Marie Tattiana Aqeel
Race and socio-economics
Last day in Brazil and suddenly I'm having trouble with how my race is perceived here. I have not ever been classified white in any context in my life and now, here, solely because of my skin color, I am. I remember grappling with something like this the last time I was here- coming to the conclusion that my dad was "white," which is NOT how my mother had described him. I was not prepared. Latin man with light skin and dark curly hair just didn't equal white as compared to the folx of that hue that I grew up around. Different culture entirely, including how to believe oneself to be on the color spectrum. Here in Brazil, there are many names for the shades of Black you can be, but anything my complexion and lighter is white. That's a tough one for me. It brings up teenage trauma I have around not belonging. In the States, white folx certainly don't see me as white and with Black folx it depends on where I am. In the U.S. South my color is not Black, but growing up in DC I identified along with many other light-skinned folx as Black. I should point that the historic brown paper bag test was used in DC- some Black social clubs wouldn't allow in persons darker than a brown paper bag. The DC area also has the highest per capita rate of Black wealth. I don't think it's a coincidence that Black folx in DC built their wealth while simultaneously intentionally lightening their family lines. This is our history. I always thought it wasn't mine. But I have an Irish triple-great grandmother on my Black side as many of us do, and my own mother hated her hair texture almost until the day she died. I cannot deny the experience of internalized racism. It is in my family. It is in my experience of life.
But "branca"?? I mean.... my hair is nap-py. A big part of why I let my hair natty dread is because I wanted to show pride in my Black traits. But there are a lot of actual white folx who "wear" dreads and so (once again) it's not a thing we can call our own anymore. We. Who is that here? Who am I belonging to?
I grapple with the following:
1. My closest friends in adulthood have been light skinned women, and I think it's because we have similar experiences fitting/not fitting into one section of race as classified and experienced in the U.S. As I grow out into the world, I look forward to changing this.
2. If I ever want to make a baby and I want it to be brown, which I do, I HAVE to mate with someone much darker than me. I'm totally for feeling the signs and energy around creating a little one, and I do not biologically have any racial preference when it comes to mating BUUUUT if I made a child with a white man, my child would be white, and THAT messes with my whole education around pride in my race and identity with it.
(My race. What is that?)
3. I gotta watch out for Black people, especially men in the interest of making a child, who exotify light skinned or other-than-Black women. Shit, I gotta watch out for a lot of people exotifying "racially ambiguous" women. Namely in arts and entertainment.
And THIS leads me to another point:
4. Artistry. There are so many things I love to do- act, sing, dance, model. But I'm ANOTHER light-skinned face on the screen, and I do NOT want to add to the current state of the media's attempt to present whiteness as rightness. If I take a feature, I have to be aware of who could be playing this part and why I got it. Is it for me? I can't be the only light skinned woman AND the protagonist. Who is the antagonist and what do they look like? Also, there can't be ONLY light skin women exemplified. Oh lord, and then there's the whole couples thing. Commercial media really has a hard time putting two Black people together in a scene. They so rarely show love between Blacks. I was in college when the new Black-woman-with-a-white-boyfriend trend started, and I notice that it's never presented as marriage. The only time I can comfortably do that is if the script realizes the cultural relevance of such a pairing. It can't just be all new great fun. That ain't real life. In real life I would have soooo many conversations with a person before choosing them as a mate AND while we are together. In real life, there are few places in the US and beyond where we could go without being stared/scowled at. This HAS to come up in script. Dismantle the mythical "other," what's taboo, Black booty, and light skin. Have friends damnit. Talk to them for real.
All this questioning and remembering came about as I was sitting at an expensive but not good lunch at the airport. Expensive even for US dollars, but especially for Brasilian reals. I looked around at the other folx who were eating here. Light. White. Very few Blacks in the airport in general (in the Blackest city in Brazil). I couldn't help feeling like I was sitting right in my color privilege. I had spent all this time in low-spending, low-impact practicing circles of people. Then as soon as I was back in the dominant culture, I started blowing my money just to show that I could. But I have this money because I come from the states and I got a fierce tax return. I got a tax return by working a job for two years, which I got because of a conversation I sparked with the company owner. I was able to easily start that conversation with the company owner because he thought I was attractive, and judging by all of the other women he's attracted to AND his wife, he prefers light-skinned women. So that's how I got the money to come to Brazil. What a world. I'm absolutely sure I would not get as much attention if I were dark skinned with the same features. I mean, sure I'd still be fine and I'd have my spirit which I use as backup all the time. But really. On the street and commercially, I would not get it like I have. Every day I consider this.