It is easy for us as African people to believe that our 'Africanness' as we perceive it to be, automatically entitles us to speak authoritatively on the struggles and experiences of all black people in the Diaspora. This is far from the truth. Not all African people have had the same experiences with racism. Though we can all feel and understand its effects, it is a fact that our social circumstances, skin tone etc all tailor our level of EXPERIENCE with racism and often limit our ability to speak with any REAL authority on many issues.
I have been forced to stare the reality of my own privilege square in the face. While my own middle-class, relatively sheltered background could not shield me from gender discrimination, the complex quagmire of colour consciousness and a certain degree of racial discrimination, it definitely did shield me from substandard education, poverty, political persecution and any hope of a bright future. While we would like to say that we are united in the struggle for freedom of African people everywhere, it is a fact that we experience this bondage differently and thus can truly be part of the struggle for freedom FROM DIFFERENT LEVELS. Whether we choose to realize it or not, many of us have received subliminal messages of our own superiority over our 'less-fortunate' black brothers and sisters, not just because of racial discrimination based on lightness or darkness, but also from a class perspective. This too affects the way we relate to each other within the struggle.
While we say ' who feels it knows it', I wonder if many of us really and truly understand the ramifications of this statement. We all stare at each other across many divides as a community, some are based on colour and other are based on class and economic situation. This is a VERY REAL ISSUE THAT MUST BE CONFRONTED. While it seems that many are uncomfortable and incensed by the idea that they could be perceived as not ‘equipped' for what ever reason, to lead the struggle or to contribute to black movements in a leadership role, to deny the truth of this is to ignore very real issues. We can only come to the table with who we are honestly and truthfully, having fully dealt with our own privilege, whatever form it may take. As a black woman coming from a background of relative privilege and false ideas of class superiority, I cannot speak for, or lead a black or light skinned person from a background of poverty, persecution and intense racial discrimination; I have neither the experience or moral authority to do so and do and frankly am simply not the right ‘symbol' that such a movement requires to overturn the system that oppresses the disadvantaged.
This is not to say that I do not have a contribution and a responsibility to the movement. There may be other issues that I may be an authority on, those that I DO have direct experience with and it is my duty to act upon them where I see them. While spiritually I need to confront my privilege and realize that it is based on false, external trappings that mean nothing, I must also realize that my responsibility is to do what I can to empower those who have been forcefully DENIED power. This role is CRITICAL to the movement and does not negate my Africanness, or breed divisiveness in any way as far as I can see. It is not discrimination to say I cannot lead, it is simply assessing the reality and taking the most effective method to right critical wrongs
FAIR USE NOTICE:
This site may at times contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml