When I was small and something didn't go the way my parents wanted it to, they would shake their heads sadly and say to each other: "Ya can't win for losin'." I basically understood them to mean that no matter how hard you try and no matter how things look as if they're going in a positive direction, they never, in the end, turn out well.
Now, obviously, this wasn't true for them and eventually, I knew it. I mean, we started out in the mountains of Kentucky in a house across a vacant lot from a coal mine. And by the time I was in high school, we were in northern Illinois, living in a three-story house with a working fireplace and wall-to-wall carpeting (not minor accoutrements in the early 1960's).
But the saying stuck in my mind and I thought of it again today as I opened my new Jet magazine and saw the stunning young Togolese beauty queen who was named Miss World Cup in Germany the first of this month (see this.) Weird, huh? During World Cup matches, footballers of color are spit on, while "fans" make monkey noises and throw bananas onto the field. But Miss World Cup is a warm caramel color with a broad nose and large, dark brown eyes.
I'm sure that there are some who read my last post who would find this a wonderful thing. "See?" I can just hear them saying. "Things are getting better!" And that might be true for Togolese student Edwige Madze Badakou, who beat out 31 other contestants to win $2,500 and the use of a convertible for a year. But one can't help but wonder what this might or might not mean to a world class soccer player who's wiping some stranger's spit off the side of his face as he takes his position during a crucial moment in the game.
I know that this is going to make me look like somebody who can't see the positive even when it has a big red neon arrow pointed at it, blinking on and off. But the problem is, in my opinion, that White folks feel guilty about letting Black folks get brutalized, so they do things to make themselves feel better and give themselves an excuse to look the other way when the Hitler banners are unfurled. Like voting for a Black beauty queen.
Don't get me wrong. She's gorgeous. But that's not my point.
People of color (Africans, African-Americans, Asians, and a whole raft of other indigenous peoples, such as the Native Americans) have always earned their share of the awards, distinctions, and accolades, even when they didn't get them. The first thing you notice when you start studying real history (and herstory?) is that since White males had the power to decide what got published and disseminated, then White males got all the credit for everything, even if they didn't actually do it. Or it just didn't get reported at all. Tidy, huh? And, over time, in the United States, at least, people of color actually began to believe the hype themselves, waiting to "someday" be "allowed" to achieve something, when people just like them have been achieving all along.
Anyway, so here's this lovely young woman who had just as much right to win as anybody else, but there's no real way to know how many votes were cast "in solidarity" with people of color in the face of the vicious racism that blights the World Cup competition or because some White voter feels guilty about not doing anything else about it. The point isn't whether or not she should be or deserves to be Miss World Cup. She has as much right to be in that position, certainly, as any White queen who ever served because she met the Euro-centric standards of beauty that held such contests in their thrall for so long. The point is that her election can be used to placate White guilt that footballers of color still have to deal with violent attacks on themselves by White people during soccer matches. And that puts a whole new spin on "Ya can't win for losin'," huh?
I'll bet if the officials shut down the match the second a banana hit the field, that crap would cease. I'll bet if the officials had to pay 5000 Euros to every footballer that got spit on, the Hitler youth would stop being allowed into the games. But while on the one hand, Miss Badakou is enjoying (and rightfully so) her moment in the sun, official responses that would be strong enough to stop demonstrations of oppression against people of color at the event over which she ostensibly "reigns" are unlikely to occur. I wonder if it's hard to maintain her regal smile from time to time, watching her brothers continue to suffer because of their skin tone when it's the same as hers.