Sometimes I feel like people see me like they see Rachel Dolezal. Yeah, her.
As a biracial woman (half Black, half white) from the suburbs, whose features are not predominately “Black”, I find myself in a constant battle with myself as I try to figure out if fighting for equity and the uplift of the Black community is something I should act on – or even speak on – knowing that by doing so I am taking up space that should be reserved for darker-skinned Black people who cannot necessarily pass for anything else.
But also on this spectrum of light skinned-ness is Jesse Williams, who delivered a speech at the 2016 BET Awards around the constant attempts of Whiteness to smother out Blackness. In reality, I should feel more like Jesse Williams but I don’t.
Like most mixed kids I grew up being asked constantly “are you Black or are you white?” and I never realized what that question really meant until I was running for Black Student Union (BSU) president in college. The same question I was asked in elementary school was coming up in the form of discouragement from running because “I wasn’t really Black”.
Don’t get it twisted though, this is not a “woe is me I’m a sad light skinned girl,” essay. This is also not an attempt to vouch for people like Dolezal and people like her that believe because they love a particular culture they can “Black it up” in their life and carry on like it’s okay. But I wouldn’t be standing in my truth if I didn’t acknowledge the confusion that has come with finding my place in a Movement I care about, even though it’s not really about me.
Am I down because I identify more with the Black community? Do I take a step back and only hold space as an ally because this isn’t my struggle? Is it my struggle though? Assata said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom” and I believe that but who is “our” and am I included?
Black Liberation – and the pursuit of it – in 2016 is driven by Black cis and trans women and Black queer-identified women and the notion that there is more than one way to look or be Black; that’s beautiful and at times it has brought me comfort, but with that being said I wonder who BET’s other candidates were for that Humanitarian Award and if any of them were darker-skinned, more phenotypically Black women.
This isn’t meant to take away from his accomplishment. But, in a time when so many darker-skinned Black women are working tirelessly for Black lives, I struggle with the idea that there aren’t more of them available to recognize on such a grand stage. Even as I work in the Movement, I find myself asking the very same question.
Photo: Wiki Commons