Let’s Talk About Anti-Blackness
Leslie Jones, above, on set of the now-infamous SNL segment
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being present for a lecture at my school where online activist Suey Park spoke about her work and her beginnings. The talk intrigued me for various reasons, but I was especially stunned when she brought up the issue of anti-blackness. Park, a Korean-American feminist, has been the first non-Black person I’ve seen lately to be vocal about the presence of anti-blackness and the role that it plays in the oppression all marginalized people have. And it’s not strictly just for white/Black racism either.
Anti-blackness is nothing new, but is crucial to keeping all people of color down. If we see racism on a scale – white being the “good” side, and black being the “bad side” – then racism works to push all people as close to the white side as possible. In this case, anti-Blackness can range in attitudes, policies, and direct acts of prejudice against Black people and darker-skinned people.
More and more, there have been instances of anti-blackness making its way to mainstream media. Over the weekend, SNL hosted a segment in which comic Leslie Jones had a series of what social media has called “slavery jokes”. Though I have already stated how I feel about using humor to combat oppression HERE, I still find that it’s important to note the significance of Jones’s jokes. Some found it offensive and some found it hilarious, but overall the question comes on whether the underlying message was accurately captured. Jones, a Black woman herself, holds more influence in her execution of these jokes than a non-Black comic, and whether or not this power is acknowledged will lead to the state of how racism plays in our society, at least in media.
There has also been the issue of anti-blackness when it becomes an act of violence. Over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped and forced into child slavery and prostitution, and there has been little to no mainstream media coverage on major news networks about the issue. This weekend hosted a series of walks and protests to bring light on the issue, as people across the globe urged the Nigerian government to take action. The kidnapping of these schoolgirls and Leslie Jones could seem like seperate issues, but I believe that they are two sides of the same coin – a coin that continues to work as if Blackness is the antithesis of humanity, compassion, and equality on the level of anyone else.
It is not enough that America is currently entrapped within “Lupita Fever”, with her increasing popularity in the public eye. As these previous instances have shown, Though Nyong’o is undoubtedly talented and beautiful, she shouldn’t be the exception. She should be the rule. And what does it say if we pick and choose the kind of “Blackness” that is acceptable? What does it show when we work to pit people of color against each other, and even when we should be building community and consensus between these groups, instead we work to be as close to whiteness as possible?
Some would say the radical move would be to “decenter whiteness”, as Park said herself, but I agree with this. Like anything else, change begins within. It may be as simple as examining your own life, but in what ways do you work to center whiteness? It could be as small as choosing to look in the mirror and see yourself as beautiful, no matter how deep your skin tone, but the journey to change must begin with a single step, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.