COMMENTARY: The Colour Black

Pastel portrait by Roger Burnett

Thirty years ago I began a series of paintings and sculptures titled Daughters of the Caribbean Sun. The project is on-going and continues from my studio Antrim. By way of hundreds of paintings and scores of sculptures I pay homage to the natural beauty of the Afro-Caribbean woman.

I stress the word “natural” because increasingly Afro-Caribbean women are altering their appearance by bleaching their skin, straightening their hair and modifying their facial features to satisfy of foreign concept of beauty.

The modification of their God-given beauty was brought home to me recently when I searched social media for a young lady who had modelled for me some years ago. At that time she had all the hallmarks of true Afro-Caribbean beauty: ebony black skin, intricately plaited hair and facial features that would have put a Grecian Goddess to shame. I found her by name but I could not recognise her by appearance. In the photograph my once beautiful “Daughter Caribbean Sun” had, by one means or another, altered her natural features beyond recognition. Her skin is now the pallid colour of yellow clay, she has pink synthetic hair and, if I’m not mistaken, blue eyes!

But altering appearance is not a recent phenomenon, nor am I the first to bemoan this loss of identity. A hundred years ago Marcus Garvey implored West Indian women to: takes the kinks out of their minds, not out of their hair. He saw the colour black, natural hair styles and the hitherto disparaged “Negroid” features as constituting a new standard of beauty.

The main reasons women state for transforming their natural appearance are:

First, because Caribbean men find their new look more attractive.

Second, because the jobs they aspire to favour a European concept of beauty.

Third, because they are fed up with their natural appearance and want a change.

A deeper reason lies rooted in a history of slavery and colonialism. Historically lighter skinned West Indians were the product of black slaves and white slave owners. Their lighter skinned offspring become house slaves, whereas those with a darker skin remained field slaves. Even today, a lighter skin is still seen as a mark of privilege.

Afro-Caribbean women are not alone in their search for a lost identity; it is present in every walk of life. Many West Indians crave for a lifestyle that is not their own. An alien housing estate is deemed more desirable than the village environment and vehicles designed for freeways are favoured above those that could better cope with our roads and terrain.

Clothes follow the same pattern. What we wear is westernised in style and suited for keeping warm in temperate climates rather than keeping cool on a tropical island. Even our national dress harps back to slavery and the desire to mimic the finery of the plantocracy.

All of the foregoing is one more issue that begs the question, have we really thrown off the shackles of slavery and achieved true independence?

Information about the artist can be found at: sculpturestudiodominica.blogspot.com

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17 Comments

  1. Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
    November 26, 2018

    “If Jesus had wanted to get rich he would have expanded his carpentry business. Fortunately, he thought his message more important!” (Roger).

    Roger, I do not even know why you went there: but I feel compelled to inform that Jesus Christ even when he was on earth was not a poor man. And Jesus was not a carpenter, his earthly father was. Jesus Christ is God himself the creator of Heaven, and Earth, and all that is within heaven and earth.

    Read the Bible, you will find out Jesus chose twelve disciples, he had plenty of money to take care of the twelve, and indeed take care of the poor and needy. Judas stole from the purse; constantly, yet Jesus never went broke. 

    This poverty thing where people say Jesus was a poor man on earth is a lie! If that was true then God would not tell people in his written words in the Bible how to get Rich!

    I will follow up on that, not enough words allowed.

    • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
      November 27, 2018

      Sometimes the truth offends, so I will leave this alone; to each his own if it is a man/woman desire to be poor; so shall it be, and that is why Jesus said “the poor” will always be among you. You have not because you ask not!

      I ask from God and I received plenty!

  2. Indrid Isidore
    November 26, 2018

    I applaud you. You echo my thoughts.

  3. Zandoli
    November 26, 2018

    Roger is correct, the majority of black women have no interest in enhancing their natural beauty. They are hell bent on changing their apparance. I am not sure which black man finds this attractive. It is not this one.

    • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
      November 26, 2018

      It is a waste of time for Roger to focus his attention on people who thinks putting on a pile of manufactured what they believe is hair on their head! They think that the false hair; the wig makes them look more attractive, the truth is they appear worst under the wig!

      In most case the wigs maintains an odor, a not so pleasant smell which cause their scalp to itch, some of these people believe the false hair is growing out of their scalp.

      Roger is a very talented person, he should use what I believe is his God given talent to make money and become rich; there are people selling single  paintings for millions of Dollars, he should set up his own Gallery, where the tourist may visit.

      I don’t think his portraits should be limited to people only: there are numerous scenery  in the country he can paint which will earn him plenty of money, and that is what his talent can do for him!

      • November 26, 2018

        My studio and gallery has been located at Antrim for twelve years. I welcome visitors. A group of visiting art connoisseurs from the States have described it as the finest studio/gallery in the region.

        If it’s paintings of “scenery” that you’re after, I can supply at rock bottom prices. But be warned, paintings and sculptures in my series “Daughters of the Caribbean Sun” don’t come cheap.

        In terms of my message making an impact. A Dominica Carnival Queen contender has said that my work has opened her heart and mind to true beauty. Elsewhere in the Caribbean it has influenced the judging of beauty contests.

        If Jesus had wanted to get rich he would have expanded his carpentry business. Fortunately, he thought his message more important!

      • Zandoli
        November 26, 2018

        We only have Caribbean artbin our home. One original by a Bajan artist, the rest are prints.

        Roger, the next time ibam in Dominica, I will make a swing by your studio.

        What is the price range of your paintings?

    • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
      November 26, 2018

      So Zandolie, let me deal with that in a different way. The privilege that you might believe all white people enjoy, is somewhat of a myth. I live in a country where I see as much poverty stricken white people and as many poor blacks. As a matter of fact there are more poor white in America than black people.

      Check out  the Mississippi Delta!

      Now, once black and white falls into that same category, there is no privilege to enjoy, white rich, and the black rich enjoy the same privileges! We saw that during the era of Apatite, where rich Black South Africans were allowed to mingle with whites in money making ventures such as horse racing.

      And let me end by saying; there are black people who wish they were white, so too there are as many white who wish they were black!

      When I lived in Germany in the days of Afro, I saw many white women fired their hair to get the Afro look, Okay!

    • November 27, 2018

      Thanks for your interest Zandoll. In $US prices range from a few hundred to a few thousand. If you contact me through a comment on my blog I can be more specific.

  4. out of south city
    November 25, 2018

    Up to this day in our society, some of us STILL believe that we are better than others. LACK OF KNOWLEDGE OF SELF. Why should I glory because of my skin tone or my last name? That’s just saying that it was great that Massa raped my fore-parents. It is high time that we accept each other for who we are, regardless of skin tone and last names. The names given to us were not African names anyway but Massa’s,, the rapists’ names. Oh, my people, awake out of sleep!!!!!! As our brother Bob Marley said, “EMANCIPATE YOURSELF FROM MENTAL SLAVERY, NONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.” My sisters, LOVE YOURSELVES FOR WHO YOU ARE and who you are supposed to be.
    My brother, please continue your work of art inspite of any challenge/s.
    (HOTEP, PEACE)

  5. out of south city
    November 25, 2018

    My brother, I am very impressed by your work. As I mentioned recently, you are called to be a voice to our Afro/Caribbean sisters through your work. You must NEVER give up. Your work of art is being circulated and reaching out to many, even if you don’t feel like that presently. It is very, very, sad that some of our sisters have not acknowledged their natural beauty. You and I, and many others know that their demise stemmed from slavery. Don’t worry, my brother, there are many who are searching for their identity and are realising that their quest for longing to be like another race is not the answer. Some of our sisters are coming to their senses and are realising that the chemical that they use to perm their hair causes brain cancer. If they would only realise that they are envied by other races, then they would appreciate themselves more. The white women want some of our sisters’ body structures, while some of our sisters are yearning for the white women’s hair and face.

  6. Bob Denis
    November 25, 2018

    Don’t give up hope Rodger, some of the sisters are in the process of finding their place and space. being bombarded in all corners with different concepts , unlike men, she always reverts to he natural self . The Windies Women Cricket team did bring joy to my heart , i’m still on a high , these beautiful young black women with their natural beauty and fitness, still have me salivating, the Sisters did not win the T20 International tournament , but they have left me captivated. Black is forever beautiful .

    • out of south city
      November 25, 2018

      Our sisters need to realise that their melanated skin is also envied by white women who tan their skin. The melanin gives us our black skin and that protects us from the sun. There is one brother, Booker T. Coleman, who said that “if the sun is against you, you were not meant to be here.” That why the white race can’t stay for long in the sun. When Africa was the only civilisation, the Europeans were in the Caucasus mountains for thousands of years; hence the name, Caucasians. That’s how they lost their melanin. Also, through reading and research, I learned that the Caucasian has a de-calcified pineal gland. My sisters, you are envied by other races so learn to love yourselves. Through slavery, our fore-parents were raped by the white slave owner, resulting tin the lighter-skinned offsprings. It was as a result, that Massa separated the light-skinned slaves from the dark-skinned ones. What did we have as a result? Division, hatred envy, a lack of knowledge of the African-ness.

      • Zandoli
        November 26, 2018

        Don’t fool yourself into believing Whites women want to have dark skin particularly if they live in a predominantly white society. They may not necessarily like pale skin, but they want to be seen to be white (with a tan). Don’t mistake that for black envy.

      • November 26, 2018

        Yes, because of my de-calcified pineal gland I burst into flames whenever touched by sunlight. It’s really quite inconvenient!

      • Francisco Etienne-Dods Telemaque
        November 26, 2018

        Zandoli, I am not picking on you today, but you are very wrong this time. There are lots of white men and women who wish they black! The majority of white people can hardly wait for the end of winter to get a summer tan!

        I dated plenty of white women, and find them all wish their complexion was dark: in England, Germany and here in the United States.

        One time one of them came from Germany to vacation with me in Antigua; she went on  a beach, and lay in the sun all day, I had to take her to the hospital the next day because she got her whole body burnt by the Sun.

        She was so badly brunt her skin striped her entire body was swollen okay!

        And I’ll tell what plenty of them dress up in wigs too! I see white women under their wigs every day right here in Los Angeles; the all do not have long hair! 

      • Zandoli
        November 26, 2018

        FET, these people you speak of would prefer to be less pail. Believe me partner, despite their desire for done “color”, there is no way under this sun, they would give up the previllege of being white. The color they seek is strictly cosmetic, no different than putting on some makeup – it is very superficial.

        Trump walks around with his orange tan. Would you also extend that argument to him?

        Think about it for a minute before you answer.

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