“Pink Isn’t Red”
A Teen’s Experience of Internalized Racism
I really feel for Black people of dual heritage - and not just because my daughter happens to be one of those people. It’s because in so many ways they are caught between two worlds. For example, many people with one Black and one white parent find themselves in the position of looking Black but being denied as Black. What’s a girl to do?
One of the ironies of all of this is that Black people have thoroughly internalized the racism that discriminated among people of African origin depending on how much “white blood” they had. It’s been so woven into society that many people don’t remember that this was part of the colonizers’ plan to sow dissent among the Black population to make it less likely they’d rise up against their oppressors.
While that didn’t stop Black people from making regular bids for freedom, it succeeded in creating a hierarchical society, with dark-skinned Black people at the bottom, and white people at the top. That societal structure continued after enslavement ended in many countries around the world.
It’s worth noting that outside the US, the period of enslavement ended when it no longer made economic sense or when there was too much bad press. Only in Haiti (I speak subject to correction from historians) did the enslaved people successfully rebel, and boy did the French make them pay for it, right up the late 1940s. Think about that before stigmatizing Haiti for its poverty.
At the other end of the scale, the US is the most egregious example of where the white majority continued to discriminate against Black people long after enslavement officially ended. I don’t need to say any more about that.
But isn’t it weird that Black people still discriminate against each other using the language of our colonizers and enslavers? The language of skin shade permeates the daily discourse in many Caribbean countries, not least Barbados, as I mention in Exploring Shadeism. It’s where my teen heard that “pink isn’t red”, when someone was trying to tell her she wasn’t really Black.
It makes no sense, though, because there’s one truth many Black people don’t like to face. If you come from a background of enslavement, you also have your colonizer’s DNA. How you look on the outside is a matter of chance - just look at the multiple hues of any Black family and you’ll see what I mean. (And it works the other way round too, as many supposedly white people have found after DNA analysis.) Nobody is “pure”, which makes racism - internalized or otherwise - all the more stupid.
The distrust and jealousy that kept dark-skinned and light-skinned Black people apart during the period of enslavement still lingers. It often results in dual heritage people being seen as not Black enough. I think that’s wrong.
Dual heritage people with a Black parent have to belong somewhere. And if they’re not white-passing, then that somewhere has to be in the Black community. As my daughter said, if a cop stops her in the US, she’ll face the same consequences as someone darker-skinned.
My point: it’s time to let go of internalized racism. We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves; we should be fighting white supremacy. After all, systemic racism is the real enemy here, isn’t it?
I welcome your thoughts.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.