Fifty Shades of Woke : What They Won't Tell You About Light Skinned Privilege
“Let me break this down so it can forever and consistently be broke...”
I recently heard someone say, “In order to have a productive discussion on ‘Colorism’, first these light skinned folk need to recognize their privilege.” And as MANY times as ive heard this, or something similar, I rarely hear it come from the mouth of someone who actually understands and has lived through the “Light Skinned Privilege” experience. See, light skinned folk aint supposed to have problems. We wake up in the morning, in our fancy light skinned house, located in our fancy light skinned neighborhood, drive off in our fancy light skinned car to our good paying light skinned job, as we float through this easy light skinned life of ours. That’s why whenever you hear light skinned folk complaining about anything, they’re met with “Yall so damn sensitive. Aint nobody worried about light skinned problems.” Because, I mean….. look around …. the nerve of us to ever complain, right?? Well, if you’re still reading this by now, I just wanted to give you a little bit more of an inside view as to what “Light Skinned Privilege” actually looks like to a real life light skinned, African American individual, or woman to be more specific. Most especially one born and raised in the south. Contrary to what you’ve probably been told, being light skinned doesn't guarantee you access to some exclusive club or a fast track golden ticket to the American dream. ( I know, shocking right?? ) Or at least, that’s certainly not what MY light skinned package included, but hey, maybe I was absent that day when they were passing out privilege. My experience was a bit……different. Especially growing up in New Orleans, La, a city that is just as rich in culture, as it is in segregation. As a local, there's an unwritten “white side” and “black side” to everywhere you go, and when you’re a Creole in New Orleans, many times nobody wants you on either of their teams. You’re too white for the blacks and too black for the whites, and then, people treat you as if YOU were the one who made the decision to exclude yourself, when in reality, in many cases you’re probably not even welcomed. If you research the history of New Orleans, and how many of the neighborhoods and "wards" were first developed, everything was designed around race, class, and ethnicity. Originally the city was divided into 3 main municipal districts, but as the population grew, so did the city limits. There was a large portion of the city already under the influence of the African slave trade, then around 1809, over nine thousand refugees from Saint Domingue (known today as Haiti),
doubled New Orleans's population, reviving its already predominantly Catholic, French speaking and Afro-Caribbean culture, and
reinforcing its intermixed settlement patterns. If you understand the roots of the Creole community, then you know that it was mostly a culture that was brought to life after French slave owners began raping and impregnating their darker skinned African, and Hatitian female slaves, resulting in an onset of increased mixed race offspring between female slaves and their masters. These lighter complected individuals were still "negroes", but they were mostly kept in the house and used for domestic, and many times sexual, services. This caused a huge social division between the slave community despite the fact that many times, all they had were each other to lean on. The darker slaves ,many times felt that the lighter slaves were shown favor and were exposed to less harsh elements, and the darker skinned hard workers were kept out in the field. And even though colorism does exist in Africa, with over 50% of Nigerians using skin bleaching regimens as a part of their daily routine, Americanized Colorism began in the Reconstruction period as French-American former slave owners tried to hold on to their lifestyles, dark skinned free negroes of color tried to find their place in the society, and the lighter skinned negroes struggled to figure out where to fit in because neither side wanted them on their team. Many of them choosing to either try to "pass for white", or just keep things simple by sticking with other Creoles. After the Louisiana Purchase, the city of New Orleans was then further divided into more neighborhoods, or "wards" eventually totaling 17. These wards were mostly segregated based on class and race. In a nutshell, the darker and poorer negro citizens were placed in the lower outlying parts of the city, the rich whites resided in their big mansions by the river, and the light skinned "Creoles" were thrown in the middle, in the 7th ward. Many light skinned negroes had to find their own idendity. Please understand that while the White establishments may have introduced the paper bag test, there were many places that based their acceptance not just on being light enough, but dark enough. So when you speak about light skinned privilege, i just want you to be informed on all ends. Because my blackness doesn’t come with a light switch. I don’t get to turn it on or off. From far away it might look like they give me better opportunities than you but when they get up close, to them im just another nigga. MY blackness has never afforded me a sense of superiority, most especially amongst my own. So maybe that’s why I can’t “recognize” my modern day light skin privilege, because I'm still sitting here waiting on it to show up. My Light skinned privilege was constantly being told by your darker friends to to “Shut Up” because you dont "understand" and then be called fake when you didn't speak up enough in their defense. Light skinned privilege is attending predominantly black schools your entire life, and spending most of your childhood years being called "white girl", "powder", "becky", "olive oil", and "house nigger". Light skinned privilege is getting your hair pulled on, tugged on, and stepped on, not being picked for team activities at recess and even watching the other light skinned girl in the class getting her ponytail cut off by another student because her hair was longer. Light skinned privilege is crying when your dad says he’s coming to pick you up from school, and begging him to meet you two blocks down so your friends don’t see him and think that you’re white, never once stopping to think how that made him feel. And that’s just childhood. Light skinned privilege is constantly overcompensating for your "lack of obvious melanin" and trying to prove who you are to the world by always being super outspoken and passionate about creating positive changes in your community, and then being told that you’re trying too hard to be "down". Light skinned privilege is my grandfather owning a grocery store for years in his own neighborhood and watching many of his neighbors and friends still walking further down the block to shop at the mainstream marketplace, because they'd rather pay more to support the white man than a bunch of some "Bougie ass light skinned niggas". Light skinned privilege is always going to bat for racial injustice, no matter their complexion, but when it comes to your own struggles, they say "Here we go with the light skinned problems. Girl, nobody cares." Light skinned privilege is watching the gorgeous girls in the afro's saying how beautiful they feel with their natural hair, but if i teach my daughter to be proud of her unruly and frizzy waves, they say I'm encouraging unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards. Because when lighter kids tease the darker kids about the color of their skin, they're labeled as racist, but when the darker skinned kids tease the lighter ones for THEIR skin, its because the darker skinned kids are just projecting their own pain onto other people, so we should understand and give them a hug. Light skinned privilege is being reminded at home exactly who you are, where you come from, and how unique and beautiful you are, only to go out into the world and hear differently from your peers because you're not "like them." We should teach our children to appreciate all the colors of our culture. When you reach out to the beautiful little dark skinned girl who hates the way that she looks, don't forget about the little mixed girl that comes home crying everyday from being bullied by her classmates AND teachers, or the bi-racial kid who committed suicide after numerous times of being told that he doesn’t have “real” problems. My point is that not every single light skinned person of color is told that their beautiful and better than everyone. Because You see, Light skinned privilege is never quite being ENOUGH for anyone and yet, somehow still being too much.
Listen, You dont know how many jobs, castings and invitations that ive missed out on because i wasn’t “black” enough. You dont know the extra efforts i had to go through just to make friends because I was labeled as stuck up before I even had a chance to introduce myself. You dont know the children AND adults who gave me a hard time, and still do, every..single..day. You dont know how many crushes I've had and how many boys have laughed in my face because i was too "white looking" and I didnt have big titties and a big booty. Because, (insert surprise here), a light skinned woman is NOT every black mans fantasy. Bottom line, You dont know how many times the color of MY skin has affected the trajectory of MY life because according to you, such struggles simply dont exist. But you don’t get to tell me what ive experienced, nor do I get to dictate yours. See, the problem is that many times its harder for other people to recognize the struggles of someone else if those struggles don't look, sound, and feel exactly like their own. So, don’t come up in here thinking you’re going to tell me when, where, and how my experiences as a black american are legitimate enough to be considered valid No one gets to define what Blackness is supposed to look, sound, and feel like to everyone. Whether thats a light skinned Creole with curly hair or a dark skin nerd who listens to rock and roll. Don’t expect me to be your Angela Rye and then you turn your back and call me Rachel Dolezal. My Light skinned privilege is always having to fight twice as hard for a seat at the table, even when that table is surrounded by your own people. At 33 years old, im JUST getting to the point where ive learned to love myself, and not only do i enjoy the way that feels, but im not going to apologize for it because it hurts someone’s feelings and also because you dont know how hard i had to work on myself to get here. So Dont tell me that the only way to start a conversation on colorism is for light skinned people to first recognize their privilege. Because the only way to start a conversation on colorism within the black community in 2017 is to understand FIRST that just because our experiences as black americans may have been different, NEITHER ONE OF THEM was easy. Everytime a light skinned person talks about being bullied in the past, its not to belittle the struggles of a darker skinned person, its literally just the simple truth. And no one owns the concept of struggle. At the end of the day when i apply for that position, or that bank loan, to them, we are all the same and just as disposable. Modern day colorism within the Black community is a conversation that requires honesty from ALL sides, not just the light skinned one. So I'm sorry, but Im not about to walk around with this invisible burden of guilt, as if I'm supposed to feel honored and privileged because somewhere way down the line, some slave masters decided to rape my great-great-great-great-great grandmothers instead of yours and keep them in the house. That wasn’t a blessing, and it certainly aint a compliment. You might think that being beige has its benefits but so far my light skinned privilege hasn’t improved my credit, gotten me hired, landed me a husband, a car, a house or a picket fence. The only people who really get to experience this “privilege” to its fullest potential are the ones who live their lives pretending to be something they’re not…. that goes for the light skinned relatives “Passing for white”, AND the dark skinned ones who spend their days passing for Puerto-Rican. There is no reason for us to still continue to perpetuate social constructs that were designed to do nothing but separate the black community, because being black isn’t just one vague monolithic experience, and when you humble yourself and look at the bigger picture, we're actually all more alike than we are different. And this never ending fight over "who has it worse" is not only stupid, its counterproductive. Focus on standing in your own truth and let others live in theirs.