Obama, Light Skin and Proximity to Whiteness

“To assume Obama cannot do any wrong because he is half Black is just the other end of the extreme to thinking Black people can never do no right.”

I’ve been hearing a lot over time about “light skin privilege”. The dismantling of colourism and shadism is fundamental to creating a safe and equal world for all people especially those who face discrimination because of the colour of their skin not only from the “outside” world but also in and from spaces where we should feel safe and supported; within our own communities and even our homes. I am considered “light skinned”.. as long as I don’t tan and I acknowledge how this privileges me whilst working diligently in all areas of my life not to use this unfair advantage to my advantage.

I remember feeling disappointed when a Bangladeshi I was acquainted with began using the term “paley” to describe light-skinned people, usually women. I was quite alarmed, since I didn’t think it neither necessary nor productive. The acquaintance, who I respect immensely in many ways, has darker skin but is far more privileged educationally, economically and socially than the average citizen and certainly more than the average British Bangladeshi. I thought of the economically deprived light skinned women who I knew whose lives were totally devastated.

As poor light skinned women their light skin never saved them. In fact it usually warranted fetishisation, objectification and serious forms of physical and sexual abuse which destroyed their lives forever. I knew women (and some men) who had been selected as children because they had lighter skin. So the term “paley” felt and still feels deeply offensive on a human level. It is wrong to assume that a light skinned person is immediately guilty of some kind of sin of having been born with light skin. It didn’t seem right nor fair to attack other women so broadly and is effectively dehumanising. I can understand it but I cannot stand by it nor condone it.

Then there is the discussion from people who are half-white claiming to propagate against colourism but refusing to acknowledge the privilege of being half-white and having a white parent and a white family; grandparents, uncles and aunts etc. As Morgan Freeman once said; “..they just conveniently forget that Barack had a mama, and she was white — very white American, Kansas, middle of America. There was no argument about who he is or what he is. America’s first black president hasn’t arisen yet. He’s not America’s first black president, he’s America’s first mixed-race president.”

I remember at university, when a group of racists were trying to justify their actions by saying; “I am half Bengali”- a white-passing half-Bengali half Swede, and even; “I’m half Greek half Swedish so I face discrimination too. I can’t be racist.” There is no doubt that being half-white affords privilege and access to important resources non-white people do not have access to and therefore, yes, you can be racist if you’re half-white since we can agree that racism is built on structures of white supremacy and it’s ideals. People who are half-white have access to information on how to navigate systems built to privilege whiteness and therefore benefit from this easier access.

In conjunction with economics, there is a non-negligible difference between having two poor immigrant or black or brown parents (usually non-property or land owners) and being half-white (and having access to property and land significantly in places like the UK or the US) especially when the white parent is educated and wealthy. When both parents are wealthy it affords privilege in not one but two worlds or spaces. And I am certain that in a world seeped in nepotism, racism and class struggles it benefits them whether they want to acknowledge it or not. Meanwhile, poor black and brown immigrants are excluded from two worlds or spaces.

What many of these vlogs, blogs and columns posts about colourism do is focus on skin colour, simultaneously promoting light skin through light skin self-imagery, while conveniently failing to address something more important; economics. And in the process allows people who have such privilege to not only paradoxically take up visual space they already dominate through their superior access to platforms and resources but use their process of argumentation on colourism to conceal their privilege while somehow posing as allies. This does not help. How can I put my light skinned face on this article? I cannot; it would be inappropriate.

When we focus on skin colour we fail to look at the corruption, cronyism and nepotism that occurs in the establishment elite circle that Obama belongs to. What exactly separates him from Bill Clinton? It’s critical to criticise someone with that much power, regardless of what colour their skin is. To assume Obama cannot do any wrong because he is half Black is just the other end of the extreme to thinking Black people can never do no right. Both approaches are wrong and dehumanising. Obama’s privilege allows him to avoid criticism from both white and Black communities. This is the argumentation behind not holding Obama to account for his numerous crimes against the people of Yemen and extrajudicial killings. Meanwhile he gets to speak for Black people, at times even having the audacity to criticise activism among “certain young people” while sitting on a stage seeping in nepotism; “Yara goes to school with my daughter”. He was talking about Harvard. This hypocritical criticism of the disillusioned youth is to serve his own purposes against warranted criticism from the people he claims to be speaking for. The imbalance of power is unacknowledged.

Elite communities find it convenient to shit on poor people and behave with complete impunity in politics and education while using skin colour as a smoke screen for this. We can question light skinned privilege yet not wealth privilege. Personally I see us all as one but I cannot ignore these seeping inequalities which our communities refuse to face or acknowledge and the only thing that this serves to reinforce is white supremacy, racism, corruption and division, while simultaneously scapegoating the vulnerable and biggest victims of discrimination and economic and physical abuse. There is something amiss if Obama is immune to criticism while “light-skinned” women and “certain young people” can easily become targets for self-righteous PhD yielding elites. Are we really going to criticise the powerless rather than the powerful? I avoid putting my image on my writing because it can be taken as more or less valid, and so it can be taken not at “face” value but at value of content.

Writing and enjoy writing.

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