I just saw a video clip recently and it blew my mind. It reminded me of a hilarious sudo-documentary on Saturday Night Live a while back by Eddie Murphy where he went undercover as a white guy named “Mr. White” in order to explore racial privilege.
As I have talked in previous posts, I am bi-racial (African American and European American). Everyone who knows me, knows that I primarily identify my race as black. I have been told I “don’t look black” by many of my friends and neighbors. (I’ve been told I look Italian, Mexican-American, Hawaiian… The list goes on and on.) I have also been told by black cousins as a child and former black students as their teacher that I “talk white.”
The confusion others express about by my perceived racial ambiguity, has proven to be both beneficial and problematic. I get to hear what white people say about blacks when they don’t know black people (in this case ME) are listening… Sometimes they say these things to my face.
This experience made me intensely aware of the “privilege” of my skin color.
I may consider myself black, but my skin is decidedly lighter than many of my cousins. My racial identity may seem utterly confusing for some, but it is very clear for me. What makes me black is my experience. Unlike many white Americans, race and skin color has always been a regular topic of conversation in my household. Like many Black Americans, it has been so since I was a child. I know about the one drop rule, paper bag parties, and what it means to “pass“.
Unlike many Americans who believe in a “post-racial society”, where we get were we are as a result of “hard work”, I know that the fact that I am college educated, own my own home and am upwardly mobile, is in many ways a result of the privileges I have been given as a result of my birth: growning up in LA in a middle-class community, having college educated parents, being born a US citizen, being born to parents who owned property, being straight and (mostly) able-bodied, speaking English as a first language…
and yes… not being dark-skinned…
My awareness of the benefits I have experienced in my life as a result of these privileges, in combination with my awareness of the disadvantages I have experienced (being an articluate, independent, outspoken woman of color is definitely not celebrated in our culture) has created in me a sense of RESPONSIBILITY to support and advocate for others who are not as fortunate. This awareness has informed my work as a teacher, parent volunteer, community organizer, and blogger.
I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it here for now.
Watch the video clip, and tell me what you think… Better yet, support the film Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality by Shakti Buttler
Cracking the Codes: A Trip to the Grocery Store
Related Reads: A Tribute to MLK Jr., Books that Get the Conversation Started, What Colors Are in Your Coloring Box?
What do you think?