My exposure to white privilege started when I came to the U.S. In the Caribbean at-large, colorism is manifested in varying degrees from the manner in which some receive preferential treatment than others based on the shade of their skin.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites that Colorism is the act of being prejudice or discriminatory against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically against people of the same ethnic or racial group. At first the usual feeling of being frowned upon or looked at differently from my peers went undetectable throughout middle school.
Once I started high school, a new aura emanated in the atmosphere. I didn’t feel welcome within black and white groups. I began to wonder if I was the problem and looked into various books without realizing that the systemic and deep-seated issue on race warranted such behaviors from both sides. My college experience further deepened my thoughts and concerns on race that continues to plague the everyday lives of folks.
As a light skinned woman whose origins are in the Caribbean, it was always a challenge navigating a divisive system where I didn’t fit anywhere. It led me to learn more on light-skinned privilege and challenge the notion that somehow we have it better than others within the Black community. I can definitely say this has not been my experience. The animosity felt within my own community left wounds that needed to be healed and reconciled with to carve out my own sense of what blackness meant to me.
From the time of slavery to now, black people have been made to feel like second class citizens in a country they built on their backs. But even on the plantations, ethnocentric discrimination practices were being harvested in the hearts of black folks starting from the individuals who worked in the cotton fields to the ones who labored in the master’s household. The Civil Rights Movement may have created vast opportunities for us as a community but it could not foresee accurately the damage these discriminatory practices already had in the Black psyche.
It renders the question on whether the Civil Rights Movement was fully equipped to manage the long term aftermath of racism in our communities. It could not have foreshadowed that years later, racial profiling would once become a hot topic or that some of us continue to entertain the messages that were instilled in us in how we judge each other within our niche. This is a continuation on the practices put in place by our society who wanted us to view and judge ourselves against unrealistic metrics. It begs the question on whether we have forgone these days or are we still bonded to the system that chained us from the start subconsciously?
The movie “US” brings up a good point on the hypocrisy on black empowerment solely on the fact that we can be our worst enemies. This is akin to a game of Whack-a-Mole where we keep others down in order to raise ourselves up. It also brings to the fore our unwillingness to address the painful trauma that years of slavery has done to us as a people. As much as light-skinned and white privilege have been brought to the limelight on its damaging effects on creating more dis-unity, the movie also helped me concede that these privileges were imposed on us by our oppressors. It is not something we ever asked for. The hurt and lack of understanding for those like me who didn’t ask to carry that burden feels like carrying festering scars that are too stubborn to heal. These cyclical forms of oppression feed on resistance to change. But I truly want to believe that these spaces can fully heal if we take the time to address them.
With it’s unwinding and twisting plots, the movie “US” makes us ask whether or not we ever experienced post-racial freedom. Even if we have made some progress on some fronts and we have organized ourselves through many different groups to address polemic racism and social injustice; I also think that the forthcoming generations are more cognizant of the importance of spreading the message of inclusivity and racial justice. But the question still sits on your spirit whether we ever truly healed from the trauma.
Additionally, when we look at world known figures such as Kamala Harris or Michael Eric Dyson, are we still stuck in the rhetoric on what blacks should look or sound like. For the longest time, my blackness was judged based on the way I expressed myself, and my eclectic taste in the activities I partook in. Even if high school and college are meant to be playgrounds for people to experiment in, most of my peers chose to view me from a single lens. Never was it considered that maybe I was crafting my blackness differently just like everyone else was doing around me.
I was never asked if the hurtful comments made within my community attempted to lift me up or tear me down in the process. Instead, I was expected to keep my head down. And, this type of behavior even occurs in the workplace where some may indulge in microaggression.
I have never asked to be treated differently because this was not the path I had chosen eons ago. Do we somehow continue to undergird the legitimacy and the integrity of our blackness even when we share different politics. At the end of the day, it’s not our politics that tie us together. It is important for us not to judge our blackness against the backdrop of what some of us think or feel our blackness should be like. Just like a company has to evaluate its programs in order to be socially relevant, Blackness to me has to wear many hats and manifest itself in various multilateral degrees for it not to become obsolete.
Navigating the world as myself has involved making decisions to omit parts of myself to survive in a community who wasn’t ready for I had to bring to the table. I was too black to mingle with certain folks because of my lexicon or use of language, shunned in the white community because of my appearance and the texture of my hair. Those who look like me don’t ask to have preferential treatment or to be somehow treated as trophies. Nor have I asked to be exposed to people within my community who would make senseless jokes as if somehow the comedic spin to these comments assuages the trauma I experienced navigating this system as a misfit.
I had to come to terms with over time being mindful of the image or unconscious preconceptions of how people like me were looked at through race and gender. Sometimes people don’t understand the power of words and how it can underscore or break down the experiences of misfits to a series of irrelevant happenings that still have profound impacts on how we communicate to the world.
I think it is imperative to address the deleterious impact of colorism on black communities by taking the following initiatives:
1. Participating in social justice centered groups, libraries, faith-based organizations, and social media that support racial justice. The hardest lesson I had to learn through the experience of living in the U.S. is that nothing can be transcended unless it is confronted head on. Placing Band-Aids on scarred wounds do not change people but looking through the timeline of events on how we landed here may bring forward much needed answers to the source of our complexities.
2. Questioning our biases and impression management on how we relate to the people we label as “other” in our communities. We must not fear the “other” but rather seek to find places of mutual interests and understanding. Telling a single story of another person only exacerbates ignorance and our fear of the unknown.
3. Delegitimizing respectability politics because these tactics bury ourselves so we can full show up as our authentic selves. Respectability Politics is a “performance” because these approaches reinforce within-group stratification though it’s use is to contradict stereotypes.
4. Understanding that our standards though used as survival mechanisms can be another form to encourage ways to un-uplift black communities. You cannot fix that you ignore.
- Black with some white privilege.2018.https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/opinion/sunday/black-with-some-white-privilege.html
- Performing a Vanilla Self: Respectability Politics, Social Class, and the Digital World. 2018. Journal of Computer-Mediated Community.
- Unpacking White Privilege and Prejudice. 2018. Red Table Talk Facebook series