Dear Race Manners:
Saw your response to racist comments posted online, but what about this?
I’m trying my best not to be petty here, while I’m aware this is going to sound petty no matter how I put it. I believe my friends’ and family’s internalized racism and colorism is affecting their responses to photos of my child.
Here are the facts. My little girl: two black parents. My sisters’ children: multiracial (one sister’s kids are black and white, and the others have black, Caribbean and Indian heritage). On Instagram and Facebook, they are constantly being told their babies are “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “stunning,” “unbelievably attractive” and “should be a model,” while my daughter does not receive the same level of praise. It’s a clear pattern—even my husband recognized it when I pointed it out to him.
In our new online world of “likes,” it seems that brown-skinned—aka “regular black”—little girls must have long, elaborately styled hair or be dressed to the nines in the highest adult fashion (totally inappropriate, in my old-school opinion) if people are to get excited about them.
I’m well-read on colorism and anti-black bias, and it hurts to see this pattern re-created among my loved ones. Would it be wise or helpful to broach the subject in a status and use it to raise awareness among my family and followers? I’d like to educate people. I’m thinking of a simple statement, not calling out or tagging any one person. —Anonymous
I want to believe that something else is at play here and that what you think is happening (a pattern of “colorism and ant-black bias”) really isn’t. Is it possible that you simply have fewer friends and followers and, thus, fewer likes than your sisters? Could it be that you’re a terrible photographer and your pictures don’t turn out as well? That their captions are wittier? Maybe people are just liking and commenting effusively on the photos of your sisters’ kids to prove their own open-mindedness when it comes to the diverse country they’ll grow up to live in?
It’s true; those are all possibilities. But sadly, I also know there’s a good chance that you’re right about the source of the patterns you’re seeing.
A preference for nonblack or “a little bit black” or “black and something else” over what you call “regular black” is what fueled one mom’s question to me about all the awkward comments she was receiving about the superior beauty of her biracial children. A few years ago, the news of a black Disney princess was monumental because it challenged these ideas. The widespread admiration of Lupita Nyongo’o’s beauty was validating and newsworthy in part because Hollywood-level worship of women who look like her is rare.
A sense of fatigue about battling “the sociopolitical disadvantages that come with being dark-skinned in a society that continues to privilege White/Western standards of beauty” is what inspired Yaba Blay to create the transmedia project Pretty.Period. She calls the collection of photographs a “visual missive in reaction to the oh-so-popular, yet oh-so-offensive ‘compliment’—‘You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.’”