Colourism the True Reverse Racism
I’m potentially stepping into a volatile abyss by publicly discussing this. It’s like digitally airing black and brown peoples dirty laundry in public, which is a massive no-no. However, to dismantle unfavourable biases, it’s essential to talk as unbiasedly as possible about life’s inequalities. In my attempt to practice what I preach and not be just another voice on the internet bellowing for equality and racial equity while absolving my responsibilities of introspection and acknowledgement of how I have helped to leverage racial inequality within the establishments where I chose to ‘fit in’.
I’m going in by spreading awareness about inequalities, injustice, unfairness and sincerely driving home equality and inclusion, while also holding a mirror up to my face and asking:
What part have I been playing in this shit show?
Let me introduce you to racisms shameless cousin colourism. Why shameless, you ask? Because many have muted this topic while swirling the anti-racism stick.
Until the early 1980s colourism (which is prejudice and discrimination against people with naturally dark skin tones, typically demonstrated among people of the same ethnic or racial group), merely slow-walked behind racism.
At the heart of every gossip, there’s a well-tested immorality- Oscar Wilde
Although only given a title in the 1980s, the 17th century is when colourism first appeared as a practice for survival. When chattel slavery (a practice supported and made legal by European governments and monarchs) was hugely popular and championed mostly by wealthy white males known as slave owners.
Black people from across the globe were stripped of their status as a human and listed as property. However, chattel slave owners who bore children with a woman chattel slave were made financially responsible for the child. That meant the offspring of chattel slaves were offered some capital, sometimes even listed as a human.
Due to this loophole, many black chattel slaves were encouraged to participate in sexual acts with white slave owners to produce whiter skinned children to become free. Inevitably this created a preference for lighter-skinned people amongst the darker-skinned chattel slaves.
Over time this system helped many black and brown people to aspire to appear more white looking for a sense of freedom. However, in today’s progressive and intelligent world, the practice has become less of a survival technique and more of an act of status maintenance which echoes similar ignorance to ‘I don’t see colour’. It’s also why regardless of whether or not you’re in a white majority country, racism will remain an issue. The reluctance to talk about and dismantle colourism is what makes it as equally dangerous and damaging as racism.
Learning is a gift, even when pain is your teacher- Maya Watson.
At work, and during diversity and inclusion conversations, we almost always forget the inclusion element. We avoid the discussion of how we all (every race, gender and sexuality) collectively participate in non-inclusive and discriminative behaviour at work.
So just like classism, colourism remains unclassified as an act of discrimination in the workplace or would take an exceptional employment lawyer and thousands of pounds to identify as such in a tribunal.
We’ve been asking white colleagues to speak up on racism and discrimination; speak up if mistreatment of black/brown colleagues is witnessed.
But; what happens if that mistreatment is being offered by another black/brown colleague, Manager, CEO? Which indeed occurs at work.
How do we classify this mistreatment as something more sinister than peer to peer bullying? What happens when white colleagues hear the same racially bias comments and microaggressions coming from the mouths of their black/brown colleagues that have been spewed by white counterparts?
How are black/brown employees protected from this racial bias behaviour? When we have all alleviated some from having to address their own internalised issues with discrimination and continue to molly-coddle and entertain the idea that colourism doesn’t exist?
I understood microaggressions to mean little bullshit acts of racism.- Gabby Rivera
Microaggressions are not only offered by white people, they carried out by everyone from every background and can seem friendly enough to the author but often leave the same bitter undercurrent even if the receiver is the same race or ethnic group as you.
One eye super eye-roll-inducing microaggression many people from Creole or Caribbean backgrounds receive from other black/brown from different backgrounds is this-’wa’gwarn [insert racially inappropriate imitation Jamaican accent and go on to ask questions about Jamacia].
I’m sure many can offer other examples, but it’s essential to understand this behaviour is displayed by ALL RACES across the workforce and further afield.
Yes, I think it is immensely vital to discuss history accurately, in the same breath, let’s also talk about racism truthfully too. Let’s be honest and tell the world that, white racism does not exist alone and is not bolstered solely by white people.
Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.-Sun Tzu
Limiting an extraordinarily complicated and multilayered societal issue like racism into a simplified version of white people should be ashamed, does nothing but bring shame, not change. Racism is complexed, it’s entangled with historically corrupt and immoral systematic practices that we all resided in, sometimes for pleasure, a lot of time for safety. The residue and trauma of this can still be seen and felt today. Understandably, the historical practices that occurred particularly amongst black and brown people cultivate feelings of anger and a lust for revenge.
However, the idea of toppling power and white supremacy without exploring what this system created in all of us makes for continued inequitable policies, practices and decision-making. Being fair, when it doesn’t come naturally, is uncomfortable. Being asked to address the supremacy that made us all believe darker people are inhumane, savage and problematic is uncomfortable. Being asked to take accountability for the behaviour we have personally allowed and perpetuated to ‘fit in’ here now, in the present day, will feel uncomfortable, especially when you feel slighted.
Being aware of the fact that everyone got sold a fallacy that white is right is uncomfortable. It’s painful, especially for black and brown people because, despite the backlash, many still hold on to the ideology that white[r] is right. So, they will often avoid systemic issues in majority-black communities and countries. Unconsciously, holding on to the belief that black people are uncivilised, unsophisticated and ghetto.
Yes, white racism and white supremacy did contribute to this, just like it contributes to some of the behaviours demonstrated by white colleagues and peers. However, if today, in 2020, the intention is inclusion, why do many still want to avoid discussing the non-inclusive practices they participate in themselves?
In 2020 when we are asking people to tackle and address civil unrest and issues, there is no feasible argument or excuse for black/brown people not to talk about colourism. Especially while screaming white silence is violence, black silence on colourism is a form of coercive control.
There are a need and urgency for everyone to be levelheaded enough to accept that the ideas that determine how ‘financially’ viable they feel are riddled with racist and classist ideologies. There is an urgency for us all to admit systematic oppression is a disgrace of humanity. When we all recognise this, we will then find comfort in knowing that everyone at some point has been scared of speaking up on racial tensions at work, and in public, has ignored it and perpetuated it. To remain unaccountable of this, you are choosing to advocate and uphold the racist problem in your workplace and country.
Sustainable diversity and inclusion can only come from including yourself in conversations, being willing to offer the humility that is asked of from white people. Every voice should be in the room, in a safe space, speaking honestly and taking accountability for areas where they have personally dropped the ball on diversity and inclusion issues.
For more information about dismantling unfavourable biases and creating an inclusive workplace, follow the Cultured Insights blog and LinkedIn page.