The Myth of Light-skin Privilege

By Kelby Williams


It has occurred to me that there is a need to address this long standing animosity between those who identify as being black and those who identify as mixed race (for the sake of continuity and my personal preference let’s settle on this term). Now, we’re all aware that colourism is by no means a new phenomenon amongst any race but, if anything, does its extensive history not make our involvement in its perpetuation even more ridiculous? If we’re to assume – and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to do so – that we share, as a collective, the goal of unapologetic, uncompromising female liberation, then why is it that we indulge in petty disputes which in the end could only work to serve a patriarchal agenda?

The prejudiced views held by some black women against mixed race women , and even other black women with lighter skin, are based largely on a perceived privilege enjoyed by said women. So if this is the foundation of the intolerance, let’s analyse the reality of these ‘privileges’ and to what extent our experiences actually differ. The first privilege enjoyed by us lighter folk; a free pass with some racists who say we’re not ‘one of them’. Now, let me point out that while some racists choose to accept us by focusing on a fraction of our heritage, most don’t make any differentiation. As has been stated by many in the past ‘we’re all niggers to them’ which is to say that these people inflict the same abuses on both mixed race and black people. This isn’t however to say that this so-called privilege doesn’t exist. I have experienced this and know that it does. However, what is it that is so fortunate about others feeling it is OK to be racist around us? Why should I feel privileged when someone says to me ‘I hate niggers’ and I’m supposed to be passive in my response or even agree because ‘it’s OK, I’m not one of them.’?

When people are racist around mixed race people, expecting them to accept it, it is a clear demonstration of a societal view that our racial identity is somehow illegitimate. It is an assumption made by these people that we have chosen a ‘side’ as it were – and naturally their superiority complex means that it would of course be ‘their’ side. So this acceptance from some racists is predicated on the assumption that we have rejected the influence of our black heritage on our identity, and those of us who choose not to are considered to be black and subject to their hatred. This leaves mixed race people rejected by both societal groups which make up their heritage. What is it about that, that we should feel so grateful for?

The second major source of friction between black and mixed race women – which I believe isn’t discussed for fear of appearing arrogant – is a perceived preference by some (particularly black) males, for mixed race females. Some heterosexual black women may feel that some men stating a preference for mixed race women is a denigration of their beauty. And with the vast underrepresentation of black women and the unending cultural appropriation from white media outlets it would appear that mixed race and otherwise lighter-skinned women have managed to go unhindered. However when we look at these particular racially orientated males who claim to ‘love’ mixed race women, we see how in fact that’s not the face value compliment you may think. I for one don’t enjoy being objectified and fetishised for something that is beyond my control. These men view the fact that a woman is mixed race above all other characteristics as a ‘trophy’, dehumanising and devaluing us, reducing us to the intersection of a Venn diagram.

These are just two of the issues I believe to be contributing factors to tension between lighter and darker skinned women, but as we’ve seen once you unpick these issues there really isn’t much ‘privilege’ at all.



About Black Feminists Manchester

This is a group for women who are ‘black’ in the political sense. I.e: women who self- identify, originate or have ancestry from global majority populations (i.e. Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America) multi heritage and indigenous backgrounds.
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One Response to The Myth of Light-skin Privilege

  1. The point being that blackness is political. False ‘race’ concept is political. In my personal experience narratives are personal and unique but its about being non-white, typified in the whole US ‘one-drop rule’. If you are not white you are open to racism in all its forms. And I feel there is something specific about being a black woman of mixed heritage, its a very distinctive psychological experience. I need to do a lot more research and study into this and to be honest its a focus of my personal academic goal. (FYI: black woman of mixed heritage)

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