Some tribes in Sudan have skin the color of deep night. Some Asians and Scandinavians have skin the color of pure porcelain. But the vast majority of humans are wrapped in an epidermis that runs an amazing gamut of hues from brown to beige.
We have no choice in the matter of our color. It is our inheritance, no more alterable, except for the travesty of skin bleaching, than our ancestral lines, all of which trace back to the first humans in Africa.
Our cultures enforce attitudes about skin color. In her extraordinary book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues convincingly that this identifier is arbitrary. Nonetheless, It defines whether our lives are privileged or marginalized.
One identifier transcends – or could transcend – these limits. Throughout history, most women have been relegated to “second class” status. In our deepest selves, we share doubts and fears about our value and adequacy, despite all the evidence of women’s innate and unique power. Most of us share some of the traumas of rape, domestic violence, ill treatment at the hands of health providers, barriers of abortion, and disparities of pay. We know the prevalence and persistence of these traumas across all female-dom. Our dark side – competitiveness – has been no small part of keeping us stuck. Women of all colors have much more to gain as allies, but too often that seems a bridge too far.
In their book From Here to Equality, Kirsten Mullen and William (Sandy )Darity Jr. set forth in harrowing detail all the missed opportunities to define and instill racial equality in America, particularly after the Civil War. The endless predations arising from white supremacist thinking are unforgiveable, and they persist.
We’ve made glacial progress in refuting American’s original sin of slavery. Action for reparations – achieving acknowledgement, redress, and closure – is the only way we can salvage a sane society.
In my life, as a beige woman, I find myself standing back as I watch the discovery and consolidation of power among my brown sisters. It’s damn well time. Their rejection of alliances is, however, often grieves me.
I’m committed to finding my place in achieving women’s ascendance, most particularly, for women of color. A quote from a forgotten source is one touchstone: “Hate your oppressors and you’ll be forever enslaved by your memories.” But what is more difficult: forgiving or forgetting?