The first thing that I was struck by was the juxtaposition of this ongoing phenomenon with last week’s focus on Paula Deen-gate. It can be so tricky to digest and respond at the same to both overt racism like Deen’s and the more subtle and systemic types of bias that black people ourselves help to perpetuate. But we have to, because they happen simultaneously and are problematic in different ways.
I think to say that black people “can’t get over their own issues” again oversimplifies this. I don’t know that large groups of humans ever simply get together and decide to shed deeply seated psychological baggage. (If we could, I’d ask racists to “get over” racism real quick, too.)
So I think the most productive thing about a project like Dark Girls is that it gives voice to a very real experience and it makes people uncomfortable. We should be uncomfortable with the idea that we’ve internalized these deeply troubling beliefs that devalue darker-skinned black people (and, to a certain extent, all black people).
JournalistDee: I think you’re a phenomenal writer, and the Race Manners column is exceptional. Do you ever get push-back from people who might think your biracial identity skews your analysis, commentary and positioning on certain issues relating to race and the black perspective?
JDH: Interestingly, no — not that I can remember. I think that’s a really interesting question, though. I have a couple of thoughts about why I haven’t experienced any “not black enough” push-back. I actively identify as black as well as biracial (which I see as one kind of being black — that’s a reflection of my personal experience and social reality, not a mandate for how other people should identify). I think I’m very comfortable in that identity because it makes so much sense to me, and I believe strongly that my black experience is as legitimate as anyone else’s. It’s possible that people sense that certainty and don’t question me.
On a related note, I think it simply reflects the world in which we live and the fact that people with mixed ancestry have been identified as black for as long as we’ve been in this country (and right up to our current president). There’s a pretty widespread understanding, in my experience, that the African-American experience is extremely diverse.
That said, if someone doesn’t consider me black or “black enough” because of his or her experience, it doesn’t bother me. I’m forever writing about how race is a social construct that we’re not going to pin down scientifically, so I’m happy to let everyone have their own take on it, versus wasting time with arguments that won’t be resolved.
OK, I have to wrap this up. Thanks so much to everyone who asked a question. Let’s do it again. In the meantime, send questions to email@example.com and check out the new column every Wednesday at The Root.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: Blacks Get Weave; Can Whites Get Locks?