Let’s talk about the politics of colorism in our community. Though few will openly admit it, when sh-t goes down, we’re all one united, lean-on-me front until someone biracial or light-skinned (who isn’t Jessie Williams) asserts their racial struggle is just as real as the rest of us. And then we turn on them quicker than Raven-Symoné on an Oprah: Where Are They Now special.
It’s a counterproductive practice that came to light once again last week when Zendaya Coleman shared how she was discriminated against while trying to buy gift cards at a grocery store. While some empathized with her experience, far too many others disregarded it, questioning the legitimacy of her story and asking what happened to her light-skinned, biracial privilege. Here’s the answer: Nothing. Yes, having light skin and a multi-racial makeup often affords individuals certain privileges within and outside of the black community, but said privilege is not an infallible buffer against discrimination of many kinds, including race.
While it’s true one of the privileges of having the aforementioned features is those incidents of prejudice may be fewer and far between, no one shade of black has the monopoly on being victimized because of our race. While we may spend countless hours debating one another’s blackness because someone has a parent of another race or Latin American roots, I assure you everyday white people don’t take the time to ponder such nuances. Sure, a Hollywood director might choose a Paula Patton over a Viola Davis because dark skin and course hair are still seen as “less classically beautiful” in that fanciful world of make-believe. And yes, lighter-skinned men may always be seen as less threatening than dark-skinned men on the street, but when you get down to the literal black and white of it — in the eyes of white people, we’re all black, and as such there’s an equal opportunity for discrimination. Are we going to be more mad about the latter or the perception that light-skinned individuals are trying to steal non-racially ambiguous black people’s oppressive thunder? Let me give you a hint: There’s no time for such divisiveness right now.
Considering we, as a people, are still trying to convince the world we matter, the last thing we should be insinuating — or outright saying — is members of our community don’t have a right, or reason, to speak out against the injustices we experience in varied forms. Zendaya’s experience doesn’t have to be like every other brown black girl’s for it to still hold weight and incite the same type of anger and passion for action as it would if she were darker, rendering her claim irrefutable. But because she can “pass,” so to speak — though never chooses to — we spend time deciding whether her discrimination was really a thing, simply because the thing she experienced challenges many of our beliefs about who gets to be black and proud, or black and hurt. And where does that get us? Two steps further back from even beginning to convince white people institutional racism is a real problem because we’re not even convinced it’s a problem for all of us.
It’s fair to call out privilege when individuals aren’t mindful of the experiences — or lack thereof — their racial or physical makeup affords them. But when one of us is calling attention to the larger issue of discrimination we’re all said to be fighting against, ask yourself whether drawing attention to what separates us does more harm than good.