first off, i would like to say that i really like following you on tumblr, i like your writing, and you seem very cool, like someone i would want to know offline. that said…..so….i can understand where you are coming from, but i do not think the other woman was being rude. in fact, she said exactly what i would have said, and i would’ve been more triggered than her; when someone points out your privilege that does not mean they are erasing your struggle. it is simply a call to awareness, to struggle with the contrasts and the systemic nature of all of our oppressions. i mean, honestly, intraracial privilege is an issue in many of the radical groups of POC i work with, and those who have it seem to resort to the types of behaviors white people & white women in particular display when called on their privilege. i know that you understand that POC can have white privilege, and that privilege is based on their proximity to whiteness and that the more you fufill the ideal of acceptable blackness the more privilege you receive in society. i can make the point that a lot of prominent black women who are in academia or whose voices are listened to have a lot of privilege in one way or another that gives them that access. you also know that one of the main elements of privilege is its invisibility to those who have it.
there is also an element of wounding/triggering for me here; i am a light-skinned black woman, of black and NDN heritage, from the south, with hair that is tightly coiled and not anywhere close to the ideal of acceptable blackness, and i have been shamed/mistreated/denigrated for not fully embodying the construction of ideal black female appearance from everyone to my mother to nearly ALL of my lovers and people that i know, white and black, to this day…
( for example, a week or two ago a WOC who is biracial,with one black parent and who could pass for white was talking to me about my dating woes. when i mentioned the many times i have been rejected b/c of my blackness, b/c of someone’s inability to deal with my hair or my skin, etc, she decided to push back against that with some bullshit about ‘oh, well are you sure it is that? i always just feel like things don’t work out, i don’t really feel that people reject me or even you just because of being black, are you sure that’s what it’s about? and i felt erased, again. like the constant rejection and othering i experience is some kind of hallucination i can escape somehow.as if she didn’t have an incredible amount of privilege. she was using that power and privilege to erase me, in some ways more thoroughly than a white woman could, because she is our culture’s ideal of who i am, and therefore i am illegible. this is so painful.)
we are a society that privileges and polices people who fall outside of norms of appearance that are based on whiteness and POC, especially black people, attack one another viciously within that cage. sometimes it makes me want to weep tears of fustration and shame when black women who have so much more privilege than me complain about when people didn’t think they were ‘black’ enough, because i have had that too, but it was layered over with the idea that b/c i didn’t have good enough hair/more european features i was somehow getting above myself for being who i was. in my experience, people from africa who look close to the ideal for black women in america get so much more support and space to exist;even in radical POC spaces, they have less to prove than someone like me, are considered more ‘authentic’ for some reason, etc…the privilege is there, is real, and i know it is invisible to you and women who are like you. but you are still responsible for unpacking it, you know? and for actively working to understand and mitigate the effects your privilege has on other marginalized people within POC safe spaces. what appears to you to be a rather insignificant bit of privilege is like the massive mountain that i have always stood at the foot of that rains boulders down upon me and gets hurt when i start screaming about being unable to ever climb, not wanting to climb and just wanting the rocks to stop.
it is important for us to struggle together with one another through our defenses; decolonization is a confusing and painful process.
peace and be well…
I posted something yesterday that a lot of black American/Canadian women AND East African American alike read as very “woe-is-me” in a group I contribute to called The Africana. So I was told to check my privilege. I did. The fact still remains that this is a nuanced discussion and while I may fit into the black beauty ideal (barely, but I will say I do because it’s the truth), many East African women don’t. Some Black American/Canadian/etc. women do fit into this ideal and are rewarded. These women who do fit the bill have little hierarchical advantage, as black still isn’t a “beautiful” aesthetic in this white supremacist world we live in.
The feedback on Tumblr was different. A lot of women of color on Tumblr weren’t as critical of the piece. Maybe that’s because they know me/like me or maybe that was because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. At any rate, this girl’s comments only started to hurt when got progressively more passive-aggressive. I did not feel like she addressed me with dignity.
These are all her comments. Some of them are addressed to me, other parts are addressed to a friend named Muna, who is also in a position of privilege.
To be honest, I think this is a tad problematic and reminiscent of the “light skinned girl (or white girl) woe-is-me complex.”
I don’t think it was a breath of fresh air. I think it is a reasonable topic of discussion but I think it is problematic in not recognising the aesthetic mainstream privilege East African woman of that particular aesthetic fair in this discussion. A privilege I have come to see time and time again that is unrecognised and unacknowledged by women of this aesthetic but rather diverted to this particular area of topic that too me seems again exemplary of the woe-is-me complex.
The systemic privilege women of colour who are “more appealing” to white society fair as can be seen in job attainment, earlier prison release and the like are all larger issues that stem from this very topic and yet this post is projecting a “why are we the acceptable image of a white man’s desire.” Uhm…yeah.
Yes. Is that not the recognition disenfranchised bodies seek from privileged bodies? But not solely profit but privilege, benefit in so many (and I mean so many ways).
This rhetoric is really saddening because what we are failing to see is how this post is an example of the many ways in which we do not acknowledge the several forms of intra-racial disenfranchisement experienced by particular bodies and women of colour within black spaces and seems like a diversion of energies in terms of its critical discussion because the fact still remains East African women of this aesthetic are deemed socially as aesthetically superior bodies of colour and yet, here we have a post complaining about that.
Of course, these lines are highly nuanced and without question I do not deny its reason for being explore. However, I do disagree with its need for exploration. One can theorise why women of this aesthetic are upheld. I’m sure we all can see the myraid of reason that, do not get wrong, are extremely problematic and proof of the existence of white supremacy and racism and white standards/ideals of beauty, no doubt.
But that doesn’t change the fact that privilege in this respect exists and this post, to me, seems like a diversion and unacknowledgment of this very privilege. But hey, that’s just me.
My reply to her:
I agree with the points you’ve made. I was talking about this with my sister earlier, how even the position I’m in and how I approach this topic is incredibly privileged. I think my ultimate point is that the white standard of beauty, as re-inscribed through the modeling industry’s black ideal of beauty oppresses all of us. However, I get your point that I am significantly less oppressed by this ideal, as I do fit into the ideal. My sister read the comments and said, “You’re sorta doing what white women do when they lament the white standard of beauty. You still benefit from this ideal and lamenting the absurdity and coloniality of this mindset doesn’t change that.” I apologize for making this about my plight as a Somali woman but I hope you realize this affects me, too, even if I benefit from it.
But I think that’s the difficult about privilege that is seemingly a hard pill to swallow. I think however this “I hope you realise this affects me too, even if I benefit from it” seems to embody the very problem I have with the nature of this. It does affect you and you do benefit from it, hence the privilege. But then to go as far as to say that it “oppresses all of us” is where it makes me incredibly weary. This is too reminscent of rhetoric made by lighter skinned women who are also aesthetically privileged in similar ways, not unlike yourselves with this whole, “I’m oppressed too” or white women who shout the same phrases. The fact still remains that this self-oppression as a privileged (in this area, of course) undermines the oppression of women who do not have this privilege and denigrated on account of this very privilege you have. That statement undermines the oppression of these women.
Also, the statement made above by Muna: “I did not ask to be made a standard, after all” was probably one of the most gut wrenching statements. No disrespect to you Muna, not at all. But that statement. “I did not ask to be made white, after all.” “I did not ask to be made lighter skinned, after all.” That was really hurtful (disgusting) for lack of a better term. “I did not ask to be made privileged, after all.” The reality is, you were born as such, so address it and deal with. No one chooses the life they are given or the identities they are bestowed with, but the reality is, the privilege embedded within them exists. Again though, this was no disrespect to you, Muna, it was just something I had to say.
Sorry, but I just really have to excuse myself from this conversation. Something in my heart just isn’t sitting right with me and the nature of this discussion. I apologise. I too wish not to take up anymore space or feel disheartened by the discussion. Thanks for listening to my views though and do continue with the conversation in the desired route I imagine you all wished this conversation to have taken.
And then I lost my shit:
I know [name redacted] has exited the conversation but I’m curious to know what she thinks about that Suheir Hammad poem [“I’m Not Your Exotic”]. Is Suheir Hammad co-opting oppression with the mention of Venus Hottentot? Does Suheir Hammad display a “woe-is-me” complex?
Did she acknowledge that she was significantly LESS oppressed though? In many ways, she conflated her oppression with other oppressions.
I am going to be honest here, [name redacted], you were more than a little passive-aggressive. You must think so little of members of this group if you can say something like, “Thanks for listening to my views though and do continue with the conversation in the desired route I imagine you all wished this conversation to have taken.” You said your piece, everyone more than entertained your ideas— they/I agreed. Your contributions are valuable to these discussions. They’re not only valuable, they’re valid. We have not given you any reason NOT to trust us, as this is a safe space. You don’t respect your opponents. You created a hostile environment and abruptly left the discussion as if we disrespected you in our replies.
I am interested in getting feedback on Tumblr. Yes, I was very out of line. I think I was awful, actually, but I also think she wasn’t polite. I kept imagining how the conversation would look if it wasn’t on the Internet. I came to the conclusion that she was incredibly uncouth, so doing what I do best, I was 100% worse. Because I’m petty and also because I do not like it when my efforts to not be the bitch that I am are rebuffed, when the person just does not care about me as a person in a supposedly “safe space.” I pretty much lit the space on fire, though, in my last comment. I do realize now that while she was rude (and others have messaged me to say so), it probably just felt ten times worse because I’m a depressed, insecure person and because the piece in question that she disliked so much was my piece.
Anyhow, this brings me to another thing that is absolutely real: a lot of black women do not a) see me as black (even though I’m from Africa), and b) there is tension because of that, and c) some of that tension manifests in resentment. We can’t pretend it isn’t there. It’s a fact. As someone who has been in predominantly black American spaces since the fourth grade, I have been told to my face that I wasn’t ever going to be black enough. I have been told that I am, in fact, more resented than white women. Mind you, I am not light-skinned or anything. I just have so-called “good hair” and facial features that are seen as not very African (as if Africa is a monolithic entity).
This is a photo of me and a good friend who is getting married soon. Both of us are Somali. She has lighter skin but my hair is less kinky— and we both have some of the features that make us look slightly different.
And I know I sound like a brat. I know I am ultimately upset because my sensibilities were harassed. I am upset, also, because it’s hard to process a privilege that I do not fully have. I am upset because I feel like she could have been nicer. I am upset because this flares up all of the anti-Somali experiences I’ve ever had I am upset because last night I wanted to show Sara (the girl pictured above with me) the thread but I haven’t talked to her in six months. She used to be the person I would cry to when someone hurt my feelings (especially when I felt attacked for being Somali). I am going to think about my privilege. I acknowledge that I do have privilege in MANY WAYS (not just pertaining to looks).
I am a huge brat and I would understand if you unfollowed me but please don’t.