African Thought | Along the black color spectrum

opinion piece on colorism

opinion piece on colorismI recently read a Tumblr post by Bedour Alagraa. She wrote of her experience as a black Arab. Yes, like she says; “not half-Black/half-Arab, but Black-Arab.” Read for yourself here
This post led me to mentally collect experiences that we as a people go through. Unlike Alagraa I live in a country where I do not have to classify myself anything other than black. I could add my tribe if I wanted to be very specific, but this would probably only interest people in my motherland. Sadly in Arab-African countries like Libya we have read of murders and prosecutions of people solely because they are black Arabs. This is a topic that has long been neglected not just by the media but also by black people worldwide. In some way we as a people undermine the black Arabs experience as not our own even though their experiences are based on them having the main ingredient that makes them susceptible to discrimination; skin that is considered black.
My country Namibia was divided by Apartheid to such an extent that people that would be regarded as black in the rest of the world can be subdivided further into Blacks, Basters or Coloreds. Coloreds and Basters being descendants of mixed race ancestors are kind of floating in our midst as a separate group from the blacks and the whites. Perhaps for them it is the strangest to not even have an own language that serves as a cultural distinction in a nation where diversity is often based on cultural differences rather than similarities. As much as each group at times proudly excludes themselves I am not sure if any group has really made an effort in reconciling with one another. (I would hereby like to add that the likes of Barack Obama and Trevor Noah would not necessarily be regarded as colored in my country as they are rather first generation mixed descendants. See Trevor Noah’s “Daywalker’ comedy show if further explanation is required.)
My next observation leads me to the one –drop- rule that qualifies both abovementioned men as black. I am not sure by what Trevor Noah goes by in his home country of South Africa (South Africa used to have a box called “Other’ on official documents that required identification), but I am sure that when he travels outside southern Africa he is regarded as black as Mariah Carey or Quincy Jones daughters. Even the first black president of the United States can only dream of one day being claimed by whites despite his mother being Caucasian. I am sure the one-drop rule greatly simplifies things that are already complicated enough especially in situations where mixed-race children where not borne of love but are rape products of slavery and colonialism. However, in situations where black children with a white parent are not accepted by the race of their white parent as at least half-white, they are in actual fact denied half of who they are, even if it is just in description.

But the division does not end there. As black people we have now chosen to divide each other further along economic lines. So, now we have ghetto or kasi (short for lokasie or location which is where blacks were confined to during Apartheid) blacks versus blacks from the suburbs who either by merit or descent have ascended higher on the monetary ladder than others. Some who fled or escaped the ghettos and locations do not want to be reminded anymore of how the majority of fellow blacks in racially divided countries are living. The great majority that remained in poverty has now a special term allocated to them; ratchet. As much as ratchet is a set of behaviors that even affluent people can possess, it is a term that is allocated more to lower income black people. When people that are more prosperous act ratchet it is observed as a humorous experience that can be easily forgiven or forgotten because that person was simply acting out of character to experience that which they do not usually. Take Miley Cyrus twerking as an example. Yes, we were all making a lot of noise about it for a while but not because Miley twerks but because Miley acted out of character through twerking. Black girls booty hopping to obscene music in ghettos whilst their baby daddies are in jail are frowned upon, but it is widely accepted that that is just how they behave. Miley will be forgiven as soon as she behaves descent and white again which she sure will at some point when she has gathered sufficient evidence to be able to prove that she is not racist as she is down with the black folk. I can equate this to many white kids who listen to Hip Hop music in their youth not because it speaks to them but because it entertains them. When it is time to get serious and find a direction in life most white adolescents will not imitate the Hip Hop lifestyle that they imitated in their youth.
In addition, blacks have now started distinguishing themselves in terms of consciousness. The fact that you get some people that are more conscious about their plight and their people’s situations is not a new thing. I am sure that in every generation there was a Harriet Tubman and a Patrice Lumumba. What makes this classification so ridiculous is that now people use it as an indication of how much better they are compared to the rest of the black folk that is still in the dark instead of using their knowledge and understanding as a tool to help their own. I am not under the illusion that centuries back we lived in a utopia, but out of common suffering an understanding and empathy springs forth that is absent in class divisions. When your consciousness is gathered not through experience but through academic achievement it can be easy to not see your own arrogance towards your people as you are enjoying your state of privilege. It is easy for blacks who only go to the townships for a “tourist” experience to view the people that live there as highly entertaining but not to feel any connection to their struggles. These are some of the newly educated blacks that feed off from uneducated masses’ very real daily experiences so that they can include these in arguments for the black race in an intellectual debate. When you do not hear how hollow the sound of the absence of their emotions is, you might be convinced that they want what is best for all their people. Often these are also the people that date outside of their race as they feel that their own people are not on their level and just like a white messiah during slavery and colonialism their purpose is only to show the kaffirs or nonbelievers the light.
And then there was Colorism. A term that had to be coined to describe the bizarre notion that light-skinned blacks, now affectionately known as yellowbones even to themselves, are better than darker-skinned blacks. Their privileged status lies in the fact that they are shades closer to white than the rest. It seems that years of oppression and abuse has ironically taught many of us that white is right. The results are devastating as hazardous skin- bleaching creams are applied in an attempt to improve one’s chances in life when equipped with a lighter skin tone. This crime to humanity is endorsed by celebrities that are turning lighter with every new song release. Sadly, we know that it is celebrities that our young people look up to. Especially for a young girl who sees not just that her idols are light but also have hair like Caucasians, the idea that the European image of beauty is what constitutes and fosters success is continuously planted in her mind.
I will not start on the experiences of blacks in the Diaspora especially in Europe versus those on the continent as I do not yet understand enough about the European experience to make a truly informed general observation. This article serves no intentional purpose other than putting perspective to my thoughts. I am merely observing and hoping to gather understanding to throw into the collective pool of cognitive awareness which may perhaps one day help us find a way out of this chaos towards unity for all our people. There is indeed beauty in diversity, but it should not become a threat to something that is kept together more by its similarities rather than its differences.

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One thought on “African Thought | Along the black color spectrum

  1. Brilliant editorial!!!

    Its a shame that people STILL think that racism does not exist. We must remember that colorism is basically like Racism younger sibling. There is too much division among between black people. If its not lightskin vs Darksin then its kasi vs suburb or intellectual pro black vs ignorant or wambos or xhosa( happened while I was schooling in SA). And then if its not all that then its the Black Men Vs Black Women – I mean seriously how many times have we seen dark skin men with nappy hair insult or make fun of black women’s dark skin and nappy hair.

    What makes this worse is the media. Especially in the media mixed-race women are being placed in media and being passed of as black women. Which is unfair to “pure” black people. Theres anti blackness everywhere ( india is good example) and we have black people have to unite and stand up for one another.

    “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.” – Marcus Garvey

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