On Light Skinned Girls and Privilege
January 26, 2015 at 8:02 am
Much like how white people need to evaluate their privilege, light-skinned people in any race need to do the same. There is a divide within minority groups between lighter and darker-skinned individuals. We’ve both had differing experiences, but overall the darker individuals in a culture are always treated worse (Andre 3000’s jumpsuit wasn’t lying). The lighter individuals sometimes have the privilege of passing as the majority race or ethnicity, and even when they don’t, are more readily accepted by the majority. We often see light-skinned people praised for being “more beautiful” by European standards, and people even say that they want to have multiracial babies for a number of superficial reasons, including the myth of “good” hair, etc.
Despite this privilege, multiracial and light-skinned people can, and do, experience racism.
However, often when they try to express having gone through these things, darker-skinned people want to roll their eyes — and this is understandable. It’s like listening to a white person try to say that they can experience racism, but the difference is that light-skinned people’s experiences are actually legitimate. So where does the reluctance to listen to these experiences come from? I believe it’s mostly a result of light-skinned people not declaring their privilege. Because when they don’t, it’s like they’re saying, “Our struggle is equivalent to yours,” and that just isn’t true. These Tumblr screenshots, shared on Twitter, give some evidence of this:
When we look at these examples, it becomes much clearer that things I’ve experienced as a light-skinned person, such as being told I “talk like a white girl,” or my nephew not recognizing I’m his aunt because of mylighter skin tone, don’t measure up to what darker individuals, especially women, go through. But those things still hurt, and I feel like people that experience similar things should be able to talk about them without feeling guilty, or like we don’t fit some artificial measure of blackness.
I don’t think a documentary focused solely on the struggle of light-skinned women is the place for expressing these feelings, however. This even existing is just making us the center of attention in a highly publicized way, which we don’t need. The experiences of darker individuals should be highlighted (such as in the first documentary in this series, Dark Girls, by the same director as Light Girls, Bill Duke) because their voices are often silenced.
I want light-skinned and multiracial people to understand that not owning this privilege enforces the stereotype that we’re snotty and self-absorbed. It hurts to have those images projected on me, when I’m not at all like this. It hurts when I consider myself an intersectional feminist who wants to support darker girls who I see myself in, but they don’t see me as a part of their group. It hurts that they think I see myself as better or above them, that they can’t trust me to see the importance of their experiences.
How can we expect them to trust us as proper allies if we go around pretending we have it just as bad? This is why we all need to check our own privilege, and to educate others about it so that others can see it too. We need to be able to express racially-biased things we’ve gone through as well, to show the spectrum of racism all minorities experience, but instead of sounding like “I have it just as bad as you – here’s why,” we need to instead say, “I went through (insert experience), so I can only imagine what you’ve gone through as a person with less privilege. You can trust me to listen to and support your struggle, even if we aren’t the same skin tone.”
Light Girls, as a standalone documentary, got it wrong because the privilege of the women interviewed wasn’t checked at the door. A big step toward eliminating the animosity people feel about each other within communities is for people of all backgrounds to own and openly discuss their privilege as it compares to the struggles of others.
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