How being a light skinned person of color helped in my perception of white privilege.

How being a light skinned person of color helped in my perception of white privilege.

Although I’ve always identified as black, I was never ignorant of the many shades of black that surrounded me. I also became aware of the different ways in which people were treated or valued according to their ‘degree of blackness’. That helped me realize what privilege looked and felt like…

“The lighter the better”.

Due to the degree to which systemic racism has taken hold in society, whiteness is still held to be the normative standard for beauty, brains and overall worth. Light-skinned black people like myself are often (incorrectly, clearly) viewed as a ‘superior’ type of black. We are also perceived as ‘exotic’, rather than just ‘other’ and ‘less capable’. Lighter folks of color typically get more opportunities, and are more likely to be praised over their personal success.

Some mixed race or lighter-skinned people of color can even pass as white – which is, definitely, a plus. At least where someone’s perception born of ingrained racism is concerned.

Not “100% black”, so “not black”. If they like you.

Some lighter skinned people of color are mixed race… and, where I come, from they’re mostly of African and European descent. In the eyes of the white community that gives people like me a status of, say, 50% blackness. That means that if white people like you, you’re never perceived as black, because that doesn’t suit their worldview. Because white people will cling to that percentage of your heritage that is just like theirs, to justify the fact that they actually see you as their equal.

“Cute mixed babies”.

It’s all fun and games until a white person’s offspring starts to date a black person. However, if that black person happens to be lighter-skinned and blue or green-eyed (a very common trait in some places in Africa), it’s thought that they’ll have super cute, ‘exotic’ babies – which will come as a relief to white grandparents concerned that their reputation will be destroyed by having black grandchildren.

In bad situations… if white people feel threatened by you… you are just black.

When things go south, if you’re a mixed race or lighter-skinned person of color you can expect your blackness to be called out! It’s like your “golden skin”, “luscious curls” and white mother don’t matter anymore on the privilege scale.

You’re black and you’re ‘doing the bad things black people do’, so forget about your whiteness because, says the inner voice of ingrained racism, you didn’t earn it. You may be light-skinned but you’re ‘black’ in the most terrifying sense of the word and you’re getting the black treatment.

Don’t think for a second that white – and light – privilege doesn’t exist.

Living this kind of experience has really helped me to understand what privilege is, especially in situations when I was clearly being privileged in comparison to other, darker-skinned people. I’ve had a lot more chances of survival in the academic and professional world, for example, and my voice is more likely to be heard by white people. My opinions are more likely to be considered.

This is something I often talk about when explaining privilege while debating about racism against the black community.

I acknowledge my light skin ‘advantage’ so that my white peers can better understand systemic racism, and how their race places them at the top of the privilege chain.