mostly whites). Thus, some places are trying to avoid talking about  race and rather, talking about how one’s skin color looks. In Veracruz, Mexico, people freely express the darkness or whiteness of one another’s skin color. When Veracruzanos are asked to speak about race, they hesitated and tried to avoid the question. Instead, Veracruzanos brought “color” talk, just saying that their skin is brown, light brown, or dark brown. One reason of this color talk is that Veracruz was one of the largest importers of African slaves in Spanish America where their ancestors were suppressed. Therefore, people in Veracruz avoid speaking out of the race that hurts the feeling and reminds of the oppressed history of their ancestors.

As we can see the case study of Veracruz, Mexico, it is hard for people to say about the race directly because of the history. However, it seems much easier for people to indicate how the color of skin looks like. Raising the issue of skin color seems less aggressive to others and less sensitive to listeners than bringing up the race. Not only the feeling of the people, but also “color talk” is efficient for today’s globalized world. It is unclear to trace one’s race for some people as they have complex mixed family tree. Moreover, there is no clear dividing line on indicating one’s race in many nations. It is not easy to understand one’s race fully because it can hurt people and also the society itself does not have clear boundary lines on race. Thus, I believe “color talks” can replace the realm of “race talk”, which is happening in Veracruz.

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