by Zola Ray @ZolaMRay
Race is more than just skin color, but an effective dialogue about race is not complete without a discussion of the nuances of how skin color operates in society. As a light-skinned biracial woman who identifies as Black, but can often pass for white, I don’t experience the same level of racism that Black people who are darker than me experience. I used to deny my light-skinned privilege because I feared it would be equivalent to denying my heritage. But, ultimately, learning about my privilege allowed me to embrace my Blackness and to use it to speak out in the fight for racial justice.
Throughout the media, we see a number of light-skinned Black public figures using their privilege to make change. Earlier this year, some people expressed concerns that the face of young Black feminism is light-skinned and biracial, referring to celebrities like Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya Coleman. After Jesse Williams gave his moving speech at the BET Awards, others commented on the fact that he has light-skinned privilege. I thoroughly admire these influential celebrities for using their platforms to combat an unjust system without worrying about the comfort of the privileged.
While I would never denounce the passion with which these people fight for justice, it is true that the media often elevates the voices of Black people with lighter skin over others. There is no skin tone, way of dress, or behavior that can fully shield Black people from racism. But colorism does exist, and light-skinned people, like myself, benefit.
I didn’t always realize that I remain unoppressed by the system of colorism. Because I struggled to find my place in the Black community for much of my young life, I used to think my light skin was a curse. In elementary school, my Black classmates would often refer to me as a “white girl.” Sometimes this comment was in reference to my skin, and other times it was in reference to the ways I talked and acted. I felt that I was being stripped of a part of my identity.
Before entering middle school, my family moved to a predominantly white town. The area was racially segregated, and many people I went to school with couldn’t tell I was Black despite my textured hair. Consequently, they made racist comments in front of me, and I became afraid to reveal my race.
As the years progressed, I became more comfortable with telling people I’m Black. I thought if people knew, they would stop. I was wrong. It was very difficult to discern who didn’t know and who just didn’t think of me as that kind of black. At the time, I resented my light skin. I wished that I could be visibly Black so that my presence would be enough to stop the overtly racist remarks. I felt guilty that I hadn’t said anything. I felt like racism affected me more than anyone else. I was horribly wrong.
In my college years, I started thinking more critically about the impact of colorism within the Black community and throughout society as a whole. I realized that the teasing I received for being light wasn’t the same as the oppression darker Black women face. Unlike many darker Black women, I have the privilege of finding makeup that matches my skin tone, and seeing people with my skin tone considered beautiful in the media. I’ve never been told that I’m “pretty for my skin tone.” Unlike more “visibly black” people, I have never had a traumatic experience with the police. In fact, the only time I was confronted by a police officer, he ended up joking with me and leaving. I’m disgusted and horrified to think that if I were darker, the situation could have ended much worse.
I have been profiled. Many people can tell I’m biracial, and others think I’m Latina. I get a little nervous when walking by the cops, but I wonder if my fear is even justified as I contemplate what race they think that I am. It is at moments like these that I can’t believe I ever indulged in the woe-is-me mentality simply because of my skin color.
I still, however, feel the pain of racism. When I hear a white person use the n-word, I feel humiliated and have to remind myself that the shame is not mine. When I see on the news that the cops have killed another Black person, I fear for my own family members and friends. When I notice that someone I consider a friend seems uncomfortable around Black people, I feel like less of a human being.
When I meet people who seem to only trust me because of my skin color, I use the opportunity to speak to these people about the oppression of people of color in this country. When people make racist comments around me because they think I’m white, I speak out against what they say. I don’t just say “Actually, I’m black.” I let them know where their harmful ideas come from and how perpetuating them contributes to an oppressive system.
Just as being Black intersects with other parts of our identities, it also intersects with skin tone to create a systemic of social hierarchy that needs to be shattered, and light-skinned people like me can’t stop speaking out until racism and colorism do not exist.
As the Black liberation movement wages on, it has never been more clear these are fights that will have to be won on many fronts. The interests of marginalized people require both community organizing and public policy agenda setting, Alicia Garza told For Harriet.
Garza is one of three founders of Black Lives Matter. She is also a longtime organizer who works with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She spoke to editor-in-chief, Kimberly Foster, about We Won’t Wait, a new campaign that demands the needs of women of color, low income women and poor women are represented in public policy, as well as the first Movement for Black Lives policy platform.
Let’s start with the election. You are involved with an initiative that makes sure that the needs and concerns of women of color and low income women are addressed. What exactly is at stake?
No, that hasn’t changed for me. I think that I’m very clear about what’s at stake. I’m very clear that what’s at stake is bigger than Hilary Clinton. I’m very clear that what I will be doing in this election is any and all activity that is couched in that context. I’m very clear about who I don’t want to be president.
I think it’s a concern for all of us, for a number of reasons. One, I think it’s a concern because it erased the work that so many important, innovative, and bold organizations are doing. We’re really clear about the differences between us, and it’s not a competitive thing. It’s mostly to understand how our efforts combined actually make the impact we want. When we just talk about what’s happening in the streets as Black Lives Matter it really flattens the really impressive infrastructure that grown over the last couple of years.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the incredible work that Black Lives Matter chapters are doing. Whether it’s in Los Angeles where, I think, folks are on day twenty-three of an occupation of City Hall. After yet another officer was not held accountable in the murder of a black person. BLM Chicago, which has been courageously demanding accountability for police murder. To the courage of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis who led a month-long occupation of a police precinct after the murder of Jamar Clark and they themselves actually were completely traumatized by having five people shot by law enforcement, excuse me, by white supremacists during that occupation. That’s something that doesn’t get talked about a lot but it should because that’s where this country is heading. We’re allowing vigilantism to be the rule of the day.
I think that will help to grow and sustain this movement. When people see, when they read about what’s happening in the movement, they’re actually reading about what’s happening in their communities as opposed to what certain “leaders” think about what’s happening. We’re included in that.
I love this question because I think that maybe some people are sitting on the sidelines because they feel like I’m not a protester. That’s okay. Protest is important but it’s not the only way to participate. Having conversations with your family members and your loved ones about why you support this movement is a way to be a part of the movement. Contributing your expertise or skills to organizations or groups, even if they’re not organizations, that are moving work locally to change conditions is a way to be a part of this movement.
Source: For Harriet | Celebrating the Fullness of Black Womanhood
by Maleele Choongo @misszambia
Armed with good intentions and not much else, African expert and war historian, Louise Linton, jotted an article on the “nightmare” that was her one year stay in Zambia. This unleashed a slew of Africans, namely Zambians, who found her narrative a bit fallacious, dehumanizing, and other unimportant things. Linton, whose brain has been “frozen” since encountering a Congolese war on Zambian soil, vacated Twitter and has said little since the Zambian onslaught. I am one of the few Zambian Linton supporters, and I want her to come out of hiding. She did not survive the jungles of Zambia to live like this. I am writing this in defense of Louise and other white saviors past, present and future.
Because Louise is enamored by pint sized Zambian girls like me misnaming her, I’ll refer to her as Lint onwards. This is in no reference to the pesky white-greyish fibers that appear on your clothes at the most inopportune times (where do they come from, how do I get rid of them, you ask?); or navel lint — the kind that kept you picking at your belly button with a frustrated fix as a kid, until in adulthood you decide it is a waste of time. It’s just Lint.
Back to Lint. Day and night, she tossed a rock onto a map, waiting for it to land somewhere she could stroke her ego. A lady of simple needs, her only pleas were that the place be poor and far. A few tries and a hand cramp later, the pebble finally landed on a big blob of land labeled “Africa”.
“Poor and far,” her father murmured.
Now I mentioned that Lint had simple requests, but things change. Sometimes “poor and far” just won’t cut it. Makes for a good Facebook profile picture, yes, but you start to realize its nothing you’ve never seen before in any other part of the world. After all, 1 in 10 Scots live under extreme poverty; some children in the country are so underfed, an advisory was issued to some 300 schools after teachers noticed the impact poverty had on education.
I first have to admit that I was not as noble as Lint in my late teens: I didn’t fetishize the impoverished as a portal to satiate my egocentricity. Perhaps it is something that will grow on me when the time is right. My ignorance about foreign places definitely rivals with hers, though. I also have to admit that I am not as creative as Lint, and can’t be bothered to rely on anything than reality to tell my tale.
How I had done nothing to stop the country’s heroin epidemic, which “has hit every white socioeconomic class.” The place was rife with crises — water with lead infested pipes will affect children’s brain development, an AIDS epidemics, and millions living in poverty, to name a few. Fear and anger for the children consumed my thoughts.
How had I come to be in such a place and for what? And perhaps this is where I side most with Lint because I believe we both have the following recommendation: Fight those urges and don’t visit Zambia, or any other African country, in hopes of “saving” it or its people. You will be disappointed at how utterly unimportant and useless you are in the trajectory of their development. The audacity of Africans to assume their agency, even in your presence, will shock and drain you.
“But I’m a white SAVIOR!!!”, you say. You can’t help yourself, and no one understands that more than I do. Luckily for you, the world is so rampant with systematic oppression and violence toward people of color, you can stay right at home and still have at it. So as an alternative to trekking across the world to pretend you genuinely have any use or care for African people, you can stop cherry-picking the people of color you think are worth fake-caring about. At worst, this will at least save you money on a pricey plane ticket, which you can then use to get that shiny new white savior superhero costume you’ve been budgeting for. At best, you can actually be of some use; even if you don’t get to put “finally confronted the skeletons in my closet” on your resume. Go forth, white savior. This is your fight.
View more of Maleele’s work on Medium.