The racial pressure to achieve a desirable “light” complexion and acceptable appearance has compelled many of the dark skin-toned individuals within society to adopt beautification strategies. This comes with an intent to make themselves more attractive to society. Malcolm X, one of the influential characters of the black movement, was once affected by the racial perception pressures in his younger years. In “My First Conk,” Malcolm writes about how this aspect had once compelled him to get his first conk as an approach to better his appearance. Richard Rodriguez similarly experiences the profiling pressures of crafting the perfect identity. The situation left him frustrated, especially given that he was a Mexican with a dark skin tone. Drawing from the similar experiences of Malcolm X and Richard Rodriguez, it is apparent that racial profiling was a tormenting factor that provoked and compelled the dark-skinned individuals living in America to regard their complexion as inferior, which in turn made them employ beauty related tactics as an approach to transform their perceived image into constructs of desirable reflection.
Malcolm X in the article titled “My First Conk,” elaborates on his first experience as he embarked on a beautification treatment that was aimed to enhance his appearance. The Conk was famous among the African Americans during the early twentieth century as it portrayed their hair to be similar to that of the white Americans from an appearance perspective. However, the difference that existed between the two versions was that the white man’s hair was naturally straight, while the African American’s hair was curly. Unfortunately, the African American had to struggle and undergo a tormenting experience if he desired to transform his curly hair, which was perceived as “bad” into the natural straight version.
In Malcolm’s narration, it was evident that he was excited to be treating his hair to have the appearance of a Conk design. Little did he know about the torment he would experience all in the name of beautification. From the use of boiled potatoes, application of eggs, and exposure to intense heat, and then subsequently the recollection of the warm congolene, a sensation that was accompanied by immense pain once Shorty began combing through his head, Malcolm’s narration was one that reflects the physical and mental torture that an individual once had to go through all in an attempt to become acceptable within the community. It is unfortunate to note that after going through all the torment, Malcolm X acknowledged to have degraded his reflection to that of a white man, an aspect that perceived the natural look of negro men and women to be inferior.
Author Rodriguez, similarly to Malcolm X, also offers in his article the audience a unique view of the struggle he encountered as a result of being born with a dark-skin tone. At the beginning of the story, the author elaborates on the beach scenario, where his mother encouraged him to wrap his shoulders while going for swimming. This scenario resonates within him to be caused by sexual inferiority and shame, as a result of his appearance. It is evident in Rodriguez’s narration that he suffered from psychological torture, considering at the age of twelve; he locked himself up in a bathroom where he anticipated he would be removing his dark tone skin. It is crucial to note that despite Rodriguez bearing numerous flaws of his body, such as gorged out teeth, and long nose, he was primarily disturbed by the appearance of his body, which was dark-toned. He believed that this escalated his vulnerability against all the other shortcomings.
For Rodriguez, it is evident that his skin tone had taken a toll on him, an aspect that deterred him from forming a healthy social life. This was cultivated by his phobia of rejection and vulnerability among fellow age mates. For instance, during the class projects, such as photography, painting a self-portrait, or looking himself at the mirror, Rodriguez was disappointed by his dark skin tone. He often envied his older brother who had a lighter complexion. This made him feel inferior and segregated. From being withdrawn from girls as a teenager, becoming a loner among fellow students while he was in high school, as well as physically tormenting himself while in primary school, it is unquestionable that Rodriguez had a very low self-esteem. This situation frustrated his relationship with the outer world.
When analyzing both stories, it is evident to see that society’s opinions on dark skin tones truly wrecked the self-perceptions of both Malcolm X and Richard Rodriguez. In a bid to escape his vulnerability of being dark-skin toned, Malcolm opted to transform his hairstyle appearance into one that was defined by similarity to the white man. Rodriguez, on the other hand, chose to victimize himself for being helpless and incapable of transforming his appearance to a light skin complexion that was similar to his brother. In both of the scenarios, it becomes clear that the dark-skinned man played a significant role in degrading himself in the eyes of the society. He allowed his subconscious to be masked by the profiling stereotypes that ultimately exposed his vulnerability. This aspect strengthened his stand in the then racial and stereotypical white majority setting.
From a differences point of view, the forms of degradation that occurred in the essay were different. Malcolm X degradation was physical for he opted to change his hair color to match that of the white man. He felt that by changing his hair color would make him receive better treatment from the society. On the other hand, in Rodriguez scenario, the form of degradation that occurred was psychological as it tormented the character since he was a small child up to when he was in secondary school. However, unlike Malcolm X, Rodriguez is incapable of intervening in his situation, an aspect that in the end took a significant toll on his social relationships.
In conclusion, when reading through both Malcolm’s and Rodriguez’s articles, it is evident that racism and stereotypical profiling took a major toll on both of the men in the articles. At the time, racism had crafted the perception of whites as superior while dark-skinned minority communities were portrayed to be inferior. The given aspect provoked the blacks to mask up their vulnerability through the manipulation of physical appearance such as in the case of Malcolm X, or the overwhelming nature of disgust in the case of Rodriguez. It is unfortunate to note that rather than standing up to defend and glorify their natural skin tone, the dark-skinned minority communities played a critical role in degrading their completion for they readily traded off their customs for the white man’s perception and expectation.