The Smiling Brown Project by Dr. Roberto Cintle Rodriguez

imagesGreetings Relatives/Frens/Humans, I’m posting this communication from a long-time and very dear friend of mine, Dr. Roberto Cintle Rodriguez because it raises so many interesting and difficult questions about whether we really understand ourselves. What do we really see when we look in the mirror?
Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, June 20, 2016
SMILING BROWN ONCE AGAIN: A friend of mine, who is Mexican and very brown, and I would say, a very beautiful dark brown, surprised me recently with her comments regarding skin color. She gave a complete psychological breakdown of how the issue of skin color has played out within her own family, highlighting issues of shame, self-hate, inferiority and projection, etc. And then, counter-intuitively, after her brilliant analysis, she went on to nonchalantly reveal that she herself does not like dark men and has always dated white men. Internalization.

I was taken aback by her words because we were speaking precisely about the Smiling Brown Project. It got me thinking about the concept of preference vs. prejudice. Extreme prejudice. In this project, I’ve never used the word colorism, though that’s the word others use to describe this phenomenon. For me, light-skin preference is a straight-up manifestation of white supremacy.

Often, we treat the topic gingerly but when we strip it down to its barest essentials, how could it be something other than white supremacy? I bring this up because I never expected this from this person. And yet, why would it surprise me? We live in a society that has hammered this message on this continent for some 500 years and that sickness affects virtually all of us. That’s why I started this project; to get to the root of this prejudice among brown peoples. All peoples, really, but I wanted to get to the bottom of why brown people manifest this sickness and so the idea was to track the earliest memories we all have regarding [skin] color and color consciousness.

I chose brown peoples also because we live in a black-white society and the color brown is usually invisibilized and silenced and thus, I wanted to hear from these voices. And yes, we are talking 2016. And of course, I am fully conscious that this sickness is a worldwide phenomenon.

I have already done a lot of work on this, but I was interrupted by the related issue of law enforcement violence against the red-black-brown peoples in the United States over the last couple of years. After completing that project (currently being reviewed by publishers), I decided it was now time to return to this topic that is essentially taboo amongst Mexican, Central and South Americans and peoples from the Caribbean also. As an adult it manifests itself in racial profiling and extreme violence. And I have written about that virtually my entire life.

For this project, however, the emphasis is on our earliest memories of color. For many of us, these memories are negative. Very negative. At this point in time I have gathered about 100 testimonios throughout the country on this topic. I have several colleagues that want to join me in this project. And so for that purpose I want to gather about another hundred or more more testimonios.

I am very well aware of the literature on this topic, or the lack of it. That is, there is a lot of analysis about this topic, especially when it comes to the media, both English and Spanish-language media and their predilection for blondes, blue-green eyes. But what makes this project different is that what I am looking for are the actual unfiltered voices of people who have lived and who live this reality. And yet knowing that most of those memories are negative, what I am actually looking for are both the negative stories, but also the positive ones when we finally realized that there was nothing wrong with us.

Initially, I was only interested in the voices of brown people. And what I mean by that is that in the culture that I grew up in, Mexican culture, brown people are despised and the light ones are praised. We can see that in all aspects of society, but especially in the media. So I wasn’t interested in everyone’s voice, but simply those that have lived this trauma. And yet over the several years that I’ve been gathering these stories, I have come across very powerful stories of family members who have terrible regrets or their own memories of what they lived or what they witnessed about their family members. And so I am sending out a call once again regarding this topic.

Thus, if you have stories to share, memories or testimonios, please send them along. I will leave a link for those that want to see what has been done already. Technically there’s no real guidelines, but since people ask, here’s what I’m looking for: 300 – 1200 words, primarily of one’s earliest memories. The memories can be in the form of a series of vignettes, poetry, hip hop; artwork, whatever works.

Please send in written form, but also recorded to: This is an ongoing project, so there’s no actual deadline, but if you want one, July 15. If you have ideas or questions, please write to same address.

The Smiling Brown Project will eventually become a book, a play and videologues. I am looking to also create a primary website (currently, there’s a temporary FB page by same name) that will store all of this. Of note, the assumption is that this has been done before, but it hasn’t. And without exaggerating, my belief regarding this issue is that it is at the core of and integrally related to the anti-indigenous attitudes that exist in our communities.

So here’s the link and look forward to more stories/memories and testimonios. And for those who have already turned in something, it’s time to start looking at recording these stories. I will soon share two powerful recordings.
Thank you: Dr. Cintli.

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