colorism

the politics of being transracial & light skinned #racheltaughtus

RDat first, i laughed at rachel dolezal.  i’ve witnessed blackness get colonized so many times until i immediately found her blackface antics more pathetic than anything. however, after she sat down for an interview with melissa harris perry and refused to answer any question directly, i’d had enough — my giggles and indifference turned to anger.

what disturbs me about dolezal’s actions is not only the performative aspect of her self-proclaimed black identity or the hate crimes that some say she falsely claimed to be the recipient of, but the fact that she conveniently left one privileged position for another.  when presenting as a white woman she leveraged the resources attributed to her whiteness, and as a lightskinned black women, she could leverage the resources attributed to having light skin. whether it was the race or gender hierarchy, dolezal always found herself on top.

for dark-skinned people of color, passing is not an option.  race marginalizes us the easiest, acting as the visible embodiment of past and present oppression.  beyond skin color is the complicated history around our hair — black women’s beauty has been tied to the tightnRachel_Dolezal_zpswhmev7y4ess of our curls since slavery. dolezal never had an authentic experience with this very painful narrative, yet told melissa harris perry that her hair journey has been “interesting,” claiming:

it also felt like an affirmation of black is beautiful, you know? because for so many centuries, you know, there’s been … the relaxers and the long weaves and the skin bleaching and all that fallout of psychological disorientation and certainly trauma came.

as if adorning her hair like a black woman’s is a tribute to blackness, she even claimed to have become a hairstylist to help black children feel beautiful. guess what rachel, we don’t need you to pretend to be black to make women who were born black feel better about their blackness. that’s called cultural appropriation, and it actually has the opposite effect.

in fact, dolezal’s egotistical analysis around her hair, adopting her younger siblings and activism have all given the white savior complex a new meaning.

whether led by curiosity, adoration or bad intentions, rachel dolezal made a conscious decision to maneuver through spaces focused on black empowerment as a lightskinned black woman. the privilege to choose not only one’s race, but color is power that most racial minorities will never experience. in the face of constant white terror and efforts to democratize standards of beauty, her blackface performance is not only exploitative, it’s despicable.

5 reasons why #blackoutday won

alphablack folks took to the internet yesterday to remind ourselves and the world just what beauty looks like.  from different hues, genders, sexual orientations and physical abilities, our melanin shut social media down. here are five reasons why unapologetically black spaces like #blackoutday are important:

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weekend wear 7.28.14

DSC_0442DSC_0433DSC_0436DSC_0383 DSC_0373DSC_0394DSC_0441DSC_0378hey good people! i worked with carlisha shanae photography this weekend for the black beauty: unbleached photo series.  the endeavor showcases the beauty of four black women with sunkissed skin, more specifically, those who would have been forced into category d based upon the original straight outta compton casting call.  through this series, carlisha shanae is abolishing norms and creating a wider space for women of all hues to see their reflections. many thanks to the photographer, models and production crew for a dynamic shoot — i felt blessed, loved and empowered.

check instagram for the teaser video from our shoot. stay tuned for the full length version!

dress, ashanti brazil from nubian hueman | necklace, forever 21 (similar here) | shoes, nordstrom rack (last seen here) | lipstick, rich violet by kat von d

light girls documentary

colorism, noun: discrimination against a person of color due to the european standard of beauty (e.g., light skin, thin lips, loosely coiled hair). this condition is most frequently present between those of the same race.

lightdarkpeople of color around the world grapple with colorism as a harmful by-product of racism.  the mere fact that black folks categorize each other by hue reeks of the internalized oppression that teaches people of color that the lighter among us are the most attractive and that features which resemble our native ancestry are undesirable. according to clutch magazine, oprah’s own network may be tackling the light skin versus dark skin debate once again with a new documentary by bill duke entitled light girls. after watching dark girls last year, i think it’s time a more nuanced perspective is added to this discussion– we have the tendency to invalidate the experiences of those whose features fit more squarely within the european standard of beauty.

it wasn’t until a conversation about this topic among black women a few years ago that i realized light skin sisters didn’t have it “easier.”  one of the women shared stories about being taunted and bullied by classmates and another spoke about feeling isolated from her family and friends.  both commented on people’s perception that they’re conceited because of their skin color and hair texture, an assumption that has made it difficult for them to form friendships.  hearing them speak was the first time i stepped outside of my pain and realized how oppression has no favorites.  light, dark or somewhere in the middle, we’re all struggling to love ourselves at the hands of a divisive system.

read raquel wilkerson’s thoughts on how colorism cuts both ways here.

an open letter to lupita nyong’o

lupita oscarsmy dearest lupita,

congratulations on winning an oscar for your role in 12 years a slave!  like many black women, i got chills when they called your name for best supporting actress and cried with you during your heartfelt acceptance speech.  while you’re an amazing actress with ivy league training, it’s not your profession that has so many of us celebrating your presence. it’s the fact that you’re a black woman, with dark skin and natural hair and despite or shall i say because of these things, you now exist at the epicenter of what’s been denied similar women for far too long — beauty.

most black women become aware of the unwritten rules about beauty when we’re very young. i remember being in elementary school when i was rubbing my pudgy stomach and a lighter friend told me how “black” it was with a look of disgust. i was in middle school when one of the popular girls in school walked around class and measured the width of our noses, an exercise in determining our attractiveness. i was in college when walking to class, a stranger loudly recommended that i quickly find shade so i wouldn’t get any darker. i was in grad school when i was told (for the 25th time) that i was “pretty for a dark skinned girl.” microaggressions like these become a dark-skinned black woman’s rite of passage — universal experiences that leave us feeling ugly and undervalued.

in light of these experiences, imagine how our hearts leaped when the mainstream media deemed you a beauty icon in the making, an honor usually reserved for the beyonces and zoe saldanas of the world. amazingly, you didn’t have to pander to negative stereotypes to get recognized, instead you came to the world’s attention as a thoughtful, witty, beautiful and talented woman.  while your presence doesn’t eradicate a history of white supremacy and patriarchy or black women’s subordination, it certainly represents a challenge to the dominate group’s authority to restrict our wholeness.

thank you lupita for recognizing what you mean to us and your willingness to be open about struggling to fight the same standard of beauty that your presence now works to debunk. your existence tells little brown girls who fight to embrace their beauty that it cannot be denied.

with sisterly love,

a little brown girl

a little link love 2.20.14

1. i’m flabergasted that a florida jury allowed yet another man to murder a black teenager without a murder conviction.  i’m sickened by the constant reminder that the lives of black children are less important than those of their white counterparts.  watch as jessica williams of the daily show does a tongue and cheek run-down of white america’s omnipresent “fear goggles” that can make “four black teenagers taking a calculus test look like a scene from the wire.”

2.  yayadon’t you just love yaya alafia (nee dacosta)? i remember her season of america’s next top model and the way she schooled tyra banks on the origins of kente cloth.  the ivy league grad  is now an actress, wife and mother who was recently interviewed by michel martin on npr’s tell me more.  listen to her thoughts on her role in lee daniels’ the butler, colorism and why she calls herself an african in america.

3. have you heard the teaser to beyonce’s drunk in love remix featuring kanye?!?! it made me jump up and run around my apartment full speed — the only appropriate response when one of your favorite songs from beyonce’s new album gets better.

4.  it’s not every day that you hear an artist reference brandy, bun b, bounce music and kirk franklin as their inspirations.  in a recent interview with npr’s new r&b and hip hop show, microphone check, i fell in love with solange all over again as she rattled off a list of 90’s hip hop and r&b that only a person raised in the south can appreciate.

solange-losing-you