Colorism: Who’s Affected? Who’s Responsible? 2

The Trouble With Insider/Outsider Positioning In Colorism

I’ll use illustrations to demonstrate my thoughts on this.

If we can only know our very own experiences, then we can know very little.

Any thing that happened before June 6, 1985, I had no experience with. If I have to directly experience something to know it, then I know nothing about almost everything: the Vietnam War, Marcus Garvey, Apartheid, the Holocaust, President Roosevelt, the American Civil War, American slavery, the French Revolution, Egyptian pharos, or Chinese emperors, etc.

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Crimes would never be punished. Judges would have to be robbed, murdered, raped, have their property vandalized or set on fire in order for them to believe any victims or witnesses of such crimes.

Saying, “I don’t think colorism or racism exist because I personally have never experienced it, so it can’t possibly exist,” is like saying, “I’ve never been to New Zealand, so I don’t think it exists,” or, “I’ve never been healed from a medical procedure, so I don’t think hospitals are necessary, since they’ve never worked for me personally.”

You can see that experiential knowledge is only a part of our total knowledge.

Avoiding knowledge of a situation is a way to avoid responsibility.

Imagine if white Freedom Riders had said, “Oh, no. We can’t get involved with that because we don’t know anything about being black, and therefore we know nothing about racism.”

Imagine if someone asked me to donate to prostate cancer research and I said, “Oh, no. I can’t get involved or learn more about this because I’ve never had prostate cancer. It’s just not relevant to me.”

Imagine if Brad Pitt had said, “I don’t live in New Orleans and I wasn’t there during Katrina, so why should I get involved with building more homes?”

Imagine if Oprah had said, “I don’t have any sons, I’m not a man, and I’ve never gone to Morehouse, so why should I give over 400 black, male students scholarships to attend?”

Many youth have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Are the bullies outside of the situation, or do they have a critical role in shaping the situation? Do we only address the targets of bullying, or do we also need to address the bullies themselves?

If an employer refuses to hire me because of my sexual orientation, are his actions separate and outside of my experience?

If I step on your foot, are you wrong to say, “Excuse me Sarah, even though you don’t feel my pain, you play an integral role in stopping the pain. It would help a lot if you remove your foot.”?

Bottom Line

Different doesn’t have to equate with inside/outside, part of/not part of, better than/worse than, more than/less than. It’s that very thinking that breeds racism in the first place. You might experience the situation differently from me, but you’re still part of the situation.

A good example of someone who I think understands this is Time Wise. He’s a white man who speaks, from his perspective, on racism. Though his vantage point is different, his efforts can help alleviate the consequences of racism for everyone.

I hope we can look at the situation of colorism and determine our vantage point, rather than being cynical and insensitive.

Blacks have their share of blemishes, but colorism resulted from the actions of colonial powers, white slave owners, and slave traders, then it was propagated and perpetuated through white owned media.

I hope black people can see that even though we need to heal our own community, we also need to hold non-blacks accountable for creating/maintaining situations where blacks internalize racism as a method of survival (i.e. passing for white to get a job). We can’t improve or eliminate these situations without bringing multiple vantage points to the discussion.

I hope blacks can understand that though we experience colorism differently, we all experience it, and we’re all affected by it at some level.

With Love, From Sarah L. Webb

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Colorism: Who’s Affected? Who’s Responsible? 1

There’s strong opposition to letting so-called “outsiders” handle situations that they have “no experience” with. I believe the insider/outsider dichotomy is a slippery slope because it impedes social unity and social responsibility.

In the case of colorism in the United States, the outsiders are usually white people, and the insiders are usually black people. Similar situations might exist in other places with different groups of people.

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Among black Americans, a different insider/outsider distinction exists. People assume colorism is unidirectional, only relevant to dark-skinned blacks. I compare this thinking to the notion that racism is only a problem for people of color to deal with.

Racism and products of racism such as colorism are social problems. Period. Not just a dark-skinned girls problem, or a black problem.

Where Might the Insider/Outsider Mentality Come From?

The fact that individuals experience a given situation like racism, doesn’t mean they have the same experience, same interpretation, same perspective, or same vantage point of the situation. (See the movie Vantage Point.)

In fact, some vantage points may be so distant, or so far on the periphery, that it leads some to believe the situation doesn’t exist at all. They just can’t see it from where they are. Unfortunately, some still are not convinced even if others close to the situation try to give an account. But anyway…

This relative closeness to a situation and the varied experiences that result is probably where the insider/outsider mentality stems from, and I completely understand that. Especially when our inability to see from another’s vantage point often leads to cynicism and insensitivity.

I believe people cling to the insider/outsider mentality because of the insensitivity or callousness with which others handle discussions about situations they were too far away from to actually see themselves.

I mean “close” and “far away” both physically and psychically. For example, northerners were physically far away from the Jim Crow South, which affected how they experienced Jim Crow, but even if they went to the South (got close), their experiences might’ve kept them psychically distant from the situation (far away).

I’ve noticed that the inside/outside dichotomy is maintained by both the perceived insiders and outsiders.

People close to a situation don’t want to discuss it with those farther away because of the insensitivity mentioned above. At the same time, those farther from the situation avoid discussing it all together because their lack of knowledge and their distant experience makes them uncomfortable, or unsure [of] themselves in the context of such a discussion.

One example of the latter, which a lighter skinned black girl actually told me, is, “I’m not dark-skinned, so I don’t know if it’s hard on dark-skinned people.”

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Colorism: 5 Reasons I Haven’t Said Much… Yet

I’ve addressed colorism in my fiction, but with the growing anticipation of the Bill Duke documentary Dark Girls, I feel it’s safe to speak more directly about the issue.

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Being dark skinned, I’m often apprehensive about speaking candidly of colorism for the following reasons:

  • Complexion is complex, and I’m not sure how to begin.
  • I didn’t want people to dismiss me as merely hating on light-skinned girls.
  • People often have the attitude that “If you love yourself, you wouldn’t make it an issue.”
    • Since I didn’t want anyone to perceive me as “not loving myself,” I kept silent. My mistake.
  • People often deny me the opportunity to discuss the issue by changing the subject with a dismissal disguised as affirmation: “Girl, you’re beautiful, and you have to believe it no matter what others think.”
    • Sorry, but it’s literally not that black & white. “What others think” has real world consequences. Angel’s story
  • You’re viewed as week if you acknowledge you’ve been hurt. With that comes the “You’re just being too sensitive” argument.

With the rise in suicides and suicide attempts by young people, it’s time we encourage everyone to express their pain in constructive ways within a supportive community.

Maybe we hate pain so much that we avoid the expression of it from others.

What we can avoid are cynical messages that directly or indirectly say: Suck it up. Don’t come crying to me about your problems. It’s probably you and not them. What are you doing to cause others to mistreat you (blaming the victim). Awww! You got your feelings hurt? Well shame on you for being so weak. Boo hoo hoo. Wah wah wah.

Perhaps I would’ve shared my story sooner if I’d felt someone would’ve actually listened.

But like I said, complexion is complex, so I’ll be delving into it one post at a time. If you prefer to stay away from “sensitive topics,” these posts may make you uncomfortable. Just think of it as that discomfort you feel when stretching your muscles.

With love, from Sarah L. Webb

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