Colorism is a racist hierarchy, of which I can rarely speak concerning my concrete experience of discrimination, because I’m a light skinned ( as also an able bodied cis man). I’m at least inside the Black community in many privileged positions. I speak about it, because I belong to the group, who profits from this hierarchy and I also believe it is always the job of the privileged or oppressors to remove the problem they create, maintain and/or profit from. Also most of my knowledge I share and summarize here is based on knowledge of dark skinned sisters,* and brothers, who were generous and shared it with with me.
But since I’m in the privileged position, that though I most carefully reflect my position the risc remains, that the things I’m saying in here might be wrong simply because I’m not the expert. So dear light skinned sisters,* and brothers what ever you read in here: Sisters,* and brothers with dark skin always have a veto, since they are the experts on how colorism shows itself most.
I understand colorism as a hierarchy caused through racism – a hierarchy inside the Black community as also in other communities of color, in which light skinned people get structurally and socially predominantly privileged. In this and further blogs in the future I want to understand this hieararchy better and start deconstructing it. I want to remove it not only because it is an at least self preserved and unjust hierarchy, but also, because I think, that in countries, which have a very establisht colorist hierarchy it is much more complicated to remove racism in general. I believe, to effectively fight racism it is inevitable to effectively fight colorism as well, since I belive colorism grew out of racism and therefore thouse hierarchies are connected. And I think we’ll never get to the roots of racism as long as colorism keeps us divided. But I also believe in comparison to the relations between Black and white people, where white people are the ones creating the problem racism and maintain it I believe the colorist hierarchy got predominantly forced from outside towards the Black community by white people. Though I personally doubt, that we light skinned people are the main creators of the problem, I though think for sure, that we’re the first ones having accepted it and if we don’t actively contribute in the removal of this hierarchy we become / remain oppressors as also foot soldiers and defenders of white supremacy.
Though we’re all equally Black one has recognize, that skin color matters, inside and outside the Black community. I also believe, that it is a privilege especially for light skinned men like me, that after having realized, that we’re all equally Black most of the struggle and the oppression concerning skin color inside the Black community is over. We don’t have to ask ourselves in the same way, if we make negative experiences inside the Black community because of the skin color like dark skinned people do. And we have to watch, that we don’t unleash all our internalized racism towards dark skin people. We have to watch ourselves, that we don’t behave towards them with the same conscious and unconscious aggressions or feelings and beliefs of superiority like white people do towards all Black people. Why are we at risk to do that? Because all Black people have internalized racism. So having internalized racism every light skinned person becomes a potential predator or threat for unleashing racial aggressions towards our own people – not just like all Black people, but also in an oppressive colorist way because white people defined this unspoken but often performed rule “The lighter you are, the less will whites mistreat you”.
And light skin Blacks have been tricked by this too often and we also close our eyes in front of this problem if we believe, that it wouldn’t concern us . It is a very effective method of letting oppressed people hating each other instead of the oppressor since everybody is aking for a release of the oppression and many of us light skinned people delightfully embraced the parts of release of the oppression, embraced those privileges misinterpreting it as progress, not realizing on whose backs this “progress” happened and how effectively these privileges of “being the better Blacks” or house slaves divide us. And by not reflecting it we light skin Blacks maintain the system of oppression and sabotage the resistance against racism and Black empowerment.
So how do we fight it? One way might be to for example actively identify, resist and reject the privileges given to us right in the moment when they’re given to us or in moments when we realize, that only light skinned people get advantages. Our mantra should be: Touch one, touch all! We have to confront white people (but also people in general) from who we feel, that they treat us better then dark skinned sisters,* and brothers. As an example: When the national geographic released a prognosis about how the future humans would look like there weren’t any dark skinned people in their prognoses. Once more they communicate us: In the future there won’t exist any dark skinned people. The German version of national geographic did exactly the same, calling us light skinned Black the “new Germans”. Despite the fact, that no Black person is “new” in Germany and that the country ignores its history of genocide and extermination of Black people there have always been hundreds of thousands if not millions of dark skinned Black people. I immediatelly ranted on their facebook page.
In Germany many ligh skinned Blacks, with (in the following always biological) one Black and one white parent see themselves as “somewhere in between” – like dark skinned sisters,* and brothers, who are born and raised here are not in the same cultural struggle between their African culture and their European culture they grew up in. Like one could partially have white privileges, like white supremacy would not call us the n-bomb too. White supremacy tells me as a light skin person alwas, that I’m Black. The only time white people tell me, that I’m not Black is, when I myself refer to me as a Black man. There white supremacy shows once more its true face by showing, that it was never about neutral classifications but about the power – the power to label everybody as it benefits the hierarchy. On one hand they communicate me very clear, that I’m Black on the other had they come and tell me “But your’re not really Black” . They try to connect my identity as precisely as possible to my skin tone. And what happens there is a very sneaky thing: They’re not only constantly telling me,that I don’t belong to them because I’m Black. They also tell me, that I don’t belong to Black people either – and divide me from my people, the people I belong with and keep me seperated – keep us seperated.
Whhite supremacy never divided us by telling us “Listen, please hate each other”, since there would be no reason for us to accept this extra work of hating each other. But by giving some of us privileges they had success. Light skin privileges – surprising and unspoken false signs of care and fake love, that they denied others. When I recently made a stand towards colorism on the facebook page of a white owned magazin and identified myself as a Black man a white man just wrote the following things:
This is their strategy. We were never meant to be partially white, half – white. But as soon as we light skin Blacks cut our chains and team up with our people like we always should have in the past people white people try to keep the division upright by “charming” us (in this case also in a pretty racist way).
Needless to say: This seperation is dangerous.
If we would assume, that the two groups white and Black are violence free neutral classifications and we light skinned Blacks MIGHT be in between (despite of the “tiny” fact, that those groups and racism probably would not exist, because it was always predominantly about power) and would maybe just not know who to associate with (which is also a stereotype: I know, where I belong to). But since white is on top and Black is on the very bottom, which was the very purpose of racism the racial “in between” means we’d position us under white people and over Black people. And this position “in between” turns us into perfect foot soldiers for white supremacy. We get the orders and the violence from the top and unleash everything downwards in the hierarchy and violate our own people for white people while white people can lean back. And in the case of an uprising most of us would probably be stupid enough to stand up against our own and defend the white masters.So the concept of being “half” or “in between” makes no sense. We have to break this system. We must not allow, that white peoples classifications of skin color once more divide us even inside our communities. I believe we should unite!
In my school they already started to indoctrinate colorism into me by saying that everything in my exterior, that they didnt label as African would be something, that “makes me better”. We light skinned people have to reject those compliments they make us about eurocentric features and if you ask me push them down their throat! Those compliments are not neutral. They are racist and enforce racism, colorism and self hate. Also their labels were scientifically inaccurate, since there are millions of East Africans, who have my facial features.
There are also further reasons why I reject the term mixed race. First I reject it because races don’t exist but racism. The term m** r*** maintains the believe, that there are races. Additional: From a Black perspective and therefore from the perspective of one of the most hated racialized groups on earth m**** r***, or biracial no matter who you are “mixed” with also always means “better”. It lifts us in the oppressive position of being “in between”again. My view might be controversial but at least from a Black perspective I consider the debate about multiraciality as colorism covered as “something neutral” , covered as something “unproblematic and worth to discover and talk about” and as “an identity worth to establish”.
In France light skinned children got called “enfant sauvee (=saved children)” because of their complexion. My personal opinion is, that Black people should get rid of the term mmixed race because it is used to divide us with the criteria of color and shade.
To show it in another example how “mixed race” is misused: There was recently an article in the online magazine “mic”, with a title sounding like:””How mixed race also looks like”, featuring only people of color, who had serious chances to pass as white. Dark skin sisters,* and brothers did not get seen, nor treated as mixed race, though many of them are just as “mixed” as their light counter parts, but dark skin is not what mixed race is associated with. I shitstormed their facebook page as well.
Additionally the term “mixed race” is in its every day use connected to skincolor and would be used inaccurately as well because there are peoples in North Africa, who have a light skin and who sometimes get labeled as mixed race though they have only Black parents. And to consider some people in Ethiopia mixed race and therefore also maybe as less Black concerning their skin color would not just be divisive but also hurtful concerning the people and their glorious history in fighting back the European colonizers. In this way colorism also hurts the privileged: Because of our skin tone our Blackness sometimes gets questioned and therefore also many of the traumatic experiences we make as well. But making this painful experience does not even the colorist hierarchy at all.
To summarize it: I see the terms “biracial”, “multiracial”, “mixed race” or “being Black and white” only as a way to fine grain the power hierarchy between those, who are not white.
So how do I identify myself against all these divisive labels? I identify as a Black man. When it comes to colorism,there is no language in Germany as it isn’t for racism in general. I identify as Black man, and when it comes to colorism, I’d identify as “heller Schwarzer” – translated “light Black man”. But this is just me and not the social consens. I also don’t know if I will or have to change my identity again because of further knowledge I get in the future.
Sometimes people tell me, that with rejecting the mixed race identity I’d “reject my white side”. To me they ignore, that the identity of whiteness is exclusive and defined by power, including the power to decide who is white (meaning who belongs) and who isn’t. Whiteness is not a culture, that one can be part of or not, like for example being partially Tanzanian, partially German and partially Swiss . It is a construct, that decides in itself, that people like me must not be part of and get labeled as different and less. Whiteness defines itself through being racially in the absolute power position. Enslaved Africans were enslaved Africans. As far as I know did the color of the skin sometimes matter in the question of who is overseer or who is the slave in the house or on the field but as far as I know once one got labeled Black it was not such a strict seperation as it was between Black and white, enslaved and owner. So we are all Black and were all enslaved because of our Blackness.
Whiteness had also to be exclusive so there were enough non-whites to exploit and to secure the wealth of the whites.
So I believe there might be a European side in me through my socialization, but there is no white side and never was, since the exclusive definition of whiteness itself never allowed one to be white and something else like it is quite difficult to be partially dead, since being alive mostly excludes being dead.
I love my white family. I also love my white friends. And in comparison to many white people I’m so nice to distinguish between white people, which the majority of them doesn’t with Blacks. But as much as I love my white family I don’t have a white side because of my complexion. To me one can discuss about how “white” I was because of how I was raised, but in this case a dark skinned sister,* or brother would face the same discussions. I have to add to this remark, that I think in the US it is seen quite as problematic, that some things are associated as white while others are not. I think in Germany we (still?) dont have those strong labels as either the probable stigma connected with it.
And I learned, that colorism also creates stereotypes inside the Black community. I don’t want to reproduce them here since I don’t want to spread violence, but for example the DARK SKIN activist Rashida Strober speaks on her facebook news feed much and very personal about her experiences and views as a DARK SKIN woman and activist. She publicized the book “A dark skinned womans revenge” as also “How to be the hottest dark skin girl in the world”.I value many of her perspectives, since they show me perspectives and conclusions I barely hear and her personal commitment is very strong and her writings are moving. But I can also enjoy her feed, because I’m a man and I can deal with occasional queer- and/or light skin shaming ( as long it comes from other Black people , which does not make it much better, but concerning my own I’m tolerant since I see it at least for light skinned men sometimes really justified).
How do I close this blog? I wanted to encourage conversations about colorism as also to share the tiny bits of knowledge I have so I can contribute in deconstructing it where it has established. Since Germany does not yet speak enough about anti Black racism it makes it even harder to talk about it and to learn. But on the other hand there is a chance to awake light skinned sisters,* and brother, so when the conversations about race are spreading they already have more sensitivity for this specific hierarchy and we can stifle it immediately where ever it comes up. For me as a light skin dude people like Jidennah or Jessie Williams are interesting role models. Jessie Williams promotes the “m*** r*** idenity, where I already don’t agree with him but though he often shows, that he tries to deal with his light skin privilege in a responsible way, which is more important to me as how he identifies himself. I’m looking forward to learn from your experiences and your ways of handling the situation or from your expectations you have from us light skin Blacks, maybe also specific light skin Black cis-men!
Have a great new year! 🙂
P.S. I REALLY promise to make the next blogs a little bit shorter! 😀