To advocate passionately as a womanist means confronting issues in the black community that we have long been resistant to speak publicly about. Hueism continues to be an ongoing issue and it affects both light skinned and dark skinned women differently.
Often our light skinned sisters will receive underserved privilege by whiteness, simply because of the color of their skin. One need look no further than at the models that are promoted by the fashion industry to discern that to even have the smallest chance of being considered beautiful, if one is of color, it is necessary to be born with light skin. There are rare exceptions like the stunning Alek Wek however, beauty is still measured by how closely one manages to match the ideal femininity that has been constructed for white women.
To be a dark skinned black woman in a world that values whiteness, is to be daily “othered” and otherwise ignored. From a very early age the dark skin girl learns that she is not beautiful regardless of how supportive her family may be and in a world where beauty is one of the few ways in which women express and or wield power, this can lead to feelings of anger and resentment. To actually rise above the anger that is created by discovering that through an accident of birth one is deemed socially irrelevant, is work that for some women takes a lifetime.
This anger often manifests itself by challenging the worth and or the blackness of lighter skinned women. Light skinned women may find more acceptability around whiteness but when they must relate to members of the African American community, issues of undeserved privilege will arise. They will be asked to prove their allegiance to POC and black men will actively seek them out as trophy wives. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to identify as a WOC, only to have that identity challenged repeatedly. Some will become extremely militant as a way to counter act the exclusion that they face.
As we do battle amongst ourselves to maintain a sense of self worth, the issues that plague us most deeply are not of our creation. It is whiteness that began this divide and whiteness that continues it with the aid of our collusion in the form of internalized racism. We know that light skinned blacks were often treated better during slavery. The very first blacks that were able to achieve higher education were also light skinned. To look at images from the first black sororities, is to see a historical record of those that would become the first blacks to achieve social mobility and a degree of prestige. Some families so valued the lightness of their skin, they purposefully denied their children the right to marry a darker skinned person.
In places like New Orleans blood quotient was studiously counted. Blacks would announce whether they were octoroons or quadroons, loudly proclaiming their proximity to whiteness. Some families worked diligently to ensure that each generation they became lighter, until they were barely recognizable as black. The ability to pass as white meant that one would not have to deal with the ugliness of racism. The darker skinned amongst us watched as light skinned blacks either were granted privileges or disappeared into white society never to be heard from again.
Today though we have had a civil rights movement and have elected the first black president hue continues to divide us. One of the reasons openly stated for loving Michelle Obama is the darkness of her skin. Not only is she embraced for being black but for being visibly black. As I read the commentary of praise, I cannot help but wonder how it makes our lighter skinned sisters feel. Yes, some have become accustomed to privilege due to the lightness of their skin however, bringing balance to the community cannot be achieved by falsely praising darker skin.
We need to move beyond gradations in color and finally acknowledge that whether dark or light skinned, black is black. We only see difference because we have been taught to do so by whiteness. When we continue to argue amongst ourselves over who is legitimately black or who is worthy to advance based in hue, we are distracted from battling the racism that we all face. Whiteness does not want us to actively assert our humanity and therefore; any method that they can employ to ensure that our focus is not on the systemic ways in which racism hurts us will be encouraged. This is not a new tactic, simply looking at the Tutsi’s and Hutu’s is a perfect example of what happens when we allow whiteness to decide what constitutes value amongst black people.
Divide and conquer is a game that whiteness plays well and when we foolishly consent to engage as though we are powerless to resist the grading of color, we cede what little power we have. There are many situations in life in which we are presented with options that lead to negative consequences however, deciding to love all of the manifestations of blackness is asserting a power that whiteness would love us to abdicate. In the 60’s we rallied around the phrase that black is beautiful and the time has finally come for us to live it.