Monday, December 13, 2010

For Mixed Girls, For Black Girls...

Fiona, Jo Burg, complex of mixed girls/
For surviving through every lie they put into us now/The world is yours and I swear I will stand focused/Black girls, raise up your hands; the world should clap for us
...  Jean Grae from Talib Kweli's Black Girl Pain

I recently googled "mixed-race women." Among the first things that pop-up after the photos of Halle Berry, Thandie Newton and Alicia Keys were the following results: 1) Dating mixed race women Free Dating, Singles and Personals 2) Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out:  (a recent addition!) 3)Mixed race women are put in place of black beauty and 4)Why are mixed race women usually associated with beauty and black women are not? followed by a few other pages full of dating and personal ads as well as forum threads about "beautiful" or "hot" mixed-race women and models.

To the arguable extent that Google can be a viable indicator of any popular thought, it does show that at least in cyber-space most of what's out there about mixed-race women fixates on our physique and our bodies particularly in relation to "monoracial" black women. As a mixed-race, black woman myself, I've struggled to break down the stereotypes in my own communities that often favor "light-skinned,"red-boned" women with pelo bueno (good hair) while painfully pitting mixed beauty against black beauty. These conceptions beg the question:
Is mixed beauty inevitably 'anti-black' beauty?

Growing up, the contested terrain of mixed/black beauty was played out most profoundly in the politics of hair. My hair was often the only thing that belied any mixed heritage and at different points in my life I felt like Zora Howard in her Biracial Hair poem: Some days, I'd stare in the mirror convinced I looked just like Alicia Keys or I'd frantically tease it out in repeatedly failed attempts to rock the perfectly epic Angela Davis 'fro trying desperately to fit into iconic neo-soul black beauty, only to be left looking like a vague, frizzy-haired, busted teen version of Diana Ross.

There's a common misconception that mixed black women have it all. After all, the media seems to favor us or at least light-skinned women that look like us, from Hollywood to our very own black entertainment industry (if it indeed, is "ours"). Colorism is nothing new. It's a painful and persistent inheritance of internalized racism and self-hatred-- the eternal struggle between the "Wanabees" and the "Jigaboos" comically immortalized in Spike Lee's acclaimed satirical film School Daze. Are we either "high yella heifas" or "tar-babies"?... Wanabees, or Jigaboos...

But sisters, whether you're 'dark or you're fair' we've all been damaged. We've all been used and exploited. Our bodies, the violent battleground of inequality--and to add insult to injury we just keep driving that imagined chasm between us deeper and deeper. Light-skinned privilege is real. More "European" features are generally favored--true story. But black folk come in different shades, sizes and hair textures that make visible just how mixed our history as a people has been. Yet our beauty is irrevocably constructed in relation to whiteness and widespread healing from the collective trauma of oppression inflicted and then self-inflicted (most notably, through damaging products like lye-relaxer and bleaching cream) has only just begun. And mixed girls have not been immune. For first generation mixed women of African descent learning to love our blackness and our mixedness is a long process if we ever even get there. And I am, ultimately, left with too many hard questions...

Mixed-black sisters out there: how many times have we considered the privilege we embody? How do we resist the use of our bodies by media, or even by our own families to further marginalize black beauty and objectify ourselves? Will we always be seen as "Wannabees?" Must our bodies always be seen as somehow "anti-black"? Can we love the kinks, the curls, the dark, the light and everything in between? Is mixed pride inherently anti-black pride?

Mixed girls, black girls and mixed-black girls, can we (re)imagine a beauty where we can all be celebrated as the queens we are or will we continue to play into the hands of exclusive standards of beauty? In the words of Ntozake Shange, will we ever find ourselves at the end of our rainbows and will we learn to love each other fiercely?

I desperately hope so.


  1. Hey Nikki! I just read this now. This is awesome! I wrote something for Eva McKend's blog about a year and a half ago addressing aspects of this topic, among other things. Here it is if you ever want to check it out: My perspective has shifted slightly since then. Like you state in your entry as well, I'm now more inclined to dispute the assertion that lighter skinned black women and/or mixed-race black women inherently "have it made" in all areas of their lives-- at least relative to darker skinned black women. Indeed, there are obvious privileges conferred upon mixed-race and lighter skinned black women but I think this idea that mixed-race black women automatically enjoy better lives due to their relative proximity to a white aesthetic greatly underestimates the role of internalized racism as well as the crucial role of the family and community in helping black individuals survive in a racist society-- givens that liminal figures within the community (such as mixed-race women) may or may not be privy to. In the entry that I previously wrote, I had not fully processed and prepared myself to express the feelings of placelessness and experiences of internalized oppression that characterized much of my childhood and adolescence. Perhaps this is because I am cognizant of the tragic mulatto stereotype and sometimes find myself trying to appear well-adjusted in situations that actually call for a greater, more prolonged period of healing. I also like how you ended your piece. I agree, regardless of how people choose to approach the reality of colorism in the black community, I'm also most interested in finding ways to lift one another up and nurture the self-esteem of my peers so we can minimize the hold that internalized racism has in our lives, relationships, and communities. Hope you're well, Nikki :-) (Also I'm in NYC right now if you're ever here to visit, I'd love to meet and chat!)

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