Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

Stories of Intraracial Prejudice
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Readers discuss the slights they’ve experienced within racial and ethnic groups, rather than between them. (For a complementary series, see “Your Stories of Racism” compiled here.) If you have your own perspective to share, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com.

Show 3 Newer Notes

Throwing Shadism

A reader in New Orleans responds to the reader who started this whole conversation:

I feel that Allene is conflating two things I’d consider separate. One thing she describes is shadism/colorism, where Black people will judge other Black people based on their relative skin tone, hair texture, nose and lip shape. As a lighter-skinned, loose-curled, Creole Black person, I once met a Black woman who was genuinely astounded that I not only found women darker than me attractive, but that I’d be comfortable introducing a dark-skinned girlfriend to my family. And there are some dark-skinned Black people who reactively resent lighter Black people in return (as you might too, if people who were themselves brown skinned refused to date you because you were only a few shades darker). This same colorist mentality is what leads some Black people to be called “Oreos” for “acting White” (although you also see festivals like Afropunk celebrating “alternative” Black styles.)

AFRO OF THE DAY #1260 pictured: @kiki_kyanamarie #afro #natural #black #hair

A photo posted by AFROPUNK (@afropunk) on

The other thing Allene describe is activists demanding that Black people put Blackness at the forefront of their identity and a very specific interpretation of Blackness at that.

From a reader who grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and went to college in Minneapolis:

My name is Jareesa, and I’d like to respond to the reader letter from Allene on racism in the Black community. As a Black American woman, I don’t share her views at all. I think she’s misguided in her assertion that Black people require others to be Black first, and to conform to a specific form of Blackness in order to be accepted. It’s been my experience that White America—not my fellow Black people—has foisted a caricature of Blackness on me.

Growing up, I was a nerdy kid with glasses who loved to read and was into science—an existence that was foreign to my White classmates, teachers, and their parents. I lived in a racially diverse area, went to racially diverse schools, and did lots of activities—engineering clubs, the Quiz Bowl team, theater club, Japanese club, and more. I wasn’t required to join any of the “Black” clubs, but I did so because I needed that community. I needed to be in spaces where I didn’t have stereotypical judgments from non-Black people, where I could just be myself, and where I never felt that I had to conform to some “standard of Blackness,” whatever that is.

Throughout K-12, my intelligence was questioned, especially when I expressed a desire for a career in engineering. White people were just amazed at how “articulate and well read” I was (and that continues even now, as an adult). I had White people assume I grew up in a single-parent home (I didn’t), or that I had a child in high school (I didn’t), or that I was really good at sports (I wasn’t).

In college, as one of the two Black women in the chemistry program at my state university, I was told by a classmate that I was only there because of affirmative action. Most of my other classmates simply viewed me as some kind of anomaly, as if I had three heads. And so I found sanctuary in the Black Student Union and my school’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers—places where I found acceptance, kindred spirits, and people who could relate to the things I was going through.

Sure, I’ve gotten comments about “talking White” from other Black people, but those comments were nowhere near as hurtful as the comments I’ve received from White people in my life. My Black life has been dominated by love and acceptance from other Black people, and acceptance for all of me.

An African American reader, Allene, wants to start a conversation about the “misconceptions about being black in America.” (She also highlights the trailer for a documentary on shadism, Dark Girls, seen above.) Allene writes:

I understand that you all are busy—very busy—with the convention this week, but I have to share with you a very different aspect of being black in America today.

Racism is a thing regardless of how the media handles or mishandles the relationship or the non-existence of a relationship between black and white Americans. So, for the sake of establishing a common ground, let’s accept that racism is a thing.

There is another, rarely examined aspect of what it means to be black in America. Modern-day black activists (hell, a whole lot of black folks in general), require other black people to be BLACK first—that is, to tote around on their bent backs and black shoulders the eons of tortured black history as if that history is a current-day reality while denying who they are as individuals.

Black people desire equal rights, to be sure, but when young black people go to racially-mixed high schools and colleges, exactly why are all black students required to only support black student organizations? Why do some of these same, educated, young black people deny other young black people from the human activity of just being a human being? The worst of this aspect of being a black college student in America is the judgement that happens in those organizations. “You ain’t black enough; why you got pretty hair—your momma or daddy white?"

For the life of me, I cannot understand how black people are so quick to recognize racism as directed towards them from whites, Latinos, Asians, et al, and miss the very real racism that exists within our race from one another.