Combating colorism: All Black children are worth defending
The darker an “offender’s” skin tone, the more lasting and harsh their sentence.
This essay contains discussions of r/pe and sexual violence against and the trafficking of missing Black women and girls
“One after another referred her to Missing Persons, to Juvenile Court, to her neighborhood service center, to family counseling. She was a customer come too soon to the new store, stock not yet in, sales personnel being interviewed, Sonny an item not unpacked yet, the price sticker not licked and stuck on.” -Toni Cade Bombara, Those Bones Are Not My Child
There are at least 64,000 missing Black women and girls in the U.S. Some of whom are believed to have been kidnapped and trafficked.
In the neighborhood I grew up in, Black girls simply disappeared. Sometimes they returned. No one but their families and friends led search parties. Police were nowhere to be found. All we had was each other.
Back then, little Black and brown girls were targeted and offered rides by grown men during lunch time, while the security guards watched and shook their heads. These men always insisted that they were our friends.
Last week, I drove by my old high school and saw those same men leaning towards their passenger seats, with their big smiles and windows rolled down. They too, probably offered friendship.
It took the police two weeks to file a missing person’s report when one of my friend’s was taken on her walk home. The police told her mother that she’d be back and there was no need to worry, that she’d probably been with a boy. But when my friend returned bloody, disoriented and shaking, her mother tried to tell the officers she was back.
She was gone for 30 days. And they never returned her mother’s call.
On June 5th, 2018 Chrystul Kizer killed Randy Volar, a sex trafficker and pedophile known for having several young Black girls in his home. Months before he was killed, Kenosha police launched an investigation. Volar age 34, was arrested and accused of child enticement, second degree sexual assault and use of a computer to facilitate a sex crime.
One 15 year old in particular who was under his “care” called the police, claiming that Volar had given her drugs and was going to kill her. He’d been raping her since she was 14. After the call in February of 2018, Volar’s home was searched, uncovering hundreds of videos and pornography of underaged girls. Four months and several survivors later.
At 17 years old, Chrystul Kizer was arrested for murdering Volar. Before meeting Volar, Kizer, her mother and siblings fled from the abuse of her mother’s boyfriend. Volar lured Kizer just as those men had at my high school—by promising friendship, offering food and care. To this day, Kizer is trying to reconcile with the reality that the only person she considers a friend (Volar), fed her drugs and threatened to kill her if she left.
Those are the facts of what happened. Now let’s talk about what our responses on and offline reveal about who we think is worthy of humanity, victimhood and advocacy. And how that determines who is left behind. One reason is colorism.
The preferential treatment of lighter skinned Black people dates back to American slavery and perpetuates to this day. Colorism, the natural extension of racism, bleeds into everything. In the educational and economic sphere, it operates as punisher and awarder.
According to a Harvard study, “Dark-skinned blacks earned less than seven tenths as much as light-skinned blacks – during a year in which black families’ mean income was just over six tenths of that of white families.” It impacts hiring, dating and marriage preferences.
Colorism also impacts the ways we treat Black children. Darker skinned Black children are suspended at higher rates than lighter skinned Black children and the non-Black students at their school. And according to several studies, the U.S. adoption system discriminates against darker skinned children, from social workers assigned to their case to potential adoptive parents.
In February of last year, an NFL player, his white wife and several of their friends posted an instagram video in which they toast to “having more light skinned kids”.
Unsurprisingly, the American judicial system also has a colorism problem and is guilty as hell. Lighter skinned “offenders” typically receive less severe prison sentences. Whereas, the darker an “offender’s” skin tone, the more lasting and harsh their sentence.
Lighter skinned folks are read as mixed and therefore are placed on a trajectory of whiteness (whether imagined or real). And whiteness is not simply about skin color, it is also about a relation of power. It determines who is allowed to wield said power and who is harmed by it. Not being honest about how colorism directly harms darker skinned Black folks is a disservice to Black folks everywhere.
When it comes to Chrystul Kizer and other young folks like her, we must recommit ourselves to ensuring that they are protected. Her fight is ours. And as we develop more community led solutions to government accountability and individual abuse, may we also go as hard for them as we do survivors like Cyntoia Brown.
Colorism and its effects are not separate from this case. Police and authority figures disregard and/or diminish the mistreatment of dark skinned Black children especially. If we believe that all Black children deserve to be free, then we need to ensure the safety of those most impacted by this antiBlack world. It’s all of us or none of us.
- Please share and sign this change.org petition for the charges against Chrystul Kizer to be dropped.
- Continue to interrogate how colorism has shaped who deserves what in your family, circles and community.
- Show up for dark skinned Black children by affirming them and requiring that everyone around you does as well.
- Check in on dark skinned Black children. Honor their spirits and make sure they are represented in the things you consume.
- Listen and believe dark skinned Black folks when they talk about the ways that they’ve been harmed.
- Do better. And know that this is the bare minimum.