Friday, March 21, 2008

The Miss Jamaica Mulatto Factory

I’ll be the first to admit that a beauty contest is a pretty easy target. The bane of feminists, scholars, spunky girls, intelligent girls, hard achieving women, unpretty women and just about anybody aware that this is the 21st century, beauty contests have been around longer than them all and will be around presumably long after. That doesn’t grant them respect, but one does come away with a certain grudging admiration. It seems even foolish now to be appalled when a beauty queen conforms to stereotype—who expects a contestant to have a view on Marcus Garvey or Michel Foucault when the whole world needs to adopt a puppy? What beauty contests say about women is still an open and now tired debate, but what it says about race, particularly in a country like Jamaica is still up for grabs.

This is Facebook’s fault. Only this week somebody who shall remain nameless sent me a message, recruiting me on a campaign for (I can’t remember her name) to win Miss Jamaica. The winning Miss Jamaica would then represent the country at Miss World, where as you may not know ‘beauty’ comes ‘with a purpose.’ I took one look at the girl and remembered a remark I made in a review of Thomas Glave’s last book where I brought up the oh no he di-int specter of what I like to call Consensual Eugenics.

Consensual Eugenics. Post WW2, Nazis flocked incognito to the tropics; for anonymity to be sure, but you have to wonder if they had not marveled at what we’ve been doing for centuries in the Caribbean, without the help of a good old kristalnacht to spur us. The transmogrification from one race to another. Many white Jamaicans would be stunned, for instance to discover that they are actually black. This is neither new nor unique to Jamaica. Mr. Black man has sex with lighter black woman (or white woman if he hits a bonanza!) to produce brown child, or mulatto. Said brown child has sex with slightly browner woman (or whitey) to produce Quadroon. Said Quadroon has sex with other Quadroon (or whitey) to produce Octoroon. Said Octoroon, who can now pass, has sex with white woman to produce full free—er, white. This sounds like ancient history but black men and women are doing it right now or making plans in an office cubicle near you. I’ll never forget my shock when a former co-worker came back from the hospital blushing with pride that his bred a child that looked like his brown wife and not him. This from a graduate of a tertiary institution.

Consensual Eugenics however should not be mistaken for jungle fever. That is a matter of the heart or loins, both of which demand some form of heat. Nor is to be mistaken for genuine blind love. The least interesting thing about interracial couples is their race and they would be the first to tell you. But its the others, the ones who know what they are doing that bowl you over, mostly because sometimes I wonder if they have a point. We haven’t had a dark skin Miss Jamaica for some time now.

But aren’t light-skinned Negroes people too? Even a white Jamaican has a right to enter a beauty contest, even to win it, but the endless parade of different models of the same insipid mulatto female archetype has me wondering if these women are born at all, but engineered on some breeder assembly line hiding out in Vernam Field. Some may think my objection is racial. Some of these very women will quite proudly tell you that they are black, and our doubting them says far more about us that it does about them. The very distinction of “brown” says more about the person using the term than the person whom the term is being used. It’s not the race of these women that makes them so objectionable, but the blandness of them, the monolithic sameness of the brood that trots of 18 versions of the same model year after year. Lisa Hanna, a beauty queen of rare intelligence was a striking break from the norm (well sorta, being Indian...ish) but she has quickly become the exception that proves the rule, despite her being the last to actually win the Miss World crown. The very next year all contests went back to normal, popping another generic mulatta out the beauty poop chute, as if uptown high schools sold them by the bushel. It says something, though I’m not sure what, that the type of woman that won a beauty contest in 1979, looks absolutely no different from the type that won in 2007.

Then again, dumb beauty queens are one the great guilty pleasures of civilization. And the dim ones are far more preferable to the driven ones, frightening in their self-determination to win contests, dust out rivals, snag a politician as husband or breeder, and go to work in the biblical sense. Beauty contests even provide sorely needed temporary employment, after all, there are only so many flight attendants, receptionists and entertainment coordinator positions available in one small island and not every woman knows how to be a good beard. One wonders what happens to these women afterwards. Some go on to enter contest after contest, making hay while the jaw lines hold. But what about the others? I think the beauty queen mulatto factory rounds them all up at gunpoint, takes them to a ‘camp’ run by a leading cosmetics company and then shred them to pieces in a Garbage disposal. Then, ever environmentally conscious these women are recycled and reshaped into a brand new model. A new model same as the old model, mind you.