Recently, the fabulous and fierce Pia Glenn wrote about colorism and light privilege, explaining what it is and what we mean when we point out that being of a certain hue has its advantages. She knocks it out the park here:
To deny that a privilege exists just because you don’t feel that you can point to examples of it in action from your life is foolish for two reasons: one person’s personal experience cannot negate a systemic ill, and a fact of privilege in this context is that those who benefit from it may not even be aware of it. The P-word has been bandied about so frequently of late that to some, it now carries a connotation of bountiful blessings. That is not what privilege always looks like; in fact it usually doesn’t. Sure, we may look at a wealthy person with many cars and a private jet and call them “privileged,” but that is different from White Privilege as it relates to racism and Light Privilege as it relates to colorism.
Back in July 2012, I wrote about the derailing that happens when we have conversations like these, and how the narrative inevitably shifts to “mean dark girls” who stuffed the light bright girl in her locker on picture day. Instead of exploring the root of the conflict, the discourse devolves into an epic oppression olympics showdown in which no common ground is ever reached. Because no matter how many news articles and studies are presented as proof that light privilege does exist, it is all dismissed out of hand. We’d rather deal with emotions and anecdotal evidence, which is great for an episode of Dr. Phil but does little to advance the discussion.
And usually, other black people are the most egregious offenders in these conversations. The same ones who crack awful dark-skinned/light-skinned jokes on social media are the ones who deny a preference exists, or try to rationalize it as if they haven’t been conditioned. These are also the same ones who do not hesitate to share their disgust when bleaching comes up, because they can’t fathom why someone would be ashamed of their own skin, the same skin they gleefully shame daily. The cognitive dissonance would be hilarious if it weren’t so goddamned sad.
I often joke on Twitter about playing the “Find the Dark-skinned Woman in the All-Black Film” drinking game, but I think I should, just to see how stone-cold sober I’ll be after. You’ll be hard pressed to find any woman darker than a paper mag, even in black media. Hell, seeing a dark-skinned woman on BET is as probable as a unicorn sighting. Some of us have the luxury of not worrying if we’ll ever see ourselves represented. Thankfully, online media is succeeding where mainstream media is failing spectacularly, and more WOC are seeing more of themselves now than they ever have before. That’s encouraging.
As Pia points out in her post, enjoying privilege in one area doesn’t mean you aren’t oppressed in others. It merely means having one less thing to worry about. It spares you from hearing how you’re “pretty for a dark girl.” It saves you from being ostracized in the classroom. In some instances, it even buffers you from long-term unemployment. These are realities, and continuing to have the hard, challenging conversations is the only way things will ever change.