Black people have the right and should gatekeep Black culture. We should question when someone who is not phenotypically Black claims our culture.
During slave times, and for a long time after, you were considered black if you had a drop of Black blood. Your great x4 grandfather could be half black and you could still be considered Black.
I remember reading books on “passing” in college. If you don’t know, passing is when a person has Black heritage but looks white.
In these books, people would use that privilege to access restaurants, bathrooms, and even play the slave owner to escape slavery.
They were able to access places of power because of their skin tone but were still accepted as Black amongst Black people.
Take for instance, Meghan Markle. In my opinion, looking at her at first glance, I did not see a Black woman. She looked tan, but I didn’t feel the usual connection when I see a Black woman in the media.
It’s obvious that The Royals still use the one-drop rule. No matter how light Megan was, no matter how white the mostly white baby Archie is, there was still a question of the darkness of his skin color.
While I have sympathy for Meghan and the trauma she no doubts endured while she was a working member of the Royal Family, I stop myself from advocating for her.
It feels to me that she hoped her proximity to whiteness would save her from having a Black mother. During her interview with Oprah, I don’t recall her ever saying the word Black in reference to her or her son. She used Woman of Color to describe herself and that’s all I really needed to hear. While the Queen and her people may see her as Black, Megan doesn’t hold that view.
There’s danger in allowing someone to take up Black space when they won’t let us forget just how white they are. I have no doubt Megan could have successfully passed and navigated the world as a passing white woman in another life.
Passing is an outdated construct and has led to what we call today “Black fishing”. To us accepting anyone who says they’re Black without question.
It led to the creation of the Rachel Dolezal’s of the world. The white women who darken their skin, get locs or braids, and then claim blackness for fashion and “black privilege”.
Rachel wasn’t the first or the last person to force herself into Black culture, but she is probably the most well-known.
Dolezal made headlines in 2015 after passing herself off as Black. She even served as president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. Everyone around her was fooled until her parents came forward and outed her as a white woman.
Women like Dolezal take up Black spaces while Black women are often overlooked for positions such as this one.
“When looking at the total workforce in the U.S., Black women account for 7% of the population, but make up 12% of minimum wage earners…Of C-suite leaders today, 21% are women and just 1% are Black women.”
Also what needs to be acknowledged here is the colorist tendencies among the Black community that helped put Dolezal in such a prominent position.
How many dark-skinned Black women were potentially looked over for the position?
And if the answer is none, that is also a problem.
Rachel had that light skin look many companies go for: “dark” enough to claim diversity, but light enough to not stand out. What’s disappointing is that this is the NAACP! An organization that is meant to put Black people at the center of operations.
They aren’t the first Black org to divert from that. Howard University sororities often used the “paper bag test” to sort pledges.
I believe it all can be traced by a slave narrative that is still used to this day to decide if someone is Black.
This age old idea of accepting someone as Black, just because they say so is out. Because as a community we are burned time and time again. We open our arms to culture leeches, then wonder why we can’t have anything to ourselves.
We should stop operating under slave narratives and framing.
We should be framing Black culture under new terms, including physical appearance.
Also let’s start accepting multiracial as a valid term to use; because you may not identify with one race or the other if you’re mixed or you identify as both.
*Shoutout to The Gatekeeper for spurring this idea a long for me. For the last few months I have juggled with the idea of how passing has led to blackfishing. And I have wondered which angle I should take with this and Gatekeeper helped me figure that out.
About Brianna Milon
Brianna is local media professional who loves writing, watching Netflix, and playing with her dog, Weenie and her cat, Fancy. She studied Journalism and Broadcasting at SUNY Brockport and was heavily involved in the campus radio station. Brianna also co-hosts a radio show, “Fat, Black, and Femme”, on 100.9 WXIR. You can find out more on Facebook and Blogspot.