Article on light-skinned people in racial justice struggle

Black People Have Every Right to Distrust You For Being Light Skinned

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One Response to Article on light-skinned people in racial justice struggle

  1. Erica Mena says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, and for bringing it up in class. I’m grateful to have the chance to read about this, and help me frame my own engagement with white/light privilege. There are a couple of things I want to pull out of this article:

    “Being light skinned is a privilege, not a struggle.” — You already know how I feel about either/ors – can it be both? Can we engage with the paradox of it being both in a way that is useful, expansive, instructive? The struggle of being racialized other than your identity, I wonder if it can be usefully analogized (without making it equivalent) to the struggle of being gendered other than your identity? So for example, because I am femme I am always/constantly read as female, but my actual gender identity is non-binary. For someone who is on the masc. side of the spectrum, that gendering can give them a kind of privilege of moving through the world male, but can still cause emotional trauma, violence, etc.? I’m asking these questions genuinely, and would welcome disagreement, nuance, complication, etc.

    “We need to step back from these positions of authority; other Black people have the right to question our authority when we don’t.” YES. 100% yes.

    “It took me years—well into my adult life—to truly comprehend that the baggage I carried around my light skin had been given to me not by other Black people, but by the racist systems that invest my whiteness with power, shielding me from at least some of the violence rained down on so many other people in my family, neighborhood and larger community.” YES YES YES.

    “I am the one who is charged with giving up my light-skin privilege, making myself dangerous to the structures that imbue me with a greater humanity just for being light.” Yes, I think about this all the time. I have access to these institutions (like right now, teaching at Brown) because of my privilege, and it is my work to infect and undermine and dismantle as much as possible.

    “This is why “mixed” is an identifier I do not use. It is a term which privileges those of us who happen to know who some of our non-Black ancestors are, and which fails to acknowledge that most Black people on this planet are mixed—if not racially, then ethnically, culturally, geographically.” I respect his refusal of “mixed” as an identifier to him, and his critique of that identifier within the Black community. I’m very attached to the term, and find myself wanting to defend it’s application to me, my friends who use it as a signifier of power in identity (some of whom are mixed Black, some of whom are mixed latinx, some of whom are mixed Asian, etc.). I wonder how this critique extends beyond the Black community? I think there’s a danger here in centering the struggle of the Black community to the erasure or elision of the experiences and struggles of other racialized communities, and I want to make sure that while colorism is still at the front of our conversations it’s doesn’t become a division-point in our multiple perspective critique of white supremacy. In the Critical Mixed Race Studies I’ve read so far, there’s a critique of the black/white dichotomy which tends to overwhelm the experiences of non-black racialized communities in the US because of the immensity of that discourse.

    “Making room for the unbridled expression of Black rage means that those of us who are sheltered from the brunt of anti-Blackness should be quiet, should use our privilege to allow greater space for other Black people to vocalize their resentment, their pain and their needs.” YES. I talk about this a lot with my white friends, who come to me for education instead of putting that burden on our more obviously racialized friends (a role which I elected within my group, because I have the additional resources afforded to me by my lightness to do so) — that our white skin is a literal shield, and we can use our bodies to deflect and protect, and that is perhaps the most valuable thing we can do: show up, shut up, and physically hold the space open for others.


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