Stereotypes have been best exemplified with Blacks or blackness. It does not only pertain to race but mainly, the color. From history, Blacks have suffered under the hands of the Whites, primarily because they were seen as inferior due to their skin color. Color is one thing where we can derive racial discrimination, social norms, and different stereotypes (Trent 34).
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In religion, this is especially where the color has an underlying moral meaning that permeates into society’s thinking. Basing from a personal experience, it will be determine how a color is used to distinguish an appearance of a religious icon. This experience will show how this appearance instigated a strong reaction especially from conservatives. It will also portray that this particular color connects with the moral connotation it brings.
This experience came from a cousin’s friend who bought a foot tall clay figurine from a high school bazaar. This white clay figurine was a cherub, a young boy with curly hair and chubby structure that has feathered wings. Martha has been collecting clay figurines ever since she was a kid. As an artist, she painted these with eclectic combinations of colors. Five from her collection were actually angels that have different color concepts of wings. She realized that all of her angels have white skin since it was the wings that she focused on. An idea popped in her head to experiment with the skin color of the angel.
Martha have chosen a cherub to compliment the playfulness of the concept that she was about to do. After battling with the concept for a few minutes, she had chosen to paint its skin black instead of pink. By the time she reached home, she excitedly shared her concept with her mother. However, Martha forgot that having strict Catholic Mexican parents this project will pose a problem.
Martha was not expecting the mortified look on her mother’s face when she said that the angel’s skin would be black. Her mother reprimanded her for messing with God. She even questioned Martha’s purpose of turning God’s ‘creature’ into something demonic. She was warned that what she was about to do is a satanic art.
Being an artist, she did not accept this kind of view. Angels have human form and humans have different shades of skin color. “Why can’t it be black?” A question she asked my cousin as she was relating this story. After a few arguments, she bought two tubes of black acrylic paint and headed on with her work. The outcome was a charcoal black angel that has beige curly hair and its wings painted like the sky of the setting sun.
No matter how beautiful Martha saw it, it was still received with disapproval from her mom. It was seen as a sort of betrayal to the faith. It was a radical twist for a religious icon and almost the same as heresy. Her mother told her numerous times to keep the black angel hidden in the closet because its presence brought uneasiness to her.
When this story was told to me, it got me thinking why a color on a figurine can cause such reaction from Martha’s mom. Then I remembered that Martha’s family is Catholic and a conservative Latin American type.
Being devotees of the Catholic Church, it was hard for Martha’s mom to accept her daughter’s concept applied to an object associated with God. Angels are said to be messengers of God and thus they are pure creatures. Purity is best associated and described with the color white. As a conservative devotee, the idea of having a black-skinned angel seems inappropriate. In her mom’s view, the very concept of angels being ‘pure creatures’ has been tampered.
By expanding the meaning of color in religion, God’s world known as heaven has been associated with light, brightness, and white. Most things that have a relation with these three characteristics are being linked with heaven. On the other side of the world, there is what we call darkness and black. These are things which are being connected with hell.
Color can be connected with emotions as well. The lighter the color the more pleasant and calming it feels; the darker the shade the more it emanates a sense of gloominess and anxiety. The black angel brought apprehensions to Martha’s mom because of its appearance and the moral meaning that goes with it. Blackness, as we all know, is usually partnered with evil. We see it on movies, on books, on newspapers and we hear it on music. This thought has been implanted to different societies for many years now. Martha’s angel was viewed by her mom as an example of it. For her mother, it was more of a devil child than an angel.
This story made a striking realization. In this modern time everything are being exposed through the media, breaking the old perceptions and norms that we had. Yet, as they say, old habits are hard to break. A color of a figurine may seem to be a small issue or not an issue at all. However, if it’s in the context of religion and in the eyes of a conservative devotee, this is an issue.
Color, even for objects or for people, entails different perceptions that results into stereotypes or in a much stronger aspect, discrimination. From what was written earlier, blackness depicts more of the negative side of things. Perceptions become a basis for standard and standard evolved into a set of rules to follow. Anything or anyone not meeting the rules is considered an outsider. Since the black angel is the opposite of what an angel should look like to the Catholics, it is not acceptable in Martha’s household.
The very concept of black, regardless if it talks about the race or the color, still posed a dislike from certain people. Martha’s experience presented a root of discrimination. People may not realized it but if its going to be examined into a much bigger picture, that experience can be sampled as an origin. It opened my eyes to do things without pre-notions, just like what Martha did. To lean to appreciate things that are not according to the norms, or if not, just to accept it the way they are. Just like the color black, it may not be assertive but it definitely has a strong point. To act in this world with no standards to follow and no prejudices could be a fulfilling thing to do.
In some parts of the world, whether coming from the religious sector or not, it is sad to think that this smallest form of discrimination can still exist. I guess this will take an ample amount of time before this can be eradicated. It is wrong to assume that discrimination has been wiped out and I do believe that it is still a continuous process.
Martha finished the artwork and displayed it together with the other angels hanging on the wall. Due to its skin color, the black angel stood out among the rest. Displayed with equal beauty, it proudly showed its exquisiteness. It may have been the least likeable figurine but the fact that it mingled with other angels, it already held a beauty of its own.
Trent, Judy S. Notes of a Black White Woman. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.
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