By Janice Gassam
As race relations continue to dominate the public conversation, there is a broadening of understanding and perspectives taking place. Merriam-Webster recently announced that the definition of racism would be changing to reflect systemic oppression. Based on this new definition, racism is not only ill feelings toward someone based on their race but can also be conceptualized as a system of power and privilege used to oppress those who do not have that same power and privilege in society. There is a commonly held belief that white people are the only perpetuators of racism and anti-Black bias and that as a person of color (POC), you do cannot hold racist views. Adopting this mindset will make deconstructing anti-Blackness much more challenging. One phenomenon that is rarely discussed is the idea of white adjacency. While the term hasn’t been fully defined in a lot of detail, it can be thought of as the benefits received by a POC because of their proximity to whiteness. Sometimes the benefits received are unbeknownst to the individual on the receiving end and other times, individuals actively seek these benefits through changing their appearance, their mannerisms, their behaviors and even the way that they speak. The perceived benefits of white proximity can be a driving force that prompts POC to adopt anti-Black views and behaviors. In order to dismantle systems of oppression, an honest and open conversation about anti-Blackness in communities of color must be had. How does anti-Blackness manifest in communities of color and what can be done to dismantle it?
1. Putting lighter skin on a pedestal. A quick peruse of the media will reveal that lighter skinned individuals in communities of color are highlighted and promoted more often. Examples of this can be found by analyzing popular films and TV shows. Singer Amara La Negra made headlines a few years ago when she shared her experiences with racism and colorism that is rampant in the Latinx community. A 2011 documentary called Dark Girls explored the systemic oppression that darker skinned women face around the world. Governmental policies can also reinforce anti-Blackness. An example of this can be found by examining the complicated relationship between the Dominican Republic and their island neighbor Haiti. In 2015, the Dominican Republic announced that the country would be deporting Haitians in an effort to “cleanse” their population. Many felt that the Dominican Republic was unfairly targeting those with darker skin. India has also had pervasive issues with colorism through their caste system. Within some parts of India, caste systems still determine educational and economic opportunities. To remedy this widespread and persistent issue, greater awareness about the impacts of colorism is needed. Within the United States, there has been a more concerted effort to feature the diversity of skin tones within ethnicities. For long-term changes, these efforts must continue.
2. Perpetuating anti-Black views. The first place where our views are shaped and molded is through our family. Parents in communities of color often perpetuate anti-Black views and pass these views onto their children. Comedian George Lopez explained this in a 2017 standup segment, where he indicated that in Latino families there are two rules: Don’t marry a Black person and don’t park in front of the house. Lopez received a lot of backlash for his statements, but some say there is truth behind every statement said in jest. Other ways that parents can perpetuate anti-Black views is by telling children not to go out into the sun so that their skin won’t get darker. It is important to understand that being a non-Black POC doesn’t absolve you from being prejudiced. POC can still hold views that are deeply anti-Black. Adopting the viewpoint that POC cannot hold anti-Black views undermines efforts to curtail oppression and prevents communities of color from looking inwardly to understand the role they’ve played in continuing anti-Black bias.
3. Encouraging assimilation. Those who live and work in majority-white environments have likely adopted several practices to assimilate with the dominant culture. These survival tactics include, but are not limited to, changing one’s hair to mimic more Euro-centric hairstyles, code-switching, and even “acting white.” While these assimilation techniques were once deemed necessary for surviving and thriving in white spaces, the argument could be made that adhering to white social norms further upholds anti-Blackness. Something as simple as being who you are, speaking in a way that’s most comfortable to you and wearing your hair in the way that it grows out of your head is revolutionary.
Originally posted on Forbes