Being Mixed Race, I have, since day one been involved in the debate of whether lighter skin Black people and/or mixed-race individuals have it easier than their darker skinned family. It’s a painfully protracted dispute on whether being of a fairer complexion brings its own unique privilege in the war against racism. And as far as I can ascertain, it’s never reached an agreed opinion in the global community.
But it certainly piqued in the UK this week over a serious discriminatory practice within the white UK NHS system and an imperative Black Lives Matter issue. ‘Fivexmore’ (www.fivexmore.com) is a grassroots organisation that is actively campaigning to improve the maternal lives of Black women in the UK because ‘Black women in the UK are five times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth’ than their white counterparts’.
Although the group have been campaigning for a while now, it has, in the light of the newly framed narrative about Black Lives Matter, acquired the interest of the British entertainment world. Unfortunately, it has become an all-outcome social media war between two well-known Black identities. Rochelle Humes, a once popstar turned TV presenterand Candice Braithwaite an author, journalist, and TV presenter.
And of course, the entertainments woman of choice is Rochelle – a lighter skinned Black women that they have chosen to present a documentary on the issue. And they have, seemingly pitted two successful Black women against one another in a ‘death by media scenario’ and in, my opinion, a very unnecessary war. Black women and babies are dying at a far greater mortality rate than their white counterparts. But instead of focussing on this, the dialogue has firmly been on why the gig has been given to a lighter skinned woman.
There is a much wider debate on ‘colourism’ – a relatively newly coined term, which according to dictionary.com is ‘differential treatment based on skin colour, especially favouritism toward those with a lighter skin tone and mistreatment or exclusion of those with a darker skin tone, typically among those of the same racial group or ethnicity’.
As Yomi Adegoke simply puts in her Guardian article, “colourism is a seed that was planted by white supremacy and watered within our own communities. Its roots still lie very much in the mainstream: the idea that we live on a colour-coded spectrum in which the lighter you are, the whiter (and therefore, better) you are is replicated in wider, whiter society every day”.
And as I keep saying the onus is not on those discriminated against to deconstruct the system. And it certainly isn’t for us to have the ‘infighting’ the like of which ensued amongst the Black community in the UK on this issue. It is a distraction to our current reality – which is 2020 brought global awareness on the need to fight for equality for Black people and 2021 being about positive action, tangible change, and equity. This is our moment people; it is our MOMENT to have a collective voice. And so, I ask, is this really the optimum time to have a scrapon the nuances of our skin colour?
I accept however that this does highlight the prevalent issue of light privilege. Which is at the absolute core of this discussion. And I am under no illusions that those of us who are of a lighter tone are still seen as more digestible or acceptable to the mainstream media. We haven’t moved that far ahead where dark skin is always favoured over lighter skin. And that is a whole other article for me to write on.
However, I think it’s important to recognise that Rochelle has a wide platform and reach and is a presence on our British TV screen. And she, in effect, is using her ‘light privilege ‘and talent as a presenter to get the ‘FiveXmore’ campaign message out there. She didn’t get the gig apropos of nothing – she has worked in the industry for a while now – and is using her privilege to amplify the voices of Black women to save lives. That in my opinion, is worthy.