Racial Identities Are Deeper Than Skin Complexions

Racial Identities Are Deeper Than Skin Complexions

By Liz Brazile

Not long ago, a social media acquaintance posted an article entitled “Black Women Create the Men They Complain About”, and requested that people share their thoughts. While I won’t be dragging the premise of that article for the filth that it is here, I did in that comments section, along with several other black women. And before long, a white woman came to deliver her two-cents—not about the article itself, but rather she posted a lengthy, pseudo-psychoanalysis about all the black female commenters’ “defensiveness” and “cognitive dissonance”.

The internet psychologist was promptly checked for her lane straying and advised not to center herself during debates about black intracultural issues. Predictably, she made a sarcastic remark about how she’ll be sure not to share her opinion in the future, considering she has the “wrong skin color”. Stop right there.

We need to address this fallacy that race is simply about skin color and nothing more. To conflate requests that you not talk over people belonging to a specific culture about their intracultural affairs with racial discrimination is thoughtless at best, and exceptionally arrogant at worst. Contrary to society’s efforts to deny that black people have a legitimate culture that is worthy of being acknowledged as such, we do in fact have unique customs, traditions, and issues that those living outside of black bodies do not have the experience or authority to pontificate about.

Outside of non-black people wondering why they cannot be certified negrologists, the issue with reducing racial identities to skin hues is that it creates space for people to make false equivalencies. A reference to a collective linked by a common cultural thread—e.g., white people in America—is not a campaign to single innocent people out for “the color of their skin”. Nor is a person of color referring to their own racial identity a bid to “divide” people– as was once suggested by a white coworker when I referred to another coworker as “the other black girl working here”. And to my beloved white folks who have ever felt personally victimized by someone indicating your or another person’s race,  it may shock you to know that members of your collective defined most of the racial categories we refer to in the United States.

My ancestors did not refer to themselves as “black” until their various, African identities were snatched from them, and a common phenotype—“blackness”—and geographical place of origin became qualifiers for a common condition in the Western world. There are black people, who if literal skin complexion were the only factor in the shaping of one’s racial identity, might not consider themselves black. But it’s not that simple. Our cultural identities are also about things like family dynamics, the languages we speak, the way we dress, how we style our hair, and the recreation we enjoy. Black folks don’t say “for the culture” for nothing.

So when a person of color from any ethnic background suggests you let them be the authority on their experiences, they aren’t upset that you don’t have the “correct” skin color. They simply understand their cultural roots well enough to know that you, an outside observer, do not have the expertise you think you have to speak on the issues affecting their community.



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