When Jesse Williams accepted BET’s Humanitarian award, I wasn’t paying attention. Light-skinned activists aren’t an endangered species, so why should I stop what I’m doing to listen to another light-skinned male tell a group full of variously hued Black folks his vision for our liberation?
My President is Black, and I certainly haven’t listened to all his speeches, either.
I take my sweet time when deciding whether to acknowledge men like me. Two light-skinned folks in a space always reorients the energy of the room in our direction. Folks wonder if we’re related, dating, married, or successful. Unlike our darker skinned counterparts, we’re rarely regarded as a threat, and instead, get the pleasure of embodying curiosity for both Black and non-Black cultures…
…which is why I choose the light-skinned folks in my corner very, very carefully.
But in the midst of Black Twitter’s frenzy surrounding the speech – powerful Black women attempting to educate folks on colorism, Black men poking fun at Jesse Williams’ attractiveness, and white folks picking meaningless fights like always – someone tweeted Alice Walker’s poem that she wrote for him.
Whether by design, accident, or tragedy, my lineage is Matriarchal. When a Black woman lends her pen to a Black man, I always listen. It’s in my blood.
Here It Is
2016 by Alice Walker
Here it is
the beauty that scares you
-so you believe-
For he is certainly gorgeous
and he is certainly where whiteness
to your disbelief
has not wandered off
No. It is there, tawny skin, gray eyes,
a Malcolm-esque jaw. His loyal parents
may Goddess bless them
sitting proud and happy and no doubt
at what they have done.
For he is black too. And obviously
with a soul
made of everything.
Try to think bigger than you ever have
or had courage enough to do:
that blackness is not where whiteness
wanders off to die: but that it is
like the dark matter
between stars and galaxies in
holds it all
Even now, between his speech and her poem, I can still feel my soul reorienting itself.
For so long, I believed my whiteness to be a hindrance, a reason to distrust my work in Black liberation. It took me until college to feel comfortable calling myself Black, this coming after my Uncle told me to tell folks curious about my race that I was “nigga, nigga, and ‘mo nigga”.
Actively participating in Black culture is both home and code-switch, healing and walking on eggshells. I realize now that my hesitation to claim my melanin, to hold my family’s history of cotton, of Missouri, of lunch counter sit-ins, of unapologetic Blackness at all and any costs, close to me, is and will forever be a trick of white supremacy. I am both my Mother’s fire and my Father’s naivety. Surely there is no shame in having a white Father, but why has it taken me this long to understand my whiteness as living and breathing?
Part of it is that I am not Jesse Williams. A trick of patriarchy is that men are societally gifted the agency to have their identity taken at face value. While my Blackness is exoticized and fetishized by Black and non-Black men alike, Jesse Williams gets to be Black on his own terms, in his own way.
So when people ask that annoyingly fated question –
“What are you?”
The old response of “Black” is no longer used, though it’s completely accurate. It never achieved what I wanted it to anyways. Folks would still ask what I was “mixed with” and then I’d get irritated, etc. etc.
Skip ahead to now –
“What are you?”
Now I say, “Black and French American”
Because it’s true. Because my father’s whiteness is from France, and I’m not ready to say I’m half-white. I am comfortable saying that I am mulatto, and to be mulatto in times of Black death is either to be Malcolm before Mecca, or Booker T Washington before consciousness.
My wish is to remove the anger I’ve somehow attached to the former, and understand peace as something someone so internally divided can achieve.
Mixed folks have an obligation to our Black kin to do the work necessary to stand with them. We are still Black. If we are in less danger, and nothing is exempt from the legacy of slavery, then our darker skinned kin are in that much more danger of execution.
Jesse Williams is not an endangered species…
…but since Black men love the ease of a white woman’s love, and because Black women have stopped waiting for our men to love us back, there are more mixed folks walking around disconnected and confused.We cannot let whiteness tell us we embody the remedy for racism, we have to act to rectify racism. Unapologetically, and in everything.