“Light Skin Guys Be Like” – On the Boundaries of Blackness (A Response)

In his blog post “Light Skin Guys Be Like” Bilal asks questions about what it means to be a mixed race or light skinned man relating with Black communities. Particularly experiences of rejection, or not feeling Black enough. As a member of the implicated community, and being aware of my position as a light skinned Black woman, I want to suggest some ways we could be thinking about these experiences*.

*Mixed race is a complex social category, in this context I’m writing about Black African descent and white parentage. I’m also silently thinking about how this applies, or does not, to Black African descent and Asian parentage.  

It’s important to complicate the dominant picture of a Black community that spurns mixed race/light skinned Blacks, and to think about the politics of belonging.

In her interviews with mixed race adults, Karis Campion explains that rejection was felt more deeply when it was caused by an interaction with a Black person, rather than a white one. This could be one of the reasons stories of Black rejection are more prevalent. But it also produces an interesting contrast, in that the construction of whiteness as pure means mixed race Britons can never be white.

This raises questions for me about how mixed race associations with Blackness develop. Whether as determined as non-white and therefore Black; through ethnic identities built on shared ancestry and cultural practices, e.g. food, language, religion etc.; or through the global appeal of “Black cool” as a model for popularity and acceptance.

Broadening this discussion, the single story of Black rejection conflicts with the ways colourism functions in the Black British community. Bilal was called ‘light skin boi’ in the Jamaican food shop, which was potentially an estrangement. But how does our reading of that event change when we think about the British Jamaican community as hyper-vigilant of colour. A community who affectionately call light skinned Black women and girls like me “browning”; a validation of their/our beauty based solely on skin tone. How often do Black parents watch their newborns for signs of lighter skin or ‘good hair’, both of which mixed race Blacks are venerated for? How often have Black women and men loved and nurtured mixed race children – through birth, adoption, fostering, and church relationships – within the boundaries of a Black community?


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