Although most “Black folk” understand that we come in all shades, for some reason, we still make it our business to put other folks’ Blackness to task, particularly those who in our estimation don’t look the part.
On the one hand, we may reject our lighter skinned sisters and brothers because of their multiracial-ness, whether actual – “You’re mixed, you’re not Black” – or assumed – “You’re so light, you must be mixed.” But then on the other hand, most of us would concede that the large majority of Black people, particularly African Americans, are of mixed heritage. So, which one is it?
How did we get here? When did we abandon our cultural and political understandings of Blackness for more phenotypical ones? And do such narrow constructions of Blackness ultimately benefit us as community? Where would we be as a community if we had relied on skin color to determine Blackness a hundred years ago? No W.E.B. DuBois. No Mary Church Terrell. No Malcolm X. No Lena Horne. No Arturo Schomburg. And let’s understand the implications if we continue to use skin color as a gauge of racial identity – in essence, Herman Cain would be more Black than Ben Jealous.
In 2011, when so many Americans choose to swallow the post-racial blue pill rather than to spit out the White supremacy red pill, why are we pretending as if collective group identity is no longer important? The reality is that for those who don’t fit the phenotypical status quo, they aren’t choosing to be Black – they are choosing to be themselves. They too are Black. Period.
Yaba Blay, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Lafayette College. Her latest project (1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race and Identity seeks to challenge narrow, yet popular perceptions of what “Blackness” is and what “Blackness” looks like. To learn more about the project, visit 1nedrop.com.