piropos, [in progress]

From: Mendi Obadike
Date: Mon Oct 15, 2001 1:38 pm
Subject: Re: [femail] Re: here is an excerpt from theblacknotebooks


this reminds me of two things. too bad i'm in a hurry, but i'll try and rush and say them.

1) i think that black men may approach light and dark women differently, but i think it all has to do with what lightness and darkness are symbols for and how those symbols are operating on a particular woman's body in a particular moment, not so much the actual tone of the woman. keith and i started talking about light-skinned-acting characters in movies and tv in this way. there is a way in which a notion of what a light skinned or dark skinned woman is supposed to be *like* is at work whenever you have a character. The actual tone is not quite as important as the sense that the woman *is* whatever a light skinned woman is supposed to *be* like. i'm thinking of two represenations, jadine from tar baby. i think the men were telling chocolate eater how much trouble a yellow woman would cause him, and something works for me in that characterization, though her actual color, who knows? and the woman in a snoop dog video who is all light with that mystery hair and comes in a party and is sort of looking down on everybody and gets shot with alcohol by everybody who is having a goodtime (and somehow darker) and this also relates to those early mariah carey videos where she is all light wearing black in a dark room in front of dark skinned women wearing black in the dark background, so *obviously* cast as the star given the coloring of the whole stage. (also the weight, the women are always bigger as well as darker). all of this is related.

2) When Kelli and I were in the Dominican Republic, there was this street (nee and kiini will remember this, i'm sure) it was calle del sol, near the university, where men would call women "Nina, quieres ir a la vega? Te compro flores manana . . ." The word for this in Spanish was 'piropos' which means 'compliments' and 'catcalls' at the same time. ANYWAY, Kelli and I often talked about our discomfort with the white girls' discomfort with this place. On the one hand, we read it as them feeling like black men were always out to get them. and i kind of felt like they are just playing with you, girl, get over yourself (but thinking about it now, doesn't that sound like "Bitch, he don't want you . . .") and for us, we thought little of these piropos "Girl, wanna go to La Vega? I'll buy you flowers tomorrow." or even, one day a man called out to me, in English (of sorts), "Oye, I making love to you you never forget!" After that one piropo, we--me, Kelli, *and* the man who said this to us--fell out laughing in the street. *hard*. he *had* to think that shit was funny. Kelli and I thought most of the piropos were funny, not to mention, we kept saying, a lot less violating than what we heard in Atlanta "Get out my way, hoe." "Bitch, why don't you comb your hair, etc, etc, etc . . ." And so, at some point, and I don't know whether I talked about this with Kelli, I became really depressed about my realization that perhaps we were so unaffected or not negatively affected by these admittedly presumptuous and unwelcomed catcalls because as black women we had ALREADY been subjected to so much WORSE that we couldn't even recognize this as violation. And *this* is what that passage from Black Notebooks makes me think about. Maybe what registers as violation is also different, depending on what we've been subjected to.

Even in Atlanta, on the same streets I walked, I'm sure there are things black men said so me that they wouldn't dare say to white women, wouldn't feel the authority to say. I am *sure* this isn't *just* a question of race, it is also a question of color. Whose body is read as too good for whatever bullshit you have to say. Maybe dark skinned black women get it worse because black men (across color?) feel more authority over their bodies. Or maybe black men don't feel the need to do this to dark skinned black women in the same way. Maybe light skinned black women feel like something slipping through their hands and are, somehow, reigned in by this twisted reclamation: "You're still one of us, hoe. See?"

More later,

by mendi@blacknetart.com

Mendi Lewis Obadike