The Big Bad Black Community
I loved the Lion King metaphor in Bilal’s blog post “Light Skin Guys Be Like”. So I thought I’d start with a Simba reference of my own in the form of a meme, (which I found online, don’t start with me).
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. Can I get an amen?
Bilal might have been called ‘light skin boi’ in the Jamaican food shop, but (I assume) he felt connected enough to that community to occupy that space and ‘watch no face’. At least I hope he did. Because white boys will walk in there and order Escovitch fish, stew peas or bulla bread without flinching.
The single story of Black rejection does not hold when you consider that mixed race/light skinned Blacks are the most visible arbitrators of Blackness in Britain. I don’t just mean in music, sport or other entertainment industries. But in public intellectual communities where the discussion of what it means to be Black in Britain is being shaped. The paradoxical reality of my belonging to that group is not lost on me.
None of what I have said thus far is about denying mixed race or light skinned testimony. But rather to suggest that colour/skin tone is one of many categories over which we are all made to confront the impossibility of authentic Blackness.
We are all negotiating our position along the spherical lines that place an essential authentic Black (male) figure at the centre. Authentic Blackness has a number of fault lines. Religion (Black people are Christian), complexion (real Blacks are dark skinned), geography (no such thing as a Black Russian), language (can you speak patois/pidgin, Yoruba/Twi or nah?).
At some point we are all made to feel that we are not Black enough, and most likely by another Black person. Who else would have the right to say so?
Mixed Race, Light Skin, and Masculinity
“Often I hear it or, rather, see it thrown around on the TimeLine in memes, ‘banter’ etc. that Black or Mixed-Race men of a lighter complexion are in some way ‘less masculine’.” – Bilal
No doubt. The memes don’t lie. But popular representations, and ideas/texts that are shared with authority (discourses), are not fixed in time. I would argue that ten or so years ago when I was teenager, mixed race and light skin men were not seen as less masculine to the extent that they are now.
I called a friend to debate what the shift has been, and where these ideas have come from. Without having read a shelf load of critical mixed race theory I am going to make the following speculation:
In this part of the world the dominant (hegemonic) conception of white masculinity is framed around intelligence and intellectual rigour. As the direct opposite (antithesis) of this, one of the primary conceptions of Black masculinity is brute force (in the absence of intelligence). Mixed race men (and light skin men who are problematically implicated in whiteness through colour), occupy an ambiguous in-between space that has a cancelling out effect. That is, you are Black therefore you are not smart, you are white therefore you are not strong. So arguably, mixed race men cannot access, and are not represented by either dominant discourse of masculinity.
In addition to all that, they are embroiled in a white western aesthetic framework that designates them more ‘beautiful’, which is a gendered term, and therefore feminising.
I can see how this could feel like a conundrum. But hegemonic masculinity is excruciating limiting. For Black dark skinned men in particular, it is endangering and life-threatening. Perhaps Black (of all shades), and Black mixed race men who fall outside of hegemonic masculinity, can and should be using that space to express a vision of maleness that feels healthy to you.
Bell hooks says that feminism has created a space for Black women to articulate their ideas, feelings, experiences and needs. Black men are yet to have or create a collective framework that centres their well-being. That is built on introspection, spirituality and healing. Current versions of Black masculinity contain no notions of healing. Just yesterday I saw a Black British boy pulled over by the police. His face full of fear and bewilderment, and my heart sunk. That’s all hegemonic masculinity has to offer. So where do you go? There needs to be somewhere other than the bodies of (Black) women.
“Light Skin Guys are Moist”
Mixed race and light skinned Black men have not simply occupied a space of emasculation. There was a point in which they were the height of Black male desirability. I think the meme ‘Say another light skin joke and imma take yo bitch’ really alludes to this.
Now, light skinned and mixed race men are emerging as overly-emotional. As a social researcher this is so interesting to me. Particularly because neither critical race theory nor gender studies has helped me to locate where this idea is coming from. Maybe it is simply the legacy of Drake!
But jokes aside this society needs feeling and functioning Black men. So you know, own it like Drake has, and be Black emo (emotionally hardcore). We’ve seen the possibilities for emotional interconnectedness in figures like Tupac, and now in Kendrick Lamar.
In closing I make reference to a previous article I wrote, in which I mentioned hazardous interactions with Black British men. Who are not emotionally switched on enough to live from a place of courage, with the resilience to risk vulnerability, with the humility and loyalty to stay trying when things go wrong; and so reduce women to parts only and live on a diet of pussy alone. But that’s not what families, and healthy Black communities are established on.
“…Guys be like…”
I think under the dominance of Black American Masculinity, Black British men of all hues are still deciding who they are. But light skin or dark skin, I hope you envision something good, because I’m really tryna date one of you.
Leona Nichole Black