To Slay The Hydra: Colorism, Misogynoir and Grandma
In the volume of items I see online, it has become painfully clear to me that online spaces dominated by my ethnic group are rife with Misogynoir. The refrain of evil, nasty pictures, and comments Black women mostly promulgated by our community is so relentless and constant that I’ve trained myself to let such ignorance roll off my back. Misogynoir is a Hydra that cannot be slain by my carefully chosen and zealous words alone. So I strive to remain in my lane and not to be thrown off kilter by this toxicity. I focus on raising my daughter to grow into a woman who will have so much respect and pride in herself that she will never deign to engage in such undignified behavior. However last weekend I saw an image shared that inflamed me so deeply that it punctured the bubble I created for us.
On Sunday, this meme appeared in my timeline. It was not the first time I’ve seen it. However, it was the first time I saw it shared and co-signed by a relative. I clicked and noticed that some my cousins hit the ‘like’ button and laughed at it. My followers who are not privy to the internal dynamics of my community might be confused by this meme, so I will take a moment to explain before proceeding. Two things are going on here:
1) The reinforcement of the idea that being “mixed”-specifically with one AA parent and one White American parent is superior. There is a bizarre compulsion to fetishize those who are biracial while simultaneously showing them hostility.
2) Holding up the dark-skinned young woman for derision for being so Black. African-Americans have historically had a caste system in which those of lighter tone are “better” than those who are darker, so the sentiment of this meme is nothing new.
It has been roughly a year since I have discussed Colorism here at Diminutive Diva. From 2012 to 2014 I wrote about it frequently and openly, even penning a month-long series where I opened up about my struggles with it as a teen. My efforts to bring awareness and change were marred by constant attacks. My words were not helping; my very identity was becoming a liability which detractors used to belittle my message. Surely I could only write from a place of “jealousy,” “bitterness,” “weakness”, and “insecurity,” as these are the only emotions a dark-skinned Black woman could have. Unamused by the repetition of the same intellectually lazy and unsophisticated thinking on Colorism that I heard in my teens, I began to pull back. It didn’t escape my notice that when women like me raised our voices on the subject, we received either pity or further contempt, and I had no space in my being for either. So I resolved to shut my mouth about it again.
I succeeded in this. Colorism, along with Sexism and Racism, became issues that received less commentary from me.
When a close friends’ biracial sons heaped scorn on a black teammate, casually referring to him as ‘blackie’ and competing to see who could come up with the wittiest ways to describe how ‘burnt’ he was, I didn’t write about it.
When my non-Black friends came to me sharing the nasty comments that their Black lovers make about those who are their reflection, I didn’t write about it.
And even when my baby sister and younger cousins came to me with their frustration it didn’t make it to a post. But there was something about that damn ‘Black and Mild’ meme that led me to tear up the contract I made with myself. It raised my ire in a way that made my blood run hot. However being that angry bothers me. It was crucial that I determine the cause of my rage. After contemplation, I found why the meme got under my skin.
Twelve years ago my matriarch, my maternal Grandma, passed into eternity. Sometime around 2:30 am on February 24, 2004, cancer that had devastated her for nearly two years won out. To this day, my love for my Grandma is the strongest I have ever known, rivaled only by my devotion to the child I birthed three weeks after her passing. My loyalty to her memory blazes intensely, partially because she was the only close-knit family l had who only left my life once hers expired. Grandma was my true day one. Before I entered the American labyrinth of race, religion, gender, and color that awaited it was her arms that cradled me. In that time, there was only my innocence and Grandma’s loving care.
Rich. Warm. Beautiful. Loving. Family. As a little girl, I associated these terms with dark skin because Grandma, my primary caretaker, was very dark-skinned. I marveled at my Grandma’s inner and outer beauty. Grandma’s skin was free of lines and blemishes, evoking the picture of a starless midnight sky.
Skin just like that of the girl in the meme.
That is why the meme agitated me so. I saw the image of my beloved matriarch in it. Once again, it was the phenotype that my Grandma held that was marked for insult and derision. Perhaps had the culprits been strangers it would have been easier for me to ignore. But these were my blood relatives. And though I have heard them thoughtlessly express anti-Black sentiments for decades now, this particular incident stung me. To witness my Grandma’s descendants obliviously indulge in Misogynoir and Colorism hurt my soul.
I’m aware that I have a unique perspective on the issues addressed here, one that is not shared by most of my blood kin. In the recent past, I’ve had associates tell me that I am too contemplative. “Danielle why you gotta think so deep”, he queried. But I don’t believe the problem is me thinking too deep. No, in my mind the issue is that others in my community don’t think deeply enough. We do not reflect on the power of images and archetypes, and how the vision we choose to cultivate of ourselves impacts us. We do not reflect on the fact that there are millions of eyes watching when we share pictures, memes, and videos that further the degradation of our women. And we do not reflect on the fact that our children will one day see this, and receive a clear message as to whose dignity matters and whose does not.
The Hydra that is Misogynoir cannot be slain by my carefully chosen and zealous words alone. Even as I typed the words of this post on my laptop, my cynical and idealistic selves wrestled. The cynic could be right. Maybe I shouldn’t bother. Maybe I should follow the example of others around me, not care and act like I’m okay with the current situation. But because the knowledge of where my help came from, who I owe my existence to and who always held me down is branded into me, I must adore and defend the image of my foremothers.