Over the years, I’ve seen many divisions within the black community, whether it’s been light-skins vs dark-skins or Africans vs Caribbeans. I’ve never really understood why these divisions would exist, after all, we all are essentially from the same place and for the most part, our struggles are the same.
In primary school, I would hear black boys insulting black girls by labeling them ‘blick’ – meaning they were too dark. At the time I thought nothing of it, but with age, I grew to realize that these kinds of attitudes were just absurd. Nobody should be classed as less important because of their skin color, especially not by people who share their ancestry. This division is deeply rooted in our community and it’s time for us to oust it.
Black people have been taught to divide themselves over time. In the past, light-skinned slaves were known to be treated better which contributed to setting up the division that has lasted far too long. In a society where lighter skin is praised and well represented, whilst darker skinned people are either erased or ignored, it is understandable that today there would be a feeling of resentment towards those seemingly ‘blessed’ with a fairer skin tone. The resentment grows more when black people themselves perpetuate this idea by, for example, stereotyping darker skinned women as angrier or uglier.
Dark skinned people are not afforded the same privileges as their light-skin counterparts, which can be seen especially in the way that lighter-skinned people are often cast in roles that should be for a dark-skinned person. It is time for light-skinned black people to become aware of their privilege and stop allowing themselves to be rewarded at the expense of their darker counterparts.
This division is deeply rooted in our community and it’s time for us to oust it.
Acknowledging light-skin privilege is a step towards eradicating the separation between tones and creates space for dark skin to be better accepted in society. Rihanna has shown this in her Fenty Beauty line consisting of 40 different shades of foundation. Her inclusive campaigns sparked an almost embarrassing showcase of products suited to dark-skinned black people with many brands rushing to promote that ‘we like black people too!’ As a light-skinned woman and influential star, she has used her privileges to help those who’ve often been ignored by the beauty industry. Whilst not everyone can do what she’s done, simply letting go of ideas that say having light skin makes you more important and shutting down people that try to perpetuate this will be helpful for people with dark skin.
Division runs deeper than just skin tone. I’ve recently become more and more aware of the conflict between Africans, Caribbeans and African Americans. This Conflict between Africans and Caribbeans is slightly less severe as it’s often to do with a sense of competition between the cultures. They may argue about who’s food or music is better but, for the most, the competition is friendly. This is not to say that divisions have never been harmful. UK grime artist, Skepta, talks of being bullied for being African and called it the result of ‘complete confusion and ignorance.‘ For him, it made no sense as Caribbeans and Africans are both from Africa. This same ignorance is shown in the division between Africans and African Americans. The groups often self-segregate, some Africans may see themselves as better than African Americans due to greater awareness of their heritage and culture. On the other hand, African Americans have been known to ridicule Africans in the U.S. with some being labeled things like ‘African booty scratchers.’
The issue here is clearly ignorance, just as Skepta said. Black people seek out our differences rather than hold onto what makes us so similar.
We are all descendants from Africa. Understandably, many African Americans may struggle to feel the same connection to Africa that Africans or Caribbeans may hold due to the effects of slavery. They’re often unaware of what part they descended from and most have never visited. It is the responsibility of Africans and Caribbeans to be more considerate of this and stop looking down on them for not having so much of the culture that was forcibly taken away from them.
On the flip side, African Americans need to get rid of the highly Americentric view many of them have of the world. African Americans (and Americans in general) often forget that there actually is a world outside of America in which people have different cultural practices and views. Many are just as guilty as any other American of seeing Africa as a country rather than a continent. Many complain about cultural appropriation but ignore the fact a lot of Africans are actually happy to see Westerners indulging in their culture – it can be beneficial to the tourism industry which a lot of African and Caribbean countries are dependent on. Many will use ‘people in Africa/ the Caribbean are dying’ as a rhetoric which only fuels the idea of these places as nothing but wastelands of poverty rather than the beautiful places they really are whilst simultaneously romanticising the poverty that does exist.
This is not an attack on African Americans but instead a plea for you to have a more globalized view of the world. Become more aware of the fact that not every American problem is a worldwide problem and realize that your brothers and sisters from Africa and the Caribbean are not so different to you. We aren’t foreigners wanting to be in closer proximity to whiteness.
We are just as black as you and we are aware of it.
In order to advance as a community we mustn’t set aside our differences, we should acknowledge them. We must be aware that we are a diverse group on a united front. We all face racism, although in different forms and on different scales, but it exists nonetheless. When innocent black people are killed in the street, the police don’t see an African or an African American, they see a threat. Intra-race division will only weaken us and is how black people have been kept in subjugation in many circumstances. We are resilient and powerful but we are stronger together. Black is black and always will be.