Monoracial Black Woman, is an Identity

Mother and daughter from the film “Imitation of Life”

By Teka Lark

In the 90s I was part of the Yahoo Group called Swirl. That is where I first heard Black people who were not biracial described as monoracial. It was said, in my opinion, as a slur. It was said to malign and mock in the tradition of the many labels given to people of African descent in the United States.

Swirl was supposed to be inclusive of all biracial people, not just Black and white, but the most venomous comments were reserved for monoracial Black people.

I was appalled by the term monoracial for Black people. African-Americans have never been proponents of purity of race. African-Americans are very inclusive in regards to race. “Monoracial” was not so much a description of African-American values, but a line in the sand by some biracial people of African descent to say, “We’re not like them.”

The Black community in the United States has long had the one drop rule. Essentially if you have any African ancestry, you’re Black. This would not necessarily be a problem, but the same color line that exists in the mainstream United States, exists in the Black community.  Black people didn’t create the rule, white people did. It was created to protect whiteness and to prevent Black slaves from inheriting their white master’s property.

A rule founded owing to white supremacy, of course doesn’t lend itself to results that add up to justice and inclusiveness.

Mainstream means white, Judeo-Christian and middle class in the United States.

W.E. B. DuBois with the Organizing Committee of the San Diego NAACP, 1917 (San Diego NAACP)
W.E. B. DuBois with the Organizing Committee of the San Diego NAACP, 1917 (San Diego NAACP)

Throughout African-American history the opportunities in the Black community often were given to those who were of lighter skin and who could pass the paper bag test. The early members of the NAACP, the dancers at the Cotton Club, those admitted into the most prestigious Historically Black College and Universities, weren’t all lighter skinned, but they were mostly lighter skinned African-Americans.

The Apollo Dancer sat the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE, a film by Heather MacDonald, a First Run Features release.
The Apollo Dancer sat the Cotton Club Revue in 1938. still from “BEEN RICH ALL MY LIFE,”  a film by Heather MacDonald, a First Run Features release.

And many early 20th Century trailblazers from Langston Hughes to Josephine Baker implied some heritage other than African.

Possibly they weren’t lying….

Langston Hughes,
Langston Hughes, “The uselessness of tears” (excerpt of The Big Sea), The Guardian, 26 October 2002

Claudette Colvin was the first person documented for refusing to move to the back of the bus in the legally racially segregated southern state of Alabama in the United States. That act started the bus strikes and kicked off the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Colvin was a dark skinned woman, but Rosa Park was chosen as the face of bus strikes. Park was chosen for many reasons and though no one states this — I am sure her “look” helped in making her the “logical” choice.

Rosa Parks, left, and Claudette Colvin. Parks photo from Ebony via Wikipedia Commons.
Rosa Parks, left, and Claudette Colvin. Parks photo from Ebony via Wikipedia Commons.

The politics of colorism has played an especially strong role in the oppression of Black women. It’s one of the accepted tenets of misogynoir.

Internationally in current events colorism is playing a strong role in the Dominican Republic. Lighter skin people of African descent (in the US they would be classified as Black) are ethnically cleansing and deporting darker skinned people of African descent, for essentially being “Blacker” than them.

The story of the lighter Black woman, “not Black enough” Black woman who is oppressed by the Black community is often told. It’s been told in movies, books, TV shows, on the playground, on talk shows, on social media and biographies.

It’s told so much that people who have never seen Black people and don’t like Black people even know the story.  It’s a story white supremacy likes. It shows that Black people are “racist” too and also gives a voice to the more “civilized” Black person. In the United States there is this silent idea that the less African (the exception is, if you are actually from the continent of Africa, but that’s another essay) you look the more acceptable you are and because Black people have embraced the one drop rule, then how can anyone say anything critical about a Black person being given support?

It is a story misogynoir likes, because most Black women are darker than a paper bag, so colorism already dehumanizes 70% of African-American women. If a person isn’t human then you don’t have to treat them with respect and besides all visibly monoracial Black women are racist and horrible. Didn’t you see the movies, read the book and hear and read the blog post about how we all made fun of the girl with the straighter hair?

But what is the truth? Who is represented as Black more often in pop culture, politics and beauty? Who is held up as the standard? Is the visibly biracial Black woman or the visibly monoracial Black woman the standard?

With the narrative of the “tragic mulatto” you would think that would translate into biracial or lighter skinned people being given less opportunities and erased in regards to representation.

The truth appears to be the opposite.

 The Social Science Journal (Volume: 48, Issue: 1, Pages: 258-250). Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina
The Social Science Journal (Volume: 48, Issue: 1, Pages: 258-250) abstract on article on how lighter skinned Black women received less harsh sentences . Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina

Lighter skinned and/or biracial Black women are overrepresented as Black women in the U.S.

Darker skinned Black women deserve representation. Most Black women don’t look like Marilyn Monroe, but most don’t look like Dorothy Dandridge either.

Did you know that Dandridge went to Jeff High School on South Central's Eastside?
Did you know that Dandridge went to Jeff High School on South Central’s Eastside?

In the United States brown skinned Black women, with tight coiled hair exist, but looking at even Black Entertainment Television (BET) you would not know that. Not only does that brown skinned Black woman with tight coiled hair exists she is what MOST Black women look like.

There is often this idea that anyone can be a Black woman. Anyone of African descent can be a Black woman, but not everyone is a monoracial Black woman. Being a Black monoracial is a couch that everyone can not sit on and kick up their feet.

Only monoracial Black women can experience what it’s like to be a monoracial Black women. Monoracial Black women’s identity and experience needs to be respected, just like that of the biracial Black women’s.

It’s time monoracial Black women stop being an identity that no one wants to be, no one wants to be associated with and everyone think they can use when they need to be play progressive for academia and the nonprofit machine.

Monoracial Black women need to stand up and be counted, unless being the “mammy of the world” is what she wants etched on her tombstone.

One Comment Add yours

  1. I’ll be 50 next month, so I remember a time when we called people with one white parent/ one Black parent “mixed”. Now the preferred term they have claimed for themselves is biracial, and I respect that self-determination. What’s interesting to me is that older “mixed” women 40+ identified as Black while the younger generations demanded that we not ask them to pick a race. I respected that too.

    What I will not respect nor accept is this term monoracial. First of all, for biracials to give non-biracials that term is Othering. Groups need to name themselves, not have their names thrust upon them. Second, the term monoracial is wildly inaccurate. Most American Black people are multiracial, having up to 25% European ancestry and a few also have Native American ancestry. (And I don’t mean that ubiquitous Cherokee princess in the family tree.) or Latino/Hispanic heritage.

    Liked by 1 person

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