By Janine Francois
Dear Kilby, (and all my light-skinned / mixed-race feminist and non-feminists women)
I write this feeling hurt but equally hopeful, that this can be reclaimed as a safe space for darker-skinned black women.
Oppressed people can internalise white patriarchal supremacy.
Kilby, your piece reminded me of all the conversations I have had with black men and white women about black women’s issues, yet only for them to dismiss and silence me; this is how privilege works. So when I read your opening sentence, “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…” I thought, does this “animosity” have any connection to darker-skinned black women calling out lighter-skinned / mixed-raced women in how they are complicit in their oppression. The type of complicity, where a group of girlfriends go out for the night to have a black or white man totally disrespect their friend and not saying anything or worse she disrespect her in front of them? Or even the kind of complicity where lighter-skinned / mixed-race children are treated better than their darker-skinned siblings by the adult members in their family. The type of “animosity” where no one says anything and manifest as a patched up oozing wound in our community, with the potential destruction to black women’s self-esteem? Does skin bleaching come to anyone’s mind?
Anyway, I digress. I felt very angry when you did not offer any solutions to the issues you raised. I accept that colourism is neither your creation nor your fault. By choosing to ignore it or hoping it will magically disappear one day is you exerting your privilege, “…we are all aware that colourism is by no means a new phenomenon… does its extensive history not make our involvement in its perpetuation even more ridiculous?… then why is it that we indulge in petty disputes which in the end could only work to serve a patriarchal agenda?” It is possible that I missed this memo, so whilst I catch up, I would like to highlight the “pettiness” of darker-skinned black women serving longer sentences than their lighter-skinned counterparts.
There are some mixed-raced / lighter-skinned black women (and men) who can and do “pass” for white, in fact there is a whole herstory of this. I get it, it’s a survival tactic under white supremacy, they are playing the rules of the game that people-of-colour did not create. If being able to “pass” means access to better job opportunities, education, housing, respect and not getting shot by the police; I certainly can not and will not blame anyone for choosing to play that card. It is a no brainer. But dark-skinned women will never get a chance to play that card.
During slavery (whilst I was not there) I would imagine that mixed-raced / light skinned people received little rejection from black community, and this legacy is present today. Black folks do not hospitalise each other for having a mixed-race grandchild. What often happen are black families accommodating this child (in particularly mixed-raced children) especially when it comes to hair care needs. As an aunty of a mixed-race baby niece and a teenage nephew, for the latter who had to teach him about his hair texture; and without fail every Sunday my brother brings his daughter so, my mum, sister or I can do her hair. Black women in such family dynamics are expected by their black male relatives to perform such duties and this is how black patriarchy works (my mother has put an embargo on this, as we’ve all had enough). I have never heard of this happening to white female relatives.
Kilby, you are a mixed-race woman and I am a brown-skinned black woman, our images are everywhere. It is easier for us to find positive images of women who look like us along with the many negative ones too; we are the acceptable face of blackness. I set you the challenge to name 10 dark-skinned Black British female personalities. I apologise for setting you up to fail. It is a dangerous game when what is constituted as ugly is not read in how white supremacy permeates our interpersonal contexts, “Some heterosexual black women may feel that some men stating a preference for mixed race women is a denigration of their beauty,” sometimes I truly wished I lived in a vacuum. The kind of place where a black man feels no-shame in telling me, “the lighter you go the easier it is to deal with,” (yes those words of poetry were spoken to me). Or when statistics tell us that as a collective black men are dating outside their race with particular interest in white women; and when Zoe Saldana has been cast as Nina Simone and she sees absolutely nothing wrong in that decision. Reality sinks in and I succumb to how these interpersonal and systematic experiences all meet at the crossroads, congregating under the signs that reads: “black women you be ugly, if you blacker you be uglier.”
I don’t appreciate being told by white men, black men, white women and now you, “once you unpick these issues there really isn’t much ‘privilege’ at all.” It is dismissive and avoids responsibility this is what privilege is.
Suggestions on challenging colourism;
- Dispelling stereotypes like, dark-skinned women hate themselves, are desperate or have an attitude problem.
- Listen, reflect, then some more listening and reflection, BUT do not interrupt when speaking (it is bad manners).
- Hold White and Black patriarchy for accountable for colourism and invisibility of darker-skinned black women especially in cultural production. Kilby please hold these institutions accountable and not darker-skinned black women.
- Call it out, put whoever needs putting in their place, one time.