I Claim Black Because My Light Skin Doesn’t Protect Me From Misogynoir

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?).

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