Actress Amandla Stenberg in a scene from the blockbuster movie The Hunger Games.

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The plight of the 'Red Woman' in T&T

By By Alidra Nicholas

Recently, the long-anticipated teen adventure movie The Hunger Games was released and patrons flooded the cinemas worldwide, making the movie a box- office smasher. Soon, posts were being uploaded to various social networking sites that one of the lead female characters was not suppose to be black.

Apparently, movie patrons are upset that the character of Rue is being played by a little black girl who they considered too dark for the role, even though in the book, the character is portrayed as having dark skin. My first reaction was to become defensive as most black people tend to do when faced with racial discrimination. After my temper had cooled, I started thinking that we black people have some nerves. The actress Amandla Stenberg is a mulatto, with a light-skinned complexion; in most black communities, under normal circumstances, this little light-skinned girl will be considered the enemy.

Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, you will often hear older women saying that "de only good red ting is ah dollah". This statement is usually made in reference to a black woman with a light-skinned complexion. While this woman is considered black by the rest of the world, in reality, most times, she is a mixture of two or more different races. Here, in Trinidad and Tobago, this light-skinned woman can be a mixture of any of the African, East Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, White or Syrian races that help make up our cosmopolitan nation. This "red woman", as she is customarily called in T&T society, has found herself in a precarious position—she is objectified by some men and also hated by some women.

Once a woman is born "red" in Trinidad, she automatically becomes a victim of objectification and prejudice. The men see her as the ultimate sex partner and the best woman to have children with because his children will have a "nice complexion", "good hair" and even "pretty eyes". While for the "dark-skinned" woman, the red woman is considered to be a whore, a home-wrecker and the one that gets all the "good men" in society. The darker women in Trinidad and Tobago view the red woman as having life easy; they consider her to be "stuck-up" or one who "feel she white". They see her light skin as a free pass and as a tool of manipulation, seduction and power.

These negative stereotypes placed on the red woman have been in existence since the days of slavery. In a newspaper article entitled "Club Backlash Hits on Black Women's Divide", American anti-racism activist and author Elizabeth Atkins discussed the influence slavery has on this issue. Quoting from a 2006 doctoral thesis by Matthew Harris, she said "lighter-skinned children of slaves and their owners were given better treatment and less strenuous household chores than darker slaves who toiled in the fields. She goes further to say that this "created a lot of animosity among slaves and began to replicate itself after slavery…once blacks were able to have their own groups, they, too, adhere to the whole system of lightness being better".

Because of our forefathers' ideology of light skin, the modern-day light-skinned woman is now forced to face the brunt of the blacks' hatred. The red woman is not viewed as an individual but as a representation of a class or creed of people. While the dark-skinned woman carries a grudge against the red woman (for reasons they cannot explain or validate), the red woman is in a constant struggle to break the shackles of slavery, which has her confined to a personality that is given to her without her consent.

If women will take the time to think, they will realise that dark-skinned women are doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers and wives. If they research their history, they will see that coloured women were enslaved, raped, beaten and murdered as well. The light-skinned woman has had the same experiences as the dark-skinned woman. In some cases, it is harder for the light-skinned woman because the darker skins discriminate against her and the whites reject her. Not all red women are the same, and the shade of someone's skin should not be used to determine who they are. Any woman, regardless of the shade of her skin, can betray her friend's trust; any woman can have an affair with your husband, and any woman can use her body as a way of making it to the top. It is time women put this prejudice aside and realise that instead of fighting each other, we should be fighting a society that has oppressed women in general.

—Alidra Nicholas is a student at the University of Southern Caribbean

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