There’s a movement going on right now called #blackout, which is where African Americans post photos of themselves on social media to show the world that there isn’t one standard of beauty—that black in all its shades, colors and manifestations is beautiful too.
Going through my Tumblr timeline, I saw some confident, uplifting posts by both men and women during the first black out. What I also saw, though, was this photo:
Immediately, I felt insulted, confused, and—not for the first time in my life—kicked outside of the group. But I quickly understood my feelings and the sentiments behind this t-shirt stemmed from the same place.
Colorism is a real issue amongst many cultures around the globe. I have friends whose parents tell them not to stay out in the sun too long so that they don’t get dark because in that culture, dark could equal a multitude of negative things: ugly, dirty, low-class standing, not marriage material, etc.
I don’t know if the light skin vs. dark skin “battle” amongst African Americans will ever end, but it comes from a time where lighter skinned African Americans or those mixed with African American and something else (like Native American or Caucasian) were treated better, thought to be smarter, and regarded as more beautiful.
Three-hundred ninety-six years after the beginning of slavery in America, the battle rages on internally. To get more of a personal idea of both sides of the schism, you might want to watch the documentaries Dark Girls and Light Girls.*
And then there’s the one-drop rule.
Those with a single drop of black blood were therefore considered, categorized and treated as African American. It didn’t matter if your great great great great grandmother was a quarter black, if you could trace the lineage, you were black, through-and-through, and treated as such.
It’s this type of thinking that’s divided people of color for hundreds of years. It’s this type of thinking that convinces people they must choose one or the other. Are you one of us or one of them? Which box do you check? What groups do you join?
So I think back to the t-shirt.
“Stop trying to dilute my black by calling me mixed.”
Stop trying to impose a racially motivated standard of beauty on me when I want you to understand that being black in any shade is just as beautiful? That’s one interpretation.
But what about those that are mixed? Are we just diluted forms of an original beauty we can’t live up to because we’re not black enough? Am I a watered-down version of a black person? Should I proudly declare my blackness and reject all others because it’s been ignored and under-appreciated for so long? Does acknowledging both or all my mixes make me less of any? Am I not black, white, Mexican, Chinese, Polynesian, Greek, Moroccan, or Cherokee enough if I claim all my mixes?
Here’s what I think:
I do not tell people I’m mixed race to…
- Seem better than anyone
- Deny or reject my African-American roots
When I tell you I’m mixed, that courage in recognizing both equal parts of myself comes from a place deep within me once saturated in self-hatred.
I’m so very proud of myself that I am now able to confidently say I’m both African-American and German, not shying away from or embarrassed by either.
I am black, and I am white. I’m both, at all times, for my whole life.
So what do you think?
*As a disclaimer, I’m not saying these films will fully explain the problem, but they at least give a general introduction to the perspectives from both sides*