The Jessica Krugs of the world get carried through the doors of houses that tell us we are too angry, aggressive, and not accomplished enough to enter.
By Vanessa Rochelle Lewis
Women like Jessica Krug and Rachel Dolezal—fraudulent white women who pretended to be Black for years—thrive because of the unchecked, socially-validated uglification of darker-skinned Black women. They thrive because of so many people’s preference for and draw to light skin. Jessica Krug is a white woman who built a lucrative literary, academic, and activist career by pretending to be a Northern African, then African American, then Afro-Latina scholar and movement worker—revealed to us years after the Dolezal scandal came to light. I’m sure that these two women are not the only white women using the under-admitted rigor of misogynoir, colorism, and light-skinned preference to sustain careers, relationships, and beloved followings within Black communities.
Under the pretense of being Black women, they seemed to easily receive accolades, professional opportunities, publishing opportunities, awards, community love and adoration, and financial resources that so many darker-skinned Black women writers and academics are struggling and fighting to access. They get carried through the doors of houses that tell us we are too angry, aggressive, and not yet accomplished enough to enter.
I can only speak to my west coast experience as a Californian, but when I find myself in spaces filled with Black folks in leadership positions or academic professions, I repeatedly find myself to be one of the only dark-skinned Black people in the room—if not the only one there.
I wonder why that is.
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I do not believe that success, of any kind, is solely or even predominantly attached to hard work or intelligence. I have never worked harder than when I was employed at Rite-Aid and made $8.50 an hour, and all my colleagues were brilliant. Success is often more connected to relationships, networking, nepotism, and access than it is to skill, talent, or intelligence. People get seen, chosen, uplifted, trained, and invited into spaces and opportunities—opportunities to be mentored by folks making moves, opportunities to network and collaborate with people in positions of leadership, opportunities to learn skills our schools didn’t teach us and that our parents didn’t know how to teach us, opportunities to envision lifestyles we didn’t witness growing up in our neighborhoods, opportunities to make mistakes and not be rejected, fired, abandoned, or incarcerated.
How often do darker-skinned Black women and girls and other marginalized genders get chosen, nurtured, adored, and protected as we come into our power? How often are we treated with the gentleness and softness that nourishes our creativity and protects us from the brain-cracking trauma of violence, neglect, and oppression? How often are we invited in without breaking our backs with excessive labor, stress, and biting our tongues? How often are our quirks admired as unique traits as opposed to things we need to change about ourselves?
Can we examine the relationship between skin color and the school to prison pipeline (as opposed to who sits in graduate classrooms) for Black women? Skin color and economic upbringing, or even class mobility? Skin color and access to a willing audience with politicians, employers, and the media industries? Skin color and Black love? Skin color and visibility? There is a problem that desperately needs to be made more prominent in our battle for Black Lives and Healing.
Krug did something horrible to our community. But, what are the underlying standards, preferences, and values that allow the Krug’s of the world the opportunity to exist in this way. She was able to thrive specifically because of who gets ignored, rejected, devalued, and unseen. Her success is the embodiment of systemic oppression and internalized oppression holding hands and running amuck.
Part of centering Blackness is being really intentional about actively reaching out to, recruiting, including, training, mentoring, hiring, filming, photographing, and loving dark-skinned Black people. Fight the system and the socialization to ignore and deprioritize us. Actively love us with a fierceness that makes white supremacy and capitalism cower in your footsteps.
Vanessa Rochelle Lewis is a queerdo-weirdo fat Black femme artist, facilitator, healer, conjurer, and worshipper of juicy and free people; a Faerie Goddess Mermaid Gangsta for the Revolution; the former Senior Editor for Black Girl Dangerous and Everyday Feminism; a community arts organizer; and the Founder/Head Mistress of the brand new PleasureNess Literary Academy (Art & Spirit Medicine for Joy, Liberation, & Change). The PleasureNess Lit Academy’s website is still in development, but please visit it anyway and sign up for the mailing list — magical treats await you.
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