light

I follow HuffPost Black Voices on FaceBook. HuffPost Black Voices is what it sounds like: a page that posts information related to race, racialization, and black folx (and, unfortunately unsurprisingly, the vast majority of content authors are white). A few months ago, they posted an article about “light skin privilege,” similar to the article that Naomi posted to the class blog. On this thread, tons of black people were arguing that light skin privilege was a construct whose sole purpose is tearing black people apart, while others posted stories about the privileges that their light skin has offered in them, compared to their darker-skinned friends, families, and peers. To my naive surprise, many of the comments arguing against the existence of light skin privilege dishearteningly paralleled arguments spoken by those who deny white privilege.

As a multiracial woman of color with “medium”-toned skin, I find it hard to believe that people truly don’t see the privileges that they are afforded by virtue of their light skin. For instance, light-skinned black women are often seen as more beautiful, more “put together”, and all-around more respectable than dark-skinned black women are. Conversations centered on the idea that mixed babies are “goals”, for example, further demonstrate that people see whiteness as a positive addition to a person of color’s identity.

Prior to reading “Black People Have Every Right to Distrust You for Being Light Skinned”, I had definitely believed in light-skin privilege; however, I hadn’t considered how it could affect a person’s role in situations meant to dismantle power structures that support and are supported by anti-Blackness. When the article writer said that they “do not relish engaging law enforcement, but know it is safer for [them] to do so” and that there are “too many [light-skinned black folx] in leadership roles, too many of [them] called on to speak to issues [they] are undeniably less impacted by than darker-skinned members of [their] community], my first inclination was to whole-heartedly agree, to say that light-skinned black people should take a step back and realize that they aren’t as impacted by these issues. Upon reading the comments, however, I learned that one commenter strongly disagreed with the author’s use of “light skin” and “step back.” The commenter, “the4thtwin”, reminded the author that there are different privileges afforded to “racially ambiguous” black people versus light skinned people who are perceived to be unequivocally black. This commenter went on to say that the racially-ambiguous author was demonstrating too much “humility” and that the commenter said “[the author should] acknowledge some sort of privilege but step back? Lol.”

This comment brought about questions that I honestly don’t know how to answer. What roles do white-passing PoCs play in the race battle?  At a societal level, to what degree are these roles different from the roles that white allies play? How does a white-passing individual’s blackness intersect with their perceived whiteness in various social settings and structural institutions? Lastly, what value, if any, does vicarious pain for a white-passing PoCs darker-skinned family/friends/peers contain?

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One Response to light

  1. Erica Mena says:

    These questions… I think about them literally all the time, as a white-passing PoC latinx person. My brother doesn’t pass. He’s also not black. I think one of the pitfalls of the conversation about race and racism is the default to the binary black/white – which is part of how racism was constructed in the U.S. but it’s served the function of dividing potential non-white allies from one another, as well as tricking white-passing racialized minorities into believing that they can have the benefits of white supremacy. There’s a lot of good thinking about this question in the emerging field of Critical Mixed Race Studies. But I don’t have answers that I’m satisfied with…

    Like

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