This blog has been bubbling away for a little while. It’s a tricky one for me, but now’s the time. There are two things that have spurred me to to talk about “palatable Blackness”. The first was a great conversation with the co-founder of MixEd, a new platform for mixed race educators. Louise bravely shared her personal story and mixed race experience on the day the platform launched. The second is the Meghan furore….and who hasn’t been triggered by the omnipresent Meghan-Harry-Oprah discourse circulating this week?
There’s a lot to talk about as a mixed race woman – expectations, stereotypes, beauty standards….and for me personally, I absolutely love being mixed race. I’ve enjoyed compliments about my appearance. Having multiple ethnicities has always made life interesting. I’ve had a lot of fun and loved empathically, with an open mind. Of course there are challenges too, although my personal experience has been one of education, friendship, family, so I can’t complain.
But I’ve always been aware that although I’m a woman of colour, in the eyes of the racists, and in fact, the mass population, I’m far more “palatable” than a Black women who has dark skin, colloquial speech, an urban way of dressing…..and heaven forbid…an aggressive communication style.
As I learn more about the underground, hidden prejudice we know as systemic racism and I fight from my own corner of the world, I have survivors’ guilt.
Whether I’m in a glass half full mood and call it representation, or a glass half empty mood and call it tokenism, from the age of about 18, it wasn’t unusual to see mixed race girls with curly hair modelling for fashion bands.
Neither was it unheard of to see a fair-skinned Black women, with the right type of accent, reading the news.
And of course until recently, when a woman of colour entered into the British Royal Family, her exotic beauty was celebrated……until she stopped fitting the mold.
So I’m aware that with my slightly Northern version of received pronunciation, my ballet lessons posture, English degree and professional job, I’m very much on the “palatable” side of Blackness.
And it makes me angry. Because I know that with a different appearance, voice or lifestyle, I would be treated differently. In fact, when my Afro features are more visible to the untrained eye, I do get treated differently.
When three Black women appeared on SkyNews this week, sharing their forthright views about the media’s racist narrative around Meghan Markle, it was an important moment in time. Three Black women with strong voices, dark skin and unbending solidarity for their sisters. It made me realise how rare this is to see. We might see one of these women on our screens occasionally, defending herself against all the other people on the morning television sofa that day, but we never see them en masse – that would be far too terrifying for the host and the British public.
It filled me with passion and energy, because there is no doubt the world is changing. It will always be uncomfortable and inconvenient for many people to have to see something they don’t want to see (the racism in their institutions and in themselves) but society is doing it anyway.
I’m proud to be part of the movement in my own small way. And while I call on people to use their privilege to support others, I’m aware that I’m doing the same.
I’ll never be anything but myself – mixed race, educated and slightly on the posh side, depending on your point of view. My experiences make me who I am.
I’ll further the conversation about racism and I’ll share my journey towards anti-racism with everyone who will listen.
Thanks again for joining me friends. What do you think about this concept of “palatable blackness”?
And ps – here’s a picture of me with straight hair for those of you who have made it to the end of today’s blog. This doesn’t happen very often nowadays!