I make it a habit to never question someone’s racial cred. In a world of blended families, interracial families and trans-racial adoptions, none of us has any business questioning someone else’s racial identity. So when I point out the fact that both Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are bi-racial and the fact that none of their parents identified as African American, I do so from a very personal place. I know from my own family that this is a specific and sometimes complicated place to occupy in American racialized culture. It is a place that comes with its own unique challenges and triumphs, many of which most Americans who identify as exclusively white are entirely oblivious to.
I also recognize that this social location (multi-racial…comprising many social locations) is particularly important as the United States grapples with its history of race. I am the son of a light skinned, green eyed Jamaican immigrant who has “good hair” and I have cousins, a nephew and other family who are multi-racial. And I am someone who is the great grandson of a first generation enslaved African. My mother met countless professional and personal barriers in life because she was very dark skinned; an experience I share with her having grown into a relatively dark skin tone as well. I wonder when and how we will really talk about the lethal secret power within racism: colorism. When will we be mature enough to talk about and deal with colorism which is not just about black and white as a binary but about dark and light as a spectrum of acceptance, access and privilege. The poison of colorism that floats in the water of racism is particularly toxic to people of color. In addition, it is colorism expressed among people of color that becomes even more damaging to women who are judged globally according to their proximity to the center of a persistently white color wheel.
I am thrilled that Kamala Harris is in the center of our national consciousness right now. She is uniquely prepared and positioned as Obama was not, to be engaged in the dialogue on race. She is a woman; she is explicit about her racial and cultural identities; her public brand has been more associated with her identities and she is fluent in communicating them. Just recognizing who her parents were and when she was born (in Oakland, CA), I know that she has thought deeply about colorism and that she has had conversations about this issue. These are conversations that are often reserved for the confines of sorority circles or between mothers and daughters and sisters. Too light for some, too dark for others; black on the outside, white on the inside. Just like the conversation black parents have with their children about how to behave with police, this is another conversation that many families of color have that shapes our superhuman sensitivity to the nuances of racism in everyday life. Sen. Harris is the right woman at the right time.
The Black Lives Matter conversation is just beginning. We all need to prepare ourselves for where it is headed, but particularly people of color need to brace ourselves for dealing with colorism. It is the internal struggle with race that we have yet to face. Eventually though, we will need to address this problem that is all too obvious when you look at the complexion of the black people who are killed by police. It is not just a question of black lives matter but which black lives matter…light or dark?
This just got real…thank you Kamala.