Updated: Jul 7
Covert and systemic racism effectively stole my black girl magic. I didn’t quite know where to begin this, so let’s start there. I couldn’t possibly iterate my entire life in a single post, so let’s call this Part 1. And… let’s start with the fact that I was raised (partially) by a White woman. If you’re not intrigued yet, this might not be for you.
If you’ve taken two seconds to glance at my Instagram page, you’d see that I am a fair-skinned black woman with curly hair and light eyes. That third fact might not be as apparent because of lighting, etc. in photos, but alas. As far back as I can remember, people have asked me what I’m mixed with.
Let’s pause there --
I’m a bit of a nerd, so I like to look up words and terms that I already know the definition of, to learn multiple ways to use it, to fully understand it in context, and also to make sure I’m right. I’m a Virgo though… so I’m usually right.
I looked up “covert racism” because I wanted to understand its definition, but also because I wanted to know how it’s been defined over time. Here is what I found in Rodney D. Coates’ “Covert Racism in the USA and Globally”:
“Covert racism, born out of Imperialist needs to maximize profit at the expense of racialized others, stands shielded by institutions, culture, stereotypical assumptions, and tradition. Whereas overt racism assumed blatant and insidious forms, covert racism hides behind the façade of ‘politeness’, political correctness and expediency. Racially coded words and calls for racial blindness obfuscate the reality of this subtle, subversive, and often hidden form of racism. Covert racism, just like its twin overt racism, is neither innocent nor harmless. The scars of covert racism, often seen in terms of increased levels of disease, negative sanctions, inadequate information, and lost opportunities – serve to continually victimize racial non-elites.”
“...covert racism hides behind the façade of ‘politeness’, political correctness and expediency.” You’ve seen this as a black person… you’ve used this as a non-black person. Phrases like “You don’t sound black,” “You don’t look black,” “Black people, not you, are ghetto… are loud… like chicken… like watermelon… can’t keep a job… have nappy hair…” etc. It’s said in a complimentary way so that you willingly subscribe to the comment… but, it’s used to demote an entire race based on stereotypes (“Covert racism, born out of Imperialist needs to maximize profit at the expense of racialized others, stands shielded by institutions, culture, stereotypical assumptions, and tradition”).
So here’s how that harmed me: I wanted to be loved and accepted. It’s a basic need. No one could deny that very valid need to be known (flaws and all). Being accepted while I was growing up, meant that I had a whole family (not divorced) and having some quality that rose above the rest. My White step-mother was my entry into a world that I only understood on a basic level. Not necessarily because she was White (not at first), but because her existence in my life represented wholeness (two parents). It all began with that basic need.
So there I was. A black girl (both of my biological parents are black), grappling with who I was from an early age (my dad and step-mother started dating when I was 4 years old). My dad (while he was a great provider) did not know how to bridge that gap and my step-mother (a White woman who grew up in rural Oklahoma) had no idea how to raise a Black woman. Hair, social playground issues, colorism, feeling of inferiority (for ANY reason) was completely foreign to them both. I was their first child. Feed me, clothe me, love me... was as far as they had prepared themselves. As I grew, though, real issues began to present themselves. My hair is nappy. “Perm it.” My friends are asking if I’m black. “Race doesn’t matter, you’re human” (“Racially coded words and calls for racial blindness obfuscate the reality of this subtle, subversive, and often hidden form of racism”). People think I’m stuck up because I’m smart. “They’re jealous.” My parents never addressed the issue of race… until I specifically asked about it. Are some people racist or do they just not understand? “Are you racist? Why are you thinking like that? Do you have White friends? Are you racist?” My simple quandaries were met with opposition. From both parents, but mostly my step-mother.
So, in an effort to minimize myself (as Black people have grown accustomed to) I stopped asking those questions to my parents… who should have been my first allies. My innocent request for basic answers was met with confrontation. Not because I was wrong… but because they didn’t know how to respond. Yet, their grappling made me feel wrong (because your parents know everything, right??). So I quit asking. Instead, I defaulted to my basic need. Acceptance. “Duh, I’m mixed.” “Yes, that’s my mom.” “I talk like this because my mom’s white.” “I look like this because I DO have Indian in me.”
I was so focused on that basic need… that I didn’t understand how deeply I just needed to know MYSELF. Not what was accepted. Not how I could be more “Black” or “White.” Not how to avoid colorism or how to answer questions about my heritage. No. Who am I? What do I like? What is important to me? Whose blood runs through my veins? Not because their race matters, but because of what they endured. How, who they were, is an indication of what I could be. My strength. My tenacity.
My black girl magic was lost in the world’s definition of who I should be… based on their ability to define me. Not my own. And that is why I speak out. That is why I march. That is why my daughter will understand her beauty, her power, her intellect, her heritage…. her MAGIC.