Racial Cred

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.

Office of Senator Kamala Harris

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.


Donald Trump is a racist…duh.

Donald Trump is a racist.  Not a surprise, not news (fake or otherwise) this is a fact.  He is also not the first racist to occupy the Oval Office.  The troublesome part is that there are so many people with a variety of kinds of power who are willing to just give him a pass on his racism and his fanning the racial flames, because they’ve “got more important things on their mind” or so said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex) recently.  But isn’t that how racism has always worked?  From compromises in the US Constitution to the tacit acceptance of “separate but equal” by the abolitionist North, or Congress’ inability to pass anti-lynching legislation, to the more recent removal of voting rights protections, the separation of migrant families, the restriction of Muslims and the expulsion of legal immigrants…racialized white culture in the United States has always had “something more important” on its mind than brown folks.  And it is clear that that “something more important” is intimately connected with maintaining Laura Ingraham’s “America that we know and love”.

Rep. John Cornyn

Racism is America’s greatest problem but it is also its foundational premise. Because of this, racism is a problem for those of us who are targets while it is the most powerful tool in the box for those who have power…regardless of racial or ethnic identity.  The targets of racism are those of us who refuse to adopt whiteness as the framework our lives.  If, however, one is willing to buy into the racist ethic that is built on assumptions of whiteness and privileging proximities to whiteness (through behavior, values, language, etc.), you can succeed wildly.

Racism is not Donald Trump using the word nigger on tape.  Racism is not white supremacists marching in the streets.  Racism is not the attempt by the Republican party to erase the legacy of the United State’s first black identified President.  Racism is not putting brown children in cages separated from their parents in a foreign country.  Racism isn’t even referring to other human beings as “vermin”.  Racism is looking at all of this, these vile and inhuman actions and words and crimes against humanity and saying you have more important things to worry about.