As a lightskin person I have often felt I am having an identity crisis over my Blackness and my whiteness. In the past, I have made fun of my Blackness to appeal to white people, used more ebonics to appeal to Black people and in general tried to fit in any way that I could. Looking back, and because of the network I now have through this podcast, I realize the damage that trying to assimilate to every group was doing to my mental health and how it contributed to unconscious bias amongst the white people who were my friends, colleagues, acquaintances. I would argue that at the time, I didn’t know better and now that I do, I often notice when other people seem to use Blackness and whiteness w hen they are mixed, to their benefit in ways that I think are problematic.
Most recently, Halsey who is mixed but extremely white passing, gave birth with her hair in box-braids. I’m not writing this blog to criticize how any person styles themselves to birth a human. I’ve never done that and won’t comment on it, but what I will comment on is the ease with which mixed people can experience either side of their identity with little criticism but Black women do not have the same experience. Halsey can wear her hair and style her clothes in any way she wants because, not only is she a celebrity with the freedom and budget to look any which way she pleases, she’s never culturally appropriating Black style but doesn’t have to dress that way or style her hair that way constantly. I also have the freedom to wear braids, then flat iron my hair and be more white presenting. I can wear traditional clothes from Senegal one day, then H&M the next. I have the privilege of participating in whichever aspect of those two groups I want to choose to participate with.
What struck me about Halsey giving birth in braids, and the privileges that she has, is that Black women have suffered greatly during child birth because they are simply Black women. There is an alarming rate of maternal mortality with Black women, especially in America. Accoridng to the CDC: “a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes” (source: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Freproductivehealth%2Fmaternalinfanthealth%2Fpregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm) This reality is because of a lot of socio-economical issues that could be an essay in and of itself. That being said, seeing a white passing, affluent celebrity have the privilege to wear box braids while giving birth highlighted to me the importance of recognizing privilege within shadeism.
I’m not asking Halsey to recognize she has more money, or that she has privilege by being white passing and not being questioned on the choices she makes as a POC, but rather that we all recognize that the most disrespected person on the planet is still the Black woman. I do not want any women to have to struggle, or to know what the reality of being a Black woman is like. What I wish is that every shade of Black woman could stand together and help our sisters who’s struggle is much bigger and difficult than ours. If we do not stand together, what are we standing for?