I am a woman. I am fair-skinned. And I am African American. Other blacks have always told me that my complexion and wavy hair make me lucky and that I have it easy because my blackness is not as identifiable by the majority community. But being fair-skinned and having long hair presents a second and perhaps more ironic struggle. In addition to feeling outside of the majority community because of my race, I sometimes feel less accepted by the black community because of my color. Experiencing color prejudice on both sides of the race line and struggling to remain connected in the African American community have been some of my greatest struggles.
To people with narrow minds, all black people have ebony skin, dark eyes, and kinky hair. But to myself and other informed individuals, black people come in all shades, sizes, hair textures, and eye colors. Since I have been taught by my family that I am Black, have African ancestors, and I was raised in an African American community, I instinctively consider myself African American. Color prejudice, however, leads some blacks people to exclude me from the designation black. My color, without regard to my race or identity, causes me to be affiliated with the white community.
When I feel excluded, however, I turn to God for strength and also remember the struggle that my ancestors had to overcome for me to be an equal member of society. Even though I have my own obstacles with color prejudice, I know I will never have to brave the pain that my ancestors endured to be accepted into the majority society.
I find it ironic, however, that my greater struggle has been, not to be considered equal to the majority society, but rather to be included by the Black American community. I connect with people who understand that being black is not a certain look or certain way to talk. I have first-hand experience that people don’t look black or act black. People ARE black. When people I meet tell me I do not look black enough, I tell them that black may not be prominent in my appearance, but African blood runs through my veins, black consciousness exists in my mind, and black is who I am, not what I think I am.
As in any culture, acceptance is an important part of adolescence and my thoughts on color prejudice have developed within that context. I have realized that in contrast to most other ethnic groups in America , African Americans do not share a common language or customs from our country of origin to unite us as a black community. As a result, blacks in America have spent years creating a black community and culture. Since the black community is loosely defined and always evolving, recognition often depends on physical characteristics and proximity to stereotypes perpetuated in the media. And, because I have inherited a physical appearance at odds with both of these criteria, blacks often have a difficult time accepting me as one of their own. I know other fair-skinned blacks who feel pressured to act out the stereotype of the Black-American in order to achieve acceptance. I have found it more rewarding to accept myself and be myself, both in my own community as well as in the majority society.
My struggle with color prejudice has ultimately taught me to be myself at all times. This conviction and desire to express myself as a strong African American woman has won me acceptance by most people, regardless of whether they initially view me as white or as black. While some blacks may still refuse to acknowledge my heritage, I continue to accept myself and assert my identity as a strong black woman. Like my ancestors, I have inherited burdens, but I have inherited blessings as well. I have inherited their strength and conviction to overcome a struggle based on prejudice and to believe in myself each day I go forward.