Why We Need To Define What A Black Woman Looks Like, Once And For All

Although this article may be controversial, what I’m about to say needs to be said nonetheless—or at the very least, it needs to be considered and discussed more thoroughly throughout the global black diaspora.

Many black people argue we should include mixed and biracial people in the black community simply because blackness is not a monolith. It comes in all shapes and forms. And to this, I would have to agree. Blackness is not a monolith, and it is very diverse, however, it can be defined. And not only can it be defined, blackness should be defined. t’s simply a lie to claim that a racially ambiguous woman can truly emphasize and identify with a dark-skinned African American woman, or a dark-skinned woman from Nigeria where skin bleaching is an epidemic.

Within the global black diaspora there are different cultures, heritages, ethnicities and languages. Still, the experience of a black woman in this world is so unique, that only other dark-skinned women can truly empathize and understand each other’s experience. And the few benefits of being a black woman should be taken advantage of by black women, exclusively.

I’m not saying that biracial blacks shouldn’t have their own spaces and community where they can cope with the difficulties of having both black and white ancestry. I’m simply saying that we cannot fully blind ourselves to the fact that their experience is different from ours, and can only be validated by recognizing such.

Earlier this year, black people made a lot of noise celebrating the marriage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. For many people, Meghan Markle’s marriage to a white man of royalty was an achievement and a sign of hope for black women. In an article for The Root, Damon Young, “Meghan Markle was born black and is gonna die black”. Later, the Washington Post compared her with “Britain’s Black Queen” or Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, who many believe was of African descent.

Not only is the deifying of the British royal monarchy problematic, given the long history of racism that the British monarchy is guilty of. But, the fact that we deem any person with a drop of African lineage as black, comes from the incredibly destructive, vicious and racist “one-drop” rule as well as anti-miscegenation laws. Meghan Markle’s marriage may be a win for biracials with white and black ancestry, but it certainly is not a win for mono-racial black women.

Biracial People Often Thrive In Black Spheres—At The Expense of Black People

In a white supremacist society liked ours, people who are half-white and allowed to occupy black spaces will not only exist there, but thrive—at the expense of black people. Thanks to their half-white side, biracial black people are seen as more feasible to white society and better able to blend in those spheres, when compared to black people. Yet, they also have the best of both worlds in black spheres.

For example, Hollywood has traditionally cast ethnically ambiguous women in the roles of black women, instead of hiring unambiguous, mono-racial black women. Look no further than the Nina Simone biopic where Zoe Saldana, a biracial woman, was cast to play Nina Simone in the film. Rather than hiring a dark-skinned black woman, the film’s casting directors chose to hire Saldana and “blacken” her features by adding dark makeup and face-altering prosthetics.

Asking Biracial People To Give Up Their Privilege Is Unfair

This problem cannot simply be solved by asking mixed people to “give up their privilege” and exist on the same level as other black people. This expectation is unrealistic and unfair, since they are only taking advantage of the way the system works—as all groups have a right to. Black people have been asking white people to “give up their privilege” for years and systemic racism still exists and thrives today.

It’s unrealistic to expect a dominant group to collectively renounce their privilege, the very privilege that gives them almost everything they have. If black people are insistent on allowing anybody with a drop of blood to identify as black, then we don’t get to speak up when those people occupy our spaces and out-power us.

Race Is Not About Genotype, It’s About Phenotype

In this world, you are treated based on how you look, and it’s disingenuous to insinuate otherwise. A genetically biracial person who looks undeniably black is going to be treated like a black person in this world, and thus, should be considered black. However, this is the exception to the rule. Most biracial blacks are ambiguous and able to maneuver white spaces, black spaces, and spaces for other minority groups. Biracials are neither fully white nor fully black, they are biracial. A mixture of two races.

This means that they do not enjoy the full benefits of the system of white supremacy, neither do they truly wear the burden of being black in society. They may face harder discrimination under the judicial system than a white person, but that doesn’t equate their struggle to a black person’s. They are instead experiencing the struggle of being a biracial person, which though different than ours, should also not be underestimated.

Only When We Define What Blackness Is, Can We Truly Glorify Blackness And Create A Sustainable Black Community

On the flipside, blackness is not everything “not white”; it is specific and exclusive and worthy of being preserved. It starts with kinky hair, wide noses and thick lips. Ambiguity is where we draw the line from determining whether someone is black. As soon as you can wonder, “hmm, I wonder where that person is from?” or “I wonder what race they are?” then you know you’re not looking at a black person. You don’t look at an East Asian person and wonder if they are black—you should be able to tell by their phenotype. And if it’s not clear, then the person is racially ambiguous and belongs to the group of racially ambiguous or mixed people.

And yes, black people (and black women specifically) ought to be more exclusive about our phenotype. Just like every other race of people, we can have a standard for identifying ourselves and create a community of people who experience the world similarly.

“Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law.”


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