I Claim Black Because My Light Skin Doesn't Protect Me from Misogynoir

by Kesiena Boom

I am a mixed race woman. One of my parents is Black and the other is white. I identify as both mixed race and as Black. I do so because of the legacy of the one drop rule and because I cannot access whiteness as it is associated with being ‘pure’ and I am clearly ‘tainted’ with my racially ambiguous looks. My afro, my golden skin, my thick figure and my full lips combine to give me an appearance that is notably not white. I feel connected to Blackness in a way I cannot feel towards whiteness. Despite being mainly raised by my white parent, it is not in whiteness that I find my home.

I am however, light skinned. There is no denying this fact. A white person with a dedication to sun beds can easily deepen their skin to a shade darker than mine. This paleness allows me ambiguity and means that whilst I am never read as belonging amongst white folks, I can enjoy the dubious privilege of sometimes being seen as ‘acceptably Black’. I am ‘exotic’ but not too dark to raise fear. I am the face of Black women on screen, the pretty light skinned girl who only exists to provide decoration (but at least she’s there, at least she’s seen, unlike my dark skinned sisters).

In the last year two monoracial Black women have told me that I am not Black. That I am too pale to claim that word. My first reaction was to accept this unthinkingly, to flinch in defeat from their words and concede that maybe I am not as I am strikingly aware of the advantages I hold that dark skinned Black women are barred from. I considered seriously whether I should be using the label of Black and I toyed with whether it was mine to hold. I spent hours searching my face and my body in the mirror looking to consolidate a stable view of my identity. This did not help.

I finally realised that I have every right to my Black identity due to a post I read on the acclaimed blog Gradient Lair. The essay was centred around misogynoir, or the specific sexism that Black women face due to being racialised as Black whilst simultaneously being women. It is a concept that is for Black women by a Black woman (specifically a fellow queer Black woman, Moya Bailey). It does not cover other women of colour and it certainly does not extend to white women.

As I read the essay I realised that it is not misogyny that has the greatest impact on my life, but misogynoir. When I leave my house, men read me as Black. I know they do. I can tell by the way they disregard my personal space and foist themselves on me without taking “no” for answer. (Because Black women are always “up-for-it” Jezebels right?)

I can tell by the way white gay men crowd me in the bathroom and on the dance floor and tell me how sassy I am when all I’ve done is put some more lipgloss on or lost my shit when Britney comes on. (Because Black women are caricatures, cut-outs for white gays to project their entertainment fantasies on to, right?)

I can tell by the way these same men turn aggressive when I call them out or don’t play along with their stereotypical schtick. I notice how their kind but misguided words turn to, “Ugh, bitch! You Black girls are all the same!” (Because Black women are a monolith into which I neatly fit, right?)

I can tell by the way white people think it’s hilarious and accurate to shout, “Oh, my god! It’s Solange!” at me in the street, or when three different white people told me in the span of a few months that I look like Whoopi Goldberg. (Because Black women all look the same, right?)

I can tell by the way white people of all genders feel entitled to my body and to my hair. How they thrust their fingers over me without permission and are shocked when I don’t like it, though I think they would understand if some random white girl didn’t want you touching her hair. I can tell by the way this was painfully highlighted one night when I went out with my white friend and she was wearing a jazzy hat that lots of people wanted to try on. Every single one of them asked her before so much as touching the hat, but my ass and my afro were not worthy of the same level of respect. I was pawed at nonconsensually all night. The one girl who did ask before laying her hands on my body? She asked my white friend if it was okay to touch me! (Because Black women’s bodies have always belonged to white people, for them to subjugate and use as they please with no regard for our feelings, right?)

I can tell by the way I am good enough to kiss, casually date or fuck but only once have been good enough to be someone’s girlfriend, and then left for a white woman I might add. I can tell by the way white girls use me as a distraction from their white girlfriends, the way they stare too long and brush my hips and hair too long and then return home to their relationship whilst I go home alone. (Because Black women are for sexual pleasure but they are not worthy of love, right?)

I can tell by the way people continually think they can treat me like a bitch and I won’t feel a thing, how they will stab me in the back time and time again or dismiss my grievances. (Because only white women are worthy of protection and compassion, but Black women are endlessly strong and essentially soulless. Because we exist to be props and “Mammies” for others, rather than be fully fledged humans with actual desires and emotional needs of our own right?).

I can tell by the way I’ve been accused of “bullying,” “aggressiveness” and “victimizing,” towards the people that I’ve calmly, reasonably, and logically—when I owe them no such courtesy—called out for their oppressive or hurtful behaviour more times than I’ve had hot dinners. (Because Black women are overbearing angry “Sapphires,” right?)

I can tell by the way people tell me, “I’ve never been with a Black girl,” (because once you’ve fucked one Black girl, you’ve fucked us all, right?)

I can tell by the way one of the first white boys I ever thought I actually cared about said unashamedly, “You’re Black, so you taste weird to kiss.” (Because Black women are fundamentally different and odd compared to “default” white women, right?)

I can tell by the way a group of white boys in a car last summer took affront at my carefree, Black, lesbian existence and tried to run me over as I cycled whilst shouting “nigger” and “dyke” at me. (Because Black women’s sexuality is meant to be voracious and directed at satisfying white men, not other women, right?)

So I will claim Black as my label because goddamn it, whether I like it or not it informs my life experiences. I graciously accept that I am perceived as one step higher up in the vicious hierarchy of the world than my darker skinned sisters. But that does not mean I am at the top. I am still stepped on every day. My lighter skin has never protected me from that reality.

I claim Black, because that is who I am and will always be, unapologetically so.

Photo credit: Deposit Photo

Kesiena Boom is a Black lesbian feminist and writer who adores Audre Lorde, sisterhood, and the sociology of sexuality. She is twenty years old. She is a regular contributor at For Harriet and  Autostraddle.com.

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