I could write this post almost entirely with cut and paste, that’s how common this now feels.
Gawker released a casting call for a movie about hip-hop group NWA.
The call features an explicit race and skin shade hierarchy for the women:
SAG OR NON UNION FEMALES – PLEASE SEE BELOW FOR SPECIFIC BREAKDOWN. DO NOT EMAIL IN FOR MORE THAN ONE CATEGORY:
A GIRLS: These are the hottest of the hottest. Models. MUST have real hair – no extensions, very classy looking, great bodies. You can be black, white, asian, hispanic, mid eastern, or mixed race too. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: A GIRLS
B GIRLS: These are fine girls, long natural hair, really nice bodies. Small waists, nice hips. You should be light-skinned. Beyonce is a prototype here. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: B GIRLS
C GIRLS: These are African American girls, medium to light skinned with a weave. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: C GIRLS
D GIRLS: These are African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone. Character types. Age 18-30. Please email a current color photo, your name, Union status, height/weight, age, city in which you live and phone number to: SandeAlessiCasting@gmail.com subject line should read: D GIRLS
Look, folks are going to go to town on the colorism and sexism. And they are right to do so.
I’d like to quickly throw out a few other things.
I have said that no other topic on which I have written gets more mail, much of it angry and angsty, than my ruminations on beauty and structure. The concept is fraught with difficult concepts like intersectionality, intersecting privileges and oppressions, race, class, and gender.
It is also fraught with labor concepts.
The NWA casting call is a job ad. It is fundamentally a labor arrangement that explicitly renders the concept of colorism that is implicit in all labor arrangements.
For that reason, I have privately argued many times that casting calls are important sociological texts. I have also said I would love to see the calls that gave us Miley Cyrus’ infamous VMA performance. The casting call is where our personal “preferences” are revealed as the structural inequalities we are willing to accept to defend our privileges.
Among others, Sandy Darity and Darrick Hamilton have done considerable research on colorism and labor markets. Jill Viglione has done work on colorism and the prison industrial complex. The quick and dirty (and inadequate) summary of that research is that colorism intersects with gender to systematically oppress dark skinned black women economically and politically.
I was there when NWA became a “thing”.
I clearly recall the first time Dee Barnes played “Fuck Tha Police” on a syndicated rap program. I was a southern girl. My mother still whispers curse words. I had literally never seen anything like the bombastic west coast sound and imagery that video brought into my living room. I was transfixed.
I was there and I can imagine that in the story of producing a hip hop supergroup that gave us hip-hop moguls and movie stars, a lot of other black women were involved. For sure, Dre would beat one black woman’s ass on the way to moguldom (see: aforementioned Dee Barnes, who is maybe a B or a C?). Cube is now Mr. Buddy Comedy but he once wrote a track called “Cave Bitch” about race and sexual politics rooted in a version of gendered black liberation ideologies.
If nothing else, I imagine that the black men in NWA are products of black women. So, a few C and D women were part of the economic machinations that produced NWA. I suspect those mothers, sisters, cousins and aunties wouldn’t all be A and B candidates in the movie of their lives.
Even when black women are central to the production of a valuable cultural moment and economic system, they are cast as inferior in the telling of their histories, if they are visible at all.
That is an affective domain, full of interpersonal interactions and relationships.
But it is also a structural domain, a political economy of labor where certain kinds of black women stay losing.
It’s a microcosm of the ways that beauty is about more than who we are just “naturally attracted to”. It’s a kind of oppression with far-reaching consequences for black women that leave us with almost negligible wealth, criminal justice battle stories, mass media accounts of our undesirability, poor health, and impoverished golden years.
I will exercise that cut and paste option the next time readers or audiences pushback with “it’s just entertainment” and “ain’t that deep”.
There will be a next time. There is always a next time. And that is rather my point.
Well, that and fuck tha police and the racist sexist political economy while you’re at it.