I haven’t written on this blog in a minute, but after checking my pending posts I noticed that I have some good stuff that has yet to see the light of day. So at the risk of being outdated in my material, I’m just going to post the shit and keep it moving. With that said, this post was written in November of 2016. Enjoy!
You ever have a long ass conversation with someone and think about all of the things that you wanted to say but didn’t… when it’s too late?
I recently had a conversation with a light skinned woman of mixed heritage/race. She was part Black, European and Asian. In appearance, I would have guessed she was Latina although she said most Black people just assume she’s Black and that’s what she identifies as. (I’m terrible at these things, to be honest. I’m not good at guessing accents, or countries of origin either.)
Throughout our conversation, I could tell that her mixed race was something that was very important to her. It was something she brought up constantly, without prompting. Even before meeting her, I checked her social media profiles and noticed that it was just a list of her entire racial breakdown.
We talked a ton about how she identifies and why she feels that mixed women aren’t given enough of a platform to speak about their specific issues. We talked about light skin privilege and she expressed that she feels that it is a burden and she has more anger toward racism than other Blacks because of it. At times I didn’t agree with her feelings, but I’m a good listener so I took in what she had to say.
After a restless night, I realized that this was one of those conversations that was going to bother me. Why? Because there were so many things I’d left unsaid.
I have a ton of mixed race friends and many of our conversations always ended with them telling me how hard they’d had it, with no regard whatsoever for the plight of those with dark skin (who undoubtedly have it harder.) And I’d always tried to argue with them that there’s another side to the light skin thing that they’re not acknowledging. But this never seemed to sink in for them. Light skin privilege is not so much a privilege but a burden, they’d say.
Fast forward to now, I’m having this conversation and it conjured up so many memories. And my only regret was not being able to say the perfect thing at the perfect time. The best way to get it all out, though, is for me to just say what I feel right now with no pressure. So here are some of the statements that the woman made the other day and the replies I wish I’d have said to her and many of the mixed race/light skin people who’ve made these same kinds of statements to me before.
“In situations where I’m treated better than my Black counterparts, I feel that this privilege has been forced on me and that leaves me feeling angry and helpless.”
Forced privilege doesn’t come close to having no privilege. Ex: If a bunch of your friends were wrongfully thrown into prison with the exception of you, you will NEVER be the helpless person in the story. Never. No matter how upset you were over what happened. If anything, you are in a better position to try to get them out of jail – by using the ‘forced privilege’ you were blessed with – as opposed to turning the focus on yourself and cursing the fact that you are free. Use your privilege to help those who don’t have it otherwise, it’s a waste. Also, turning the situation into a way to center yourself is disgusting and wrong.
“When I get angry, people think it’s cute. They don’t take me serious. They think I’m safe.”
Yet another good problem to have. Use it. As a Black woman, nearly everything I say is taken out of context. (Look at Michelle Obama. She is one of the most glorious women alive and they’ve tried to reduce her to an “Angry Black Woman” stereotype.) Personally, I am silenced at every turn. If you are allowed to speak up, then do it. Amplify the voices of Black people who have been silenced for centuries. Don’t curse your privilege, USE IT.
“Light skinned people are angrier than regular Black people because they’ve gone through so much more. They’re never ‘Black’ enough for the Black people or ‘White’ enough for the White people. We have more fire in our spirits because of this.”
Yes, there are identity issues that mixed race people must deal with but that does not make them angrier, more fiery or more righteous than anyone else. If anything, light skin people have the privilege of being more visible. They’re given more representation in Hollywood and in print media, among other advantages. With all of these advantages come platforms that allow more lighter complexioned people to speak up on issues that darker people are not given as much opportunity to talk about. This does not make them more fiery or upset, this just means the world is more likely to see them speaking about issues and allow it. (See Jesse Williams, Amandla Sternberg, etc.)
“I wish racists could see that I’m just as much of a threat as someone with darker skin.”
No, you don’t. And even if you did, what would be the point? Unless you want to be killed in the street. Unless you want everyone to know that your life doesn’t matter just like all of the other Black lives that have been snuffed out with impunity. Philando Castile didn’t commit suicide. He didn’t want to die and be a martyr. He was killed and the rest of us that have the privilege of being alive, used this situation as – yet another – example of why we need to continue the dialogue and civil unrest until something is done about it. We don’t need more dead bodies. We need action. And again, what would your being seen as a threat prove? It would strip you of the very privilege that might actually help the rest of us in the cause. Use your privilege to help the cause. Use your privilege to help the cause. Use your privilege to help the cause. Anything else is a selfish waste of time.
Too bad I don’t get a do-over. Any who, I understand that being of mixed race has its struggles. But a red flag always goes off for me when people shoehorn a ton of info about their very specific racial makeup into conversations without prompting. A racially ambiguous friend once told me that “What are you?” is one of the most annoying and commonly asked questions they receive. So with this in mind, I’ve never asked anyone that question and to be completely honest, I’ve never really cared to ask. Why? 3 main reasons …
1) There’s usually no reason for me to ask.
2) I’ve never found it particularly interesting and lastly…
3) I don’t even think to ask this when talking to people.
Either way, I’ve sat through a lot of conversations with my mixed-race brethren in which they’ve broken down to me what they identify as, why they identify as such, how much of each culture is in them and the history of their family’s racial makeup. And for someone who didn’t ask… this is exhausting.
Granted, it’s not the worst thing that could happen and I’m not completely oblivious to the idea of bringing up things that are important to how we navigate the world. I just hope that with this blog post, I can provide some perspective for those who feel that the struggles of being of mixed race is a subject that they must lead with or shoehoas opposed to allowing the conversation to organically progress there.