Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Creoles and Colorism in my Community

I feel like the discomfort that privileged people feel in conversations like this is something to be embraced. If talking to those who are marginalized (by us and by the community around us) isn't uncomfortable and messy and challenges what we believe about the world and about ourselves, then we are definitely doing it wrong. Solidarity isn't supposed to be easy or life-affirming. Solidarity is sacrifice.

For me, when dark-skinned/non-mixed race Black people talk about colorism, my first inclination is to want to believe that I'm one of them and not someone in the group they are talking about. I tell myself "After all, I'm not as light as SOME Black people that I know" and "Both of my parents have some Black heritage, so I'm not as mixed as MANY Black people". That is sooooo much easier than thinking of myself as someone who could be contributing to the marginalization of some Black people.

I want to believe that the ways that I embrace my Blackness are enough to make me no longer a part of the problems associated with colorism and racial privilege. It sounds silly to say it to other people, but in my mind I think, "I wear my hair in an afro and I personally believe that dark-skinned Black folks are gorgeous and make it a point to say so to others and I taught my kid to embrace hir Blackness. Isn't that enough to make me on the right side of this issue?" It seems legit to me. But, yeah, no.

I'm part of an extended family. We have definitely benefited from access to more educational opportunities back when most Black people in the West had none or very few. My immediate family was definitely poor compared to some folks in our Creole community. However, we weren't so poor that I wasn't able to spend my childhood raised in nice houses, in safe suburban neighborhoods, with decent area schools. There were many times in my life that I remember my mom getting certain jobs or us being able to get into even better schools and programs specifically because we could lean on our privileged mixed-race community, even though those were places where non-mixed race Black people were rarely to be found.

It's taken me years to own up to the fact that our inclusion was at the expense of darker-skinned people, because schools, employers, and programs could use us our presence to inoculate them from accusations of racial discrimination. We were "respectable negroes". It was easier for white people to relate to little light skinned kids with a father in academia and a stay at home mom. The way we spoke didn't confuse white folks nor was it associated with the Black community. We could be their Black friends or coworkers without them having to deal with those dark-skinned/non-mixed race Black folks who weren't as assimilated and/or whose unapologetic Blackness reminded them that the social hierarchy is changing to one where their whiteness won't keep them safe.

So, yeah. I'm a part of the problem of anti-Blackness and colorism. I figure it's never a bad time to start owning up to my privilege and it's probably even a good time to do it when my dark-skinned/non-mixed loved ones are saying that they're suffering as a result of these attitudes and behaviors.