If you’ve been following along with this blog recently, you’ll know that I made a commitment to learn more about racism as a means to combat it in my own life. One of the ways I’ve begun to do this is by watching more content by black creators on YouTube, and from that I have learned three main things so far.
Before I get into to the things themselves, I want to add a caveat that I’m aware this is only the tip of the iceberg and obviously I still don’t know a great deal even about the three things listed below, so it’s entirely possible I will get things wrong and I encourage you to merely use this as a jumping-off point for looking into things yourself. (Also, if you do spot an error please let me know!)
I’m gonna share a little about these things not for some weird kind of self-congratulatory reason (because, honestly, I’m ashamed I didn’t know about them before, not patting myself on the back for finally starting to catch up) but to pass on the knowledge to anyone else who might not know.
But enough preamble. Here are the goods:
What Happened in Tulsa
Tulsa is a city in Oklahoma. The Greenwood district had the wealthiest black community in the United States and was known as “Black Wall Street.” That was until 1921, when mobs of white residents took to the streets, murdered many* black people, injured many more, and destroyed homes and black-owned businesses. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” AND – just to add insult to injury – it is mostly left out of history textbooks and high school classrooms. If and when someone tries to tell you racism isn’t a real thing, tell them about Tulsa.
*The numbers seem to be a little unclear, and apparently there were a few white people killed, too.
What Juneteenth Is
The anniversary of June 19th 1865 (now known as ‘Juneteenth’) is a day of celebration for black emancipation, but it was not in fact when slavery was legally abolished in the USA. This was just when, two-and-a-half years after it got outlawed, news of the change in law finally reached Texas and was put into effect there. Because Texas was the furthest the news had to travel, it was the last state in which slaves were liberated.
Though, actually, on this note: it is important to recognise that a disproportionate number of black people are arrested and unfairly put in the prison system (for things that white people ordinarily get away with, as well as legitimately for no reason at all), which requires them to use their incarceration time completing unpaid labour. So it can be argued that, in this way, slavery still continues to this day.
(In editing this post and having it looked over by an American friend, I am reliably informed that prior to this very summer of 2020 when Trump started making plans to have a rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth, the term Juneteenth was not widely known about even by many Americans outside of Texas.)
Colorism is a Thing
We all know that racism is discrimination based on the colour of someone’s skin, with people of black and brown skin tone often being the ones discriminated against. There is a whole debate on whether white people can be subject to racism but I am not getting into that. I personally feel like the argument does a lot to take the focus away from what matters most, which is that day in and day out, black people are losing their lives, homes, and careers over such injustices.
(Note from my editor friend, which I feel better explains what I’m trying to say in the point above: “It is a semantic distinction. Nobody argues that white people cannot be discriminated against based on their race, but many scholars use prejudice or discrimination to describe that and keep ‘racism’ for the institutionalized prejudice against minorities.”)
At any rate, colorism is a phenomenon in which black people with lighter skin will face less racism than black people with a darker complexion. Generally, the darker your skin is, the more discrimination you will face, with people who can ‘pass’ for white experiencing the least of all. (Please note, this is a generalisation and there will of course be exceptions to the rule!)
Something to watch out for is when companies try and include a black person in their marketing to make themselves appear more inclusive/diverse, the black person they pick will often be light-skinned. If you’re only having your eyes opened to this for the first time now, you might be startled to discover that it’s actually pretty common. I ask you to dig a little into who is behind the marketing campaigns (Google is your friend) and question such things publicly (even if it’s just on Twitter).
In the meantime, I’d be interested to hear about what you may have learned recently in the comment section below.