When I traveled to Tennessee to meet my birth family I experienced being called names like; “lite-bright” and “High Yellow,” I later read that the term “redbone” would also apply to me. I saw a plethora of skin bleaching creams in the grocery stores. Isn’t it interesting that blacks can reap benefits from light-skinned privilege while being raised by white parents, and therefore being afforded some white privileges too? In that same vein, isn’t it odd that we slice and dice ourselves up so much that darker skinned people can be edited out of a conversation just because of the shade of their skin? Clearly there is some deep seated, likely genetically imprinted projections going on here dating back to slavery and the types of work slaves were ordered to do oftentimes based on the tone of their color. This photo of OJ Simpson is another demonstration of how skin tone was edited in an attempt to tap into our racial psyche. Presumably TIME was implying that the darker he looked the more guilty he may’ve been perceived.
I was not aware of the alienating adjectives that blacks use towards blacks until I traveled to the South. Is it because my parents didn’t introduce me to black culture? No. It’s simply because I was not raised in an area of the country where I often heard these terms. I did have experiences though that had I the vocabulary and the insight at the time, I could’ve grasped the full truth of what was going on. For example, years ago I had a beautiful darker skinned friend who was offered a modeling contract, which at first was exciting as this was a dream of hers, but the excitement waned when she was routinely being called to audition for parts seeking an “exotic, african looking woman,” and never receiving any calls to play the girl next door. It was, and still is hard to fully grasp that preferential treatment can be given to some over something as trite as shade of skin tone, or hair type.
Through instances like these I was learning that some black people are not black enough, or on the flip-side (the side more commonly associated with white privilege, or middle class socioeconomic levels), you’re just black enough for me to feel comfortable around you, but not so dark skinned that I’m fearful and having Trayvon-Martin-like thoughts. Knowing this, why would we ask prospective adoptive families to check a box about which race they are open to parenting (one of the boxes being the overly simplistic label; “Black”) How can transracial adoptive parents of black children successfully parent these truths?
Perhaps a start is by coming to the realization that all black skin is not viewed equally in our society. Perhaps by looking inward and noticing ones own thoughts and feelings towards the different tones of skin of black people. These two suggestions may aid in an understanding that all trans-racial (African-American) adoption cannot be approached the same way. There is no one size fits all when it comes to us adoptees – we are as varied as the folks who are parenting us.
I’m looking forward to teaching a session on transracial adoption at the end of the month at the REFRESH conference where I can delve in to this topic a bit more and add the caveat that I don’t think that color victimization is a black only phenomenon. I think it happens cross racially.