A Quick Note: Oh yeah…I am Black.

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Self-portrait, August 2010, photography by Diedré M Blake

Preface:

Simply shocking…this article.  I am taking a momentary pause from my hair issues to write about something that has really been on my mind lately:  racism.

—-

From reading articles about racial profiling to even a Black woman being chased and threatened that she would be raped and lynched, I have had enough.   Black women have been seemingly under blatant attack over the last few years…or better yet, centuries.

It seems that as Black women move up in society and make a place for ourselves, as we demand recognition for our work and our intelligence, as we endure hardships from inside and outside of our community, there are some who are trying their very best to stifle our voices and reduce us to those caricatures that plague mainstream media.

We are neither “hoes” nor are we “bitches” nor are we “mammies” nor are we “domineering,” nor are we “baby mammas,” nor are we “welfare queens,” nor are we any other form of degradation that many may want to lay at our doorsteps.

Indeed, consider us strong and proud women, who are unique in our self-expression and our external beauty; there is no shame in that.  I hope you will agree.

—-

Here we go…
I am beginning to understand just how much in the “dark” I have been over the years.  Sometimes I think that being from the Caribbean prevents and has prevented me from really understanding the mental and social plight that many people who look like me experience on a daily basis.

Recently I said to my partner, Matteo, that I see myself as being an extremely privileged Black woman. You may wonder why.

The reason is this: I grew up in a predominantly Black society until adolescence. I was never overtly taught about racism. It was only later in my early twenties that I came to understand that there was indeed a form of internalized racism going on in Jamaica.

That is, from childhood we are subliminally taught that those who were considered to have “pretty skin,” or “pretty hair,” or “pretty eyes” were those who had a lighter complexion, less coarse hair (think hair types 3c and above), and to have lighter coloured eyes (not dark brown like mine).

I remember blatantly hearing people who were very dark-skinned being referred to as “duppies” (ghosts) amongst other terms.  Now back to my privilege.

—-

You see, I am:

  1. a brown-skinned;
  2. highly educated;
  3. well-spoken (read: I do not have a discernible accent that “marks” me as Black, in other words I sound “White”…whatever that means)–I still remember my mother drumming into my head the fact that I was never to speak patois and speak only “proper” English;
  4. well-travelled;
  5. thin/average-sized;
  6. cosmopolitan Black woman.

Even my very English/Scottish name is not easily “marked” as being a “Black name”...again whatever that is suppose to mean–I will say that I have shocked many people over the years with my very non-White (perhaps afrocentric) appearance…and have been greeted with the ever-so-clear “Ms. Black” instead of “Ms. Blake” Freudian slip.

For the love of the universe, I grew up listening to heavy metal, classical music, reggae, alternative rock, and country. I suppose I could add some more to that, but you get my point. 😉

The result of these characteristics is that I am a non-threatening entity to a potential dominant White majority. That is, I fit better into that world rather than in one that is dominated by people who look more like me–as I have often been accused by other Black people of being an “oreo,” i.e. Black on the outside, White on in the inside.

It is a sad thing to realize that because of all of these factors, I am shielded often from the prejudice that people who look like me face on a regular basis.

Even here in Italy, where racism is rampant, I was bluntly told that because I am perceivable “attractive,” then I would certainly not experience racism here.

What?? Let me state that again, I was told that Italians are only racist against Black people (or in my case, women), who they do not consider attractive.  Really?? Okay…

This is not to say that I have not experience overt and covert racism as well as sexism.  Indeed I have, both in my personal life and my professional life.  I have been told things like “Oh, you aren’t ugly like other Black women;” “Oh, you are just like a man, intelligent.”

In high school in Florida, I had wanted to attend Berklee College of Music.  The band director knew of my desire and had many times lauded me as an excellent musician…

I was, however, not given a letter of recommendation (even after multiple requests) , even though I had proven myself and was acknowledged as a multi-instrument composer and musician, who even led her own Baroque woodwind trio.

A more extreme example happened in college.  I was directed not to file a complaint against a White student who assaulted me, because it would be difficult “for someone like me” to prove my case.  Instead, I was moved to temporary housing.

While travelling as a student and even beyond, I was routinely stopped and search.  Perhaps it is because I had

  1. loc’s, (think marijuana), or
  2. a Jamaican passport at the time (think hard drugs/marijuana), or
  3. nowadays because I wear a head-wrap (think terrorist)–

although, I really should thank those airport personnel for the many head massages I have received as a result, and that one rather cute airport screener in London, who felt it was her personal duty to shove her hand down my pants.  You know!  😉

headonbwAugust2010I have been denied upward mobility in my career, by even being denied the possibility of my master’s thesis project being presented to and approved by an internal review board…

The result of this was a most necessary improvisation on my part and a scaled-down version of the project.  It didn’t stop there.

Anyway, I could go on forever about the slights I have experienced…just like many other women of colour.

—-

You might be wondering why I am posting what could be perceived as a “rant.”

The reason is simple:

it is time for all people, regardless of socially-defined race and nationality, to wake up!

The colour of your skin, the organ that lies between your legs, the texture of your hair, the structure of your face, your height, your accent, your perceived physical endowments DO NOT dictate the state of your mind.

  • They do not dictate your capabilities.
  • They do not dictate your potential.
  • They do not dictate your intelligence.
  • They do not dictate whether or not you are a “good” or “bad” person.

Seriously, isn’t it about time that we stopped all of this tomfoolery?  Why must we remain so divisive in our words and actions whether within or outside of our own “designated” groups?

And before anyone may think to dismiss this issue as simply another stereotype of the “angry Black woman syndrome,” or blow it away like a speck of dust thinking “this has nothing to do with me,”  or try to cheer me on as a “strong Black woman” who is speaking the truth and trying to effectively “Stick it to the man;”  think again.

I write this because I am afraid.

I am afraid of the news that I see coming from various countries on the treatment of women who look like me (yes, I care about men too, but I am a woman first).

I am afraid that with the growing belief that racism no longer exists, we are becoming too complacent and letting our awareness slip noticing the everyday occurrences of racial/ethnic/sexual/gender/physical biases that are happening right in front of our very eyes.

Until Next Time,

D.

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6 thoughts on “A Quick Note: Oh yeah…I am Black.

  1. quirkybooks says:

    Hi Deidre, I am so sorry you have been treated this way. I think people from different countries and cultures are great. I like black people and coloured people and I don’t mind saying it. I mean this nicely, that coffee and cream go together, so black/coloured and white should be able to compliment each other and live in harmony together. I think you are a fantastic lady, you are pretty, intelligent and smart. You are a caring person and good at expressing yourself through the written word. I think you are lovely.

    • Diedré M. Blake says:

      Thank you so much! 🙂 You know, I have often heard other people of colour express the idea that as we grow up, we develop a kind of protective armor that resembles skin. Having darker skin, I suppose for many, means understanding that those who do not look like you may reject you simply because of your darkness. It is a sad lesson for any child to have to learn or any adult. Still, it is an important lesson to teach, i.e. that the world is filled with all types of people, some who can “see” who you are beyond the physical…and some who can only “see” the physical and not beyond. Thanks again!

      Best,
      D.

      • quirkybooks says:

        I like all different people with many different skin shades. All are welcome. It should not be the colour of a person’s skin that is important but what good thoughts, kind actions and beauty they have in their heart.

  2. quirkybooks says:

    Just to let you know that I posted a link to this blog on my social media sites, with this – I celebrate the fact that I am friends with people of all skins colours, black/tanned and white from all around the world. I think its great we have diversity in the world. No particular race, religion or skin colour is better than the other. We are all brothers and sisters of life.

    You can view it on my http://www.facebook.com/quirkybooksnet page. It is also on my http://www.facebook.com/beatredundancyblues page and my personal page. Thanks for sticking up for yourself, although from my point of view, you don’t have to justify yourself with anything.

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