Bree Newsome & Confrontational Civil Disobedience

Bree Newsome  Our Legaci

On the morning of June 27th, 2015, activist Bree Newsome took down the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina Statehouse. She was immediately arrested. As news spread of her civil disobedience, public support poured in online. Her removal of the flag symbolizes the dire tactics now being taken by a new generation of activists. While the tactics of old still have merit, the emerging generation of Black activists surrounding Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, Baltimore movements and beyond, have repeatedly pushed the helms of civil disobedience, tapping into and reinventing tools for on-the-ground activism.

After 6 Black women and 3 Black men were murdered at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Confederate flag still remained raised at the South Carolina Statehouse and other public spaces.

The Confederate flag has been used as a tool for symbolizing the oppression of Black Americans throughout the South. It is not merely an innocent symbol of pride. In fact, the Confederate flag was added to the SC Statehouse in 1962 as a symbolic protest against the achievements of the Civil Rights Era. The murderer of the slain 6 Black women and 3 Black men regarded the Confederate flag as a symbol of his white supremacist beliefs.

Just as the swastika is known as a tool of Nazi propaganda and symbol of the Holocaust, with the deaths of millions of Jewish people, the Confederate flag is a tool of white supremacist ideals connected to the deaths of millions of African descended people across the Americas. It specifically is used as a tool to promote nostalgia of the South’s slavery era, in which Black Americans were enslaved and tortured on a daily basis. Within this nostalgia is the idea of the “Master,” the owner of slaves and plantations, with the power to treat Blacks in what ever manner he pleased. During chattel slavery, Masters had many tools for physical and mental oppression. Public whippings, hangings, chains, cutting off of limbs, hot boxes and etc, were used as the Masters’ tools for securing subjugation.

After Civil War defeat, Reconstruction and much later the Civil Rights Era, bitterness towards Black life and achievements remained a Southern norm. At any turn, many white southerners sought to reaffirm their supremacy. Thus, during desegregation and Civil Rights movements, the Confederate flag started being used in public spaces as a symbolic expression of white supremacy. The false mantra that the confederate flag is a symbol of “bravery” amongst Confederate soldiers is merely used as a diversion tool. Black southerners are continually reminded that the Confederate flag serves as a warning to Blacks, as if to say, “Don’t push it too far with this ‘rights talk.’ Remember where you are.”

Bree Newsome’s takedown of the Confederate flag is symbolic of the changes that the Emerging Majority is forcing the U.S. to confront. Traditions of the past steeped on the hills of oppression will no longer be accepted as mere nuisances. The more these symbols are allowed to be promoted happily throughout society, the more ingrained they become in the minds of new generations.

Consequently, this cycle of oppression and its symbols need to be dethroned at every corner.

At the end of World War II, Germany went through a denazification process. Following the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union, entire cities were renamed in Russia. Statues of communist leaders were torn down. Currently, in the United States of America there are still cities, streets, and statues in honor of slave traders, slave owners, rapists and other terrorists of Black life. America has yet to have a thorough organized and sustained dethroning of white supremacy, even though America was at the forefront of much of the denazification process.

Though removing the Confederate flag will not end Black oppression, it is a step in the right direction.

In the words of Audre Lorde, “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.” Thus it is imperative to utilize methods for organizing that are centered around current Black realities while also countering and deconstructing anti-Black narratives. Bree Newsome and her fellow activists are taking vital steps towards continuing this practice of dethroning oppressive symbolism through confrontational civil disobedience.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell Aiwuyor is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

The Convenience of Forgetting

The-Democratic-Platform

In May of 2014, I published a piece about my family’s escape from sharecropping. I was surprised to learn that so many people didn’t know that sharecropping was slavery rebooted. The title of this article was Dismantling Collective Amnesia. It received a tremendous amount of feedback from writers and historians alike. I was applauded for both sharing and remembering the story. Still, it wasn’t as if I had a choice. Such transgenerational survival stories do not afford the convenience of forgetting.

Fast forward to April 2015. It was revealed that Ben Affleck participated in Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s well known PBS series, “Finding Your Roots.” However, when one of his ancestors (Benjamin Cole) was discovered to be a former slave owner, he requested that Benjamin Cole be completely erased from his family history. This ancestor (that Affleck shares his first name with) would not be included in Affleck’s “Finding Your Roots” episode. This was in order to avoid being associated with his ancestor’s past. Supposedly, Gates’ team allowed this erasure to occur.

This created a firestorm, in which Gates, a renowned African American Studies historian, faced criticism. It is unknown as to how much pressure was placed on the team to exclude this pivotal component of Affleck’s family history. But one thing is certain. Affleck represents America’s denial problem. His initial refusal to include the full truth of his family’s history aligns perfectly with America’s current trajectory of denial and erasure. It’s the same premise as “all this racism with no racists.” All this oppression with no oppressors. Affleck may have been trying to deter attention from someone he was ashamed of, however he contributed to the historical denial of oppression mounted on people of African descent; as if slavery were a figment of Black imagination, and slave owners are simply fictional characters that exist only in our minds.

It’s the same travesty as schools in Texas and Massachusetts seeking to rewrite history books to make slavery appear less brutal. It’s the same as publishers seeking to detract “nigger” from Mark Twain’s books to make him appear less racist. It’s the same as the years of denial that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owning rapist.

Furthermore, Affleck’s ability to dodge this history is a brilliant display of his own racially tiered privilege. Black Americans do not have the privilege of dodging history and the pains of slavery simply because it makes us uncomfortable. Black Americans do not have the privilege of making special requests to disconnect us from being the descendant of enslaved people. So much of the U.S. Black experience is systematically connected to slavery and the imagery of servitude. There is no escaping this, no matter how factually incorrect many of these depictions may be.

The truth is many people of African descent were enslaved in the Americas. The truth is there were enslavers that made this industry possible. Affleck’s ancestor was one of them. His attempt to disconnect himself, is an attempt to erase this truth, thereby erasing the truth about how racial oppression operates and who is behind it.

Ignoring these truths is not a viable solution. Acknowledgement and discomfort is necessary in order to dismantle institutional oppression. Though Affleck is a well known liberal, his denial is representative of many white liberals and conservatives alike who seek to dodge history in order to quell discomfort and personal responsibility towards acknowledging and dismantling systematic privilege.

Current day systems of oppression thrive on the lives of marginalized groups. For example, the current struggle for living wages among America’s working class is closely linked to strategies from chattel slavery for maximizing labor and increasing profit with low wage expenses.

The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy, it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management. As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.

The perverse reality of a capitalized labor force led to new accounting methods that incorporated (human) property depreciation in the bottom line as slaves aged, as well as new actuarial techniques to indemnify slaveholders from loss or damage to the men and women they owned. Property rights in human beings also created a lengthy set of judicial opinions that would influence the broader sanctity of private property in U.S. law. – Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman (How Slavery Led To Modern Capitalism)

In order to break these systems apart, there has to be a truthful discussion about what happened, who was responsible, and how it can be rectified. There must be a sincere attempt at truth and reconciliation.

This was Affleck’s opportunity to show his enslaving ancestor as an example of the ills of America’s past. Then show himself as a person working to rectify these ills. Instead he chose to ignore the issue altogether. For that, he reinforces a hard truth about America. Denial is chosen over healing. Erasure is chosen over accountability. Consequently, marginalized and systematically oppressed communities continue to be blamed for their own oppression, and history is laid to the wayside.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is a writer, social justice advocate and the founder of Our Legaci. Learn more about her work at JessicaAnnMitchell.com.

To reach JAM, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

“How could you be afraid of a little boy?”

Toni-Morrison

In an interview with journalist Charlie Rose, Toni Morrison discussed police brutality and violence against African Americans. She asked a series of questions that point to a key issue in America, the criminalization of Black skin and the white supremacist values cloaked in cowardice that leads to the deaths of so many unarmed Black victims.

She asked:

How are you afraid of a man running away from you?

How are you afraid of someone standing in the grocery store, on the phone with a toy gun, that you could buy in the store?

How could you be afraid of a little boy?

And who are these people calling who call 911? Who are they?

You look out the window and you see a kid with a toy gun and you get on the phone?

Her usage of the term “cowardly” speaks volumes in describing how institutionalized the dehumanization of Black people continues to be.  The so called “fear” is based on creating a worldview of African descended people as less human in terms of intellectual prowess and super-human in terms of physical strength (especially when referring to criminality). This animalistic perspective has been at the center of anti-Blackness for centuries. Examples include when “scientists” debated the brain size of Blacks and religious leaders debated whether or not Africans had souls in order to deem slavery justified. It was the central theme of The Birth of A Nation, the 1915 propaganda film that overtly warned white Americans that free negros were a threat to society.

This would explain why someone could believe they have a logical explanation for shooting a person running away from them or gunning down a child and refusing to provide the child with medical attention.

They truly believe this unarmed person is “dangerous.” Officer Darren Wilson even described Mike Brown as a “demon” with the strength of WWF wrestler “Hulk Hogan.” That’s the thought process.

Super-human

Violent

Animalistic

It never changes.

Though Jonathan Capehart imprudently asserts the mantra “hands up don’t shoot” was built on a lie, the premise behind Mike Brown’s death follows the same superhuman negro/must be put down like an animal aggression trajectory. Whether or not his hands were raised, does not alter the key issue behind why Brown’s death was deemed justified. Simply put, he was perceived to be another dangerous negro.

Through this lens:

Mike Brown wasn’t a 17-year teenager. He was a raging gorilla loose on the streets.

Rekia Boyd was not an innocent bystander. Her very presence was violence as a potential threat.

Tamir Rice wasn’t a little boy. He was a roaming gunman looking for a victim.

Aiyana Stanley Jones wasn’t a sleeping little girl. She was a member of a familial mob the required brute force at first encounter.

With each death of an unarmed Black person, especially at the hands of police or people in assumed positions of societal authority, the cowardice and the fear is a reassertion of white supremacist beliefs, even if the victim dies at the hands of a Black police officer. Many members of mainstream media happily overlook this. Just as women can be patriarchal misogynists, Blacks can internalize Black inferiority and white supremacist beliefs.

Police have been given the authority to uphold laws and societal norms. While at the same time, the collective fear of Blackness operates as a U.S. societal norm. Thus the deaths of unarmed Black victims ensues, regardless of the ethnicity of the officer. When this occurs, the officers are then protected by the society that continuously protects and rebirths this norm.

Within the communities of the victims, they are seen as they are…human beings deserving of protection.

Mike was a teenager walking.

Rekia was a teenager standing.

Tamir is a 9-year old playing.

Aiyana was a 7-year old sleeping.

Amongst their communities, these victims are seen through a different lens..the lens of humanity. So when Toni Morrison asks, “How could you be afraid of a little boy?”

This question is very layered and could be interpreted as, “When will you see the little boy that I see?”

When will the lens be corrected?

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

 

Watch Toni Morrison’s interview below:

For My Mother

JAM and Mom 640

For my mother

That loves so hard

That gives too much

That fights when there is no fight left

But fights again

That pushes and pulls and tugs and stands and cries and soars for her children

That makes worlds from words and hides her poems

That heals with gifts, when she is the gift

That births spirit through unexpected cheer

That fashions through ancestral memory

That is eternal in her sincerity

That determined determination

For my mother

That deserves a new dawn yet is the dawn

That receives an unseen protection

That is the descendant of sharecroppers and the everlasting daughters of Tikar

That is not forgotten

That is etched in the memory of the remembered

That is a favorite of the favored

That is watched by God’s appointed gods yet is Goddess

That is the love of copious life

You are my dream, my waking breath, my galactic starlight

My plentiful everything

My source before sources

My love for you is a bottomless sweetgrass basket

filled with enchanted fruits to feed your hopes

guarded with primordial spears

covered in the warmth of Virginia’s kiss

Guided by the melody of Ernest’s song

And all for my mother

Love,

Jessie

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

Disappearing Words: Writing In The Digital Space

 

Zora Reading

Zora Neale Hurston reading

There’s something magical about writing and sharing the inner workings of your mind instantly. That’s how it works in the digital space. We’re constantly sharing, breathing new life into old words. Yet, at the same time there’s a fleeting feeling.

Another case of police brutality…write a think piece.

Another person says something racist…write a think piece.

Another person does something sexist…write a think piece.

I’ve actually come to hate think pieces. I can’t help but feel like a rat on a wheel. There’s this constant spinning motion pushing you to stay writing, stay hitting that publish button in hopes of likes or some monetary gain. I’ve heard it referred to as “feeding the beast.” The internet is never satisfied. What’s popular today is gone tomorrow, almost as if it never existed. Old suddenly takes on new meaning. Content often focuses on who can break it faster and hinders most real possibilities of in-depth analysis or nuanced discussions.

Everyone must ride the wave. Or be deemed nonexistent.

I’ve often wondered how potent their words would have been if Langston Hughes or Zora Neale Hurston spent hours on Facebook and Twitter instead of penning poems and writing books. Perhaps they would have gained a “following.”

Yet, would we value their work the same? Would their words have been added to the endless stream of brilliant yet easily discardable “latest posts?” Would we still value their time?

The problem with digital writing is there is nothing to hold on to. It’s not the same feeling as having a physical book or magazine. It’s digital, cloud based, and light like air. Thereby making digital writing feel temporary, like a fleeting gust of wind.

Though nothing ever really disappears on the internet, the quick natured environment of digital communication makes important dialogue get quickly discarded in exchange for the latest controversy.

Everyone feasts upon it, dining on every piece, tearing apart every strip. Then, on to the next one. Lack of substance becomes reality. Quick witted pseudo scholars, psychologists and self help gurus dominate droves of gullible minds simply because they’ve found the key to social media. They’ve learned to ride, even manipulate the waves.

Even with well meaning publications, writing becomes another day, another click bait. Always striving to be ahead of the page view curve makes substance secondary. Everyone is striving to be memorable without memory.

Where do we go from here?

How do we deal with the issue of disappearing words? (The fleeting times, the missed moments, the badly deconstructed ideas, and the incessant desire to be noticed.)

There are no real answers to this question. Perhaps our only choice is to be inventive: push the limits, dig, write, erase, write again, breakdown, and build up in ways that haven’t been done before. Maybe then, our words will serve more as a reference point than some random page, that once was skimmed and forgotten.

Nevertheless, we will do what writers do. We’ll keep writing, hoping the digital swindlers leave enough room for us to make an impact before our words disappear.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

When Dyson Saw A Ghost: Far From Petty

Michael-Eric-Dyson-Ghost

On April 19th, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson published an article titled, The Ghost of Cornel West. In the piece, Dyson addresses an emerging feud with his former mentor Cornel West. Needless to say, the internet blew up with a flurry of tweets, accolades and impromptu rebuttals.

On the positive side, the piece was welcomed as painful but also thoroughly insightful when speaking on the current state of West’s scholarship or lack thereof. On the negative side, the piece was chided as a johnny-come-lately, petty, overly personal blow.

I would say it’s somewhere in between, in a good way. Dyson’s article about West’s supposed fall from scholarly grace does not exist in a vacuum. After being a close friend and mentee of West for over 30 years, it is impossible for Dyson to critique West’s scholarship without it being connected to their personal relationship. It’s actually unfair to ask of him to do so, because that would lead to a disingenuous analysis. Scholars are humans. Cornel West has given himself free range to call Michael Eric Dyson, Melissa Harris-Perry, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson “toms” and “plantation negroes.” Consequently, they have free range to a rebuttal that’s not so sparing. Additionally, the personal tone of the piece highlights the pain felt due to a ruptured relationship.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, national correspondent for The Atlantic,  pointed this out stating, “…people critiquing Dyson for being too ‘personal’ have no problem with West regularly accusing whole swaths of blacks of being Toms.”

Tone aside, The Ghost of Cornel West is the continuation of a rich legacy of discord amongst Black scholars. Dr. Blair L.M. Kelley reminded us of this history in a series of tweets, stating:

Remember that time W.E.B. DuBois and Walter White (exec. sec. of the NAACP for those new to the game) fell out about how to approach FDR…I bet you don’t remember the time that Booker T. Washington had his people come for Anna Julia Cooper and no one really defended her.

She also chided that people were “Pretending like there was some time in history when all black folk got along, put ego aside, and focused on important stuff.”

An additional example is when Richard Wright publicly attacked Zore Neale Hurston’s work, calling it reminiscent of a minstrel show:

Miss Hurston can write, but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phillis Wheatley. Her dialogue manages to catch the psychological movements of the Negro folk-mind in their pure simplicity, but that’s as far as it goes.

Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the “white folks” laugh. Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.

Zora Neale Hurston had criticisms of Wright’s work as well stating, “Since the author himself is a Negro, his dialect is a puzzling thing. One wonders how he arrived at it. Certainly he does not write by ear unless he is tone-deaf.”

While there are distinct differences between criticisms of literary and academic writing, the point is to understand that Black writers are often and have always been critical of each other’s work. These criticism are beneficial to the art of critical thought and writing. It’s actually healthy. This is public intellectual discourse.

When history evades us, we end up with an overly nostalgic and unreasonable view of Black intellectualism. This nostalgic “just get along” perspective trivializes the Black scholarly experience.

There is an importance to remembering the humanity of disagreements in Black scholarship. This call for Dyson and West to “talk it out” is far too simplistic. Black scholarship is not monolithic and should never be pushed into a child like, dismissive, “don’t air our dirty laundry” corner.

Furthermore, as much as some want to disregard his article as “petty,” Dyson asks some pivotal questions concerning activism, scholarship and intellectualism.

For one, Dyson raises a discussion on the scholarly politics of naming, focusing on West’s fascination with the “prophetic tradition.” Dyson asks, in terms of Black intellectual discourse:

How is it that West deems himself a prophet of Black America, without ever actually providing a thorough definition or analysis of “the prophetic” in terms of activism and scholarship?

Furthermore, why is it that West can profess ownership of the Black prophetic legacy without actually possessing any real accountability for taking on such a moniker?”

But the most important issue Dyson raises, was the decline in Cornell West’s scholarship. Whether or not you agree with West’s criticism of Black scholars and President Obama, one thing is certain. His intellectual impact in public discourse has been significantly stifled by his impromptu rants (however well intentioned), name calling and seeming lack of focus.

Cornell West is a brilliant source of Black knowledge that should still be celebrated and uplifted. Yet, Dyson’s assertion that West is a ghost of his former self is not without merit. This is not a new assertion, however it is extremely bold and thorough.

Dyson even reaches back to reference issues within West’s most notable work, Race Matters. He points out how West’s focus on “nihilism” as the greatest threat to Black achievement actually parallels the sentiments of conservatives wishing to place the blame of Black oppression on Black masses instead of systematic/institutionalized oppressive forces.

Ultimately, Dyson’s article is healthy for Black academia. Not only is Black scholarly thinking not monolithic, but in order to evolve sometimes undertaking public discourse is a necessary evil. This robust discussion would be furthered by an even more thorough response to Dyson’s article from West. As the old saying goes, iron sharpens iron. Maybe Dyson’s piece will push West back into the lane of his previously more strategic approach to public Black intellectual discourse…even in the prophetic tradition.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & Culture The Web.
Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci

Breaking Down Privilege, Light Skin and Beyond

Precious-2
Precious wasn’t a 110-pound light skinned girl for a reason.

As NPR described, “the writer known simply as Sapphire, tells the story of a dark-skinned, heavy-set, illiterate African-American girl who has survived multiple pregnancies by her father.” In other words, the character Precious was created by Sapphire to depict one of the most rejected, unprotected, less privileged demographics.

In an interview, Sapphire explained,

I wanted to show that this girl is locked out through literacy. She’s locked out by her physical appearance. She’s locked out by her class, and she’s locked out by her color.

There were similar reasons behind the creation of  characters Pecola Breedlove in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Because of denied privileges to women fitting their characteristics, Black women writers felt a need to share these stories. Three things these legendary characters all had in common: poverty, dark skin and sexual abuse. This was not an accident.

It has been known for a very long time that people with dark skin have often been treated with the utmost disdain and abuse. This is not a new discovery. Yet still, a few of my readers had a digital meltdown when I discussed light skin privilege.

Dave-Chapelle-Rick-James

At first I was surprised but then I remembered how difficult recognizing privilege can be. After all, a huge component of privilege is not realizing it exists.

So I’m going to rewind and thoroughly explain what privilege is, how it works and who has it.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized I had privilege. Even as a little girl, when a white class mate (afraid of my Blackness) refused to come near me, I had privilege. Even in middle school when a group of Black girls compared me to a gorilla, I had privilege. Even in the 9th grade, when I was bullied to the point of crying in class by other Black kids because of my permed but still nappy hair, I had privilege.

It wasn’t until I was older, when I saw some of these same people and their lives, that I realized the privilege I had. I grew up in a two parent household. Both of my parents were college graduates. The concept of college was never a question. Never had I ever been asked, “Are you going to college?” It was a given. Not only was I going, I had already begun writing, playing instruments, learning modern dance, and performing in theater productions. When I wanted to do something, my mother wrote a check.

Black-ish-money

We were not rich, but she was able to pay for every school activity I wanted to do.

My mother was very busy, but still had time to go over my school work. During the summer, I would get mad at her for forcing me to complete workbooks before I could go out and play. I didn’t know that any of this was a privilege. It was always assumed that everybody was able to do all of these things. In my mind, everybody’s mom read them stories, gave them books, made home-cooked dinners every night, and helped them apply for financial aid to attend college.

I later learned that some of those same people that bullied me so badly, were living in abject poverty. Baldwin County, Ga has a poverty rate double the national average. Many of their mothers were working overtime in service and fast food industries trying to make ends meet. I realized that those playground wars, where I had been called such horrible names, were their own attempts to feel better about their status in the world. If they could succeed in making someone else feel the way they felt, then they could feel powerful (even if it only lasted for a few hours.)

If you had told me at the time I was being called a gorilla, that I had privilege, it would have been hard for me to believe you. I would have said, “But my feelings are hurt, what privilege?”

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when so many Black kids failed to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test, that I started to realize the disparities. It wasn’t until I saw members of my senior class receiving a certificate instead of a diploma that I realized what happened. Their lives were cheated, opportunities had been denied and it was systematic. I recalled how certain students were automatically put on the technical track while others were put on the college track. The state of Georgia had predetermined who was going to college and who wasn’t.

But not me. I was going to college. I was going to leave and study whatever I wanted to. In high school I worked at McDonald’s, Sonic and Papa John’s. Quitting these jobs was never a make or break situation for me.

half-baked-job-quit

I had no problem saying, “I quit,” because, I was college bound. Fast food or retail wasn’t going to be my future. Hence my confusion when I saw other students dropping out of high school once they finally got their highly coveted job at Walmart.

Later in college, I saw how girls that were darker than me in skin tone were treated by men. I saw first hand how their deep brown skin was used a prerequisite for excessive abuse or utter disregard. I’ve seen their love interests dodge them and pursue me or other girls. I’ve also seen how they were treated by faculty members and staff. They were under constant attack. My lighter skinned friends also faced hardships, being not considered Black enough or having to deal with people’s assumptions about them. But what our other friends were going through was undeniable.

We were also treated differently according to body type.

Coming-To-America

Dark skin plus thicker body equaled additional problems. It was during this time that I also realized thin privilege. And yes, that’s a real thing. I had never thought of this before either, but it existed and I benefited from it.

Later I learned about abelism and the privilege I have as a person with no physical or developmental disabilities.

So here I am a Black middle class, 2nd generation college graduate, with two educated parents, with no known disabilities, that wears a size medium. I have a lot of privilege that other people don’t have. That doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced racism or bullying.

So when I wrote about the documentary Light Girls, referencing its avoidance of privilege, the commentary was out of a real need to address historical facts that affect the Black community. Light skin privilege is real. It has been studied and documented throughout history. It is a subsidiary of White privilege, where people of hues closer to white on the racial hierarchy are afforded with certain advantages. Over the past 300 years, it has become a part of the fabric of Western society.

Here are the 6 most common responses when discussing Light Skin Privilege:

draya-bye-felicia

1. But I’ve experienced racism. I don’t have privilege.

2. But other Black people picked on me because I’m light skinned. I don’t have privilege.

1-2: Your concerns are valid. However, it needs to be remembered that this issue isn’t about individual situations or circumstances. Light skinned privilege isn’t about anybody’s assumptions or hurt feelings. Race is a social construct that was created to sustain a hierarchy. In the Western world “whiteness” has been used as a measuring stick for human value. People of lighter hues have been treated with less “disdain” than other Black people. This is a historical fact, not an idea or assumption. It doesn’t mean that light skinned people never face racism or colorism. 

3. But I went to prison or had some other horrible experience in life. I don’t have privilege.

Light skin privilege does not mean that people labeled as light skinned never experience hardships or adversity. However, it does mean that at times, certain hardships will have less of a blow if your skin tone is lighter. For instance, a recent study showed that among Black people in prison, those perceived as light skinned received shorter sentences than those perceived as dark skinned.

4. Stop making assumptions about my character. I don’t have privilege.

Privilege isn’t about making assumptions on someone’s character. People need to understand the concept of light skin privilege is not an indictment on light skinned people, but instead an indictment on how racial hierarchies operate. Challenging this issue, is necessary in order challenge the false concept of white supremacy.

5. I don’t believe it. Show me the receipts! Where is this privilege?

Whitney-Receipts-1

For all naysayers, part of “privilege” is having the ability to not “see” the problem, because it has become so normalized.

Here are the requested receipts:

http://www.theroot.com/articles/politics/2011/07/color_bias_do_lightskinned_blacks_get_shorter_sentences.html

http://www.multiculturaladvantage.com/recruit/diversity/bias/Skin-Tone-More-Important-Than-Educational-Background-African-Americans-Seeking-Jobs.asp

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/us/school-discipline-to-girls-differs-between-and-within-races.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/skin-tone-bias_n_4597924.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/01/study-people-associate-education-with-lighter-skin/283086/

http://thegrio.com/2014/01/16/study-light-skinned-black-men-perceived-as-better-educated/

http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/

http://jezebel.com/368746/study-men-are-more-attracted-to-women-with-lighter-skin

http://www.sentencingproject.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=1136

6. Why are you talking about this? What good does it do? This is just divide and conquer.

Talking about Light Skinned Privilege does not promote “divide and conquer.” Ignoring it does.

Divide and conquer can only exist in a state of confusion. Right now, confusion exists because we haven’t learned how to effectively pin point and deconstruct the inner workings of racial oppression. By rejecting the privilege of light skin or at least calling it out, we are also rejecting the concept of white supremacy. We are saying that all Black lives are just as valuable as the others. This same thing can be said we we reject homophobia and sexism in our communities. We’re saying all Black lives matter the same, despite our perceived differences.

Last but not least

Part of the normalization of privilege is not being aware it exists. Even as a former landlord happily called me her “new pitch black friend,” I had privilege at various levels. In other words, this isn’t about your or my hurt feelings. Transforming society hinges upon our ability to proactively breakdown privilege: white, light skinned, class, economic and beyond.

In the case of racism and colorism, recognizing light skin privilege is a step towards understanding how to dismantle white privilege and Black oppression. The recognition of light skin privilege is not an indictment against light skinned people, it’s an indictment on the currently normalized role of false white supremacy and how it plays out in our lives.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & Culture The Web. To bring JAM to your school or show, email OurLegaci@gmail.com.

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