Growing Up Beige: Appropriating the Struggle

I remember one day back in college, sitting in the computer lab with one of my friends.

She got frustrated suddenly, and when I asked what was wrong, she points to her screen at some girl’s Facebook page.

“I used to be good friends with this girl in high school.”

She continued on about their friendship and why they were no longer close.

They used to go to concerts all the time together, rock and metal shows with mosh pits and all that. The girl was biracial, half black, half white. In high school, she wore her hair straightened, wore skater clothing brands, and was wholly ignorant to black culture. The Facebook page I was looking at, however, showed a curly-haired girl, with post after post of shared news stories of gentrification in the city, think pieces on race, and general politics. Something had clearly changed since high school with this girl, and my friend wasn’t buying it.

The most recent of her postings was an article talking about the last high rise projects in North Philly. I can’t really remember the opinion of the piece, but the girl shared hers along with the article link. And whatever her stance was, it pissed my friend off.

My friend lived in that area of town. She shared her frustration over how article apparently oversimplified the issues, and how this girl was not only misguided in her opinion, but also had no business speaking on matters she didn’t understand. Then came her biggest issue about this girl, and at that point she said something that has stuck in my mind ever since.

“I can’t just take this off,” she said as she extended her arm and rubbed her brown skin.

Hearing that struck a conflicting chord. I simultaneously empathized with my friend’s rage, and sympathized with this girl’s identity struggle.

I am understanding the beige area, as I’m going to coin it, as the space in between these two feelings.

I am black.

I haven’t always accepted that, and I was kind of allowed to deny it, so I did. I can claim blackness, and I can just as easily renounce my race when it inconveniences me to be so. And honestly I found it to be an inconvenience for most of my life.

While I still struggle with my past upsets over my racial identity, I recognize and admit that I’ve been wrong and severely misguided. Injustice seems a whole lot more important than my pride and hurt feelings, and I don’t want to exploit this racial loophole as some kind of advantage anymore. It’s not one. I’m paying for my ignorance now as I try to work backwards seeking a foundation I didn’t think I needed for years.

What I don’t want to do through this process is to fake a hardship that I didn’t suffer through. What I don’t want to do is speak out of my backside about issues that have never pertained to me. I’m black, sure. But I don’t share or even know all black struggles, and I’m not going to act like I do. I will not and don’t need to appropriate the struggle in order to join the cause.

And I’ll join by speaking what I know, and learning and supporting what I don’t. My issues as a light-skinned Black American aren’t going to be recognized as real struggles to some. I get it, but I don’t really care. It’s my only vantage point, and I think as many shades of the Black American perspective that can be shared, should be shared and respected. We need to understand where we’re all coming from so we can collectively work towards one direction for the better. Colorism is maintaining division and distracting us from moving forward. It’s more complex than that, yes. But we have to start somewhere.

I want to hear perspectives and connect with different views and more insights, so you’ll find mine here, piece by piece.

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