SCENE REPORT: POC Zine Project at Allied Media Conference [Pt 2 of 3]: Let’s Keep Talking About Colo(u)rism & Share Solutions
I have been experiencing eerily interconnected events since I arrived at #AMC2013 and I am not the only one. Time after time since the start of this conference, several attendees have shared with me how they ran into someone they had been meaning to—needing to—connect with back at home, only to have that important conversation here in Detroit.
It’s a beautiful and strange feeling to not only experience this phenomenon, but to observe others experience it. People seeking support or counsel are finding it here. People needing resources for a project or the space to process an idea for a project are finding that space. It’s as if many folks are tapped into a frequency and we’re responding to and sharing support as we dip in and out of that frequency. Spontaneous conversations between strangers lead to epiphanies, healing.
I am not trying to paint #AMC2013 as this monolithic utopia that everyone experiences in the same ways. I am trying to help you, dear reader, understand that this conference is changing me in ways that are both exhilarating and sometimes a little scary and that I’ve heard stories from several folks who are having the same experience.
In the spirit of honoring the frequency/interconnectedness at #AMC2013, here is a personal story that I want to share with you…
[DESCRIPTION: POCZP founder Daniela’s POV while taking a quiet moment to reflect inside the Student Center at Wayne State University in Detroit on June 22, 2013]
Yesterday I arrived to the conference later than I intended to, so I missed the opportunity to get free acupuncture and a tarot reading. I was feeling overwhelmed and triggered by my personal experiences from the previous day (good things, but still intense), and so I was really disappointed that the wellness/health space was no longer providing services that afternoon. I actually considered leaving—going back to my hotel. I had so many thoughts swimming in my head that I felt like I couldn’t take one more intense conversation.
Something inside of me told me I should take a minute before leaving to “chill out.” I meandered around the campus for a while, looking for a workshop to attend. I had forgotten my conference booklet back in my room, so I had no idea what was going on. Suddenly, I saw POCZP Midwest Coordinator Joyce Hatton entering a building. Without even thinking, I called out “Joyce! are you going to the Understanding Colo(ur)ism in Media session?”
LET’S TALK ABOUT COLO(U)RISM
I hope that everyone will read this but also understand that discussions about colourism can be very triggering. If you aren’t ready to read about this topic at the moment, now is the opportunity to perhaps bookmark this for later or to make sure you have the time/space to process this safely. It may not be a good idea to read this at work or in a public space where you wouldn’t feel comfortable experiencing a variety of emotions.
Now, it was eery enough that I even correctly remembered that session was happening at that time, let alone the name. What pushed it over the edge for me was that Joyce replied “Yeah, I am!” In that moment, I made up my mind to stay the rest of the day and followed Joyce to the session. Her active participation was a call to action for me to at least attempt to engage with others, even though inside that felt like the last thing I wanted to do.
When we entered the session room, it was full and I was a little surprised. To be honest, it is easier for me to openly talk about white supremacy than colourism. Talking about colourism in communities of color—between people of color—is such a painful topic for me that I don’t actively seek out those conversations. So I was both a little joyful and a little nervous about so many POC of different backgrounds and white folks together in the same room about to embark on a conversation about colourism.
For those who don’t know what colourism is, here is a brief definition:
Colourism is the practice of skin color discrimination within a race. Colourism also exists between different communities of color—a toxic and intersectional outcome of colonization, institutional racism, white supremacy, classism and other isms.
As I entered the room, I thought “OK, Daniela. Take a deep breathe and just be open to this not turning into something horrible and painful. Listen and engage.”
Jyoti Gupta from The Colourism Project did an excellent job guiding the session and providing verbal and media-based examples of colourism in India, which then informed our conversation about colourism in our daily lives.
It was a lot to process. Mixed folks spoke openly about feeling objectified, silenced and erased by both white people and POC. Darker skinned POC talked about their experiences feeling like their needs and voice were being forced through micro-aggressions and outright oppression to take a back seat to what lighter skinned POC and white folks had to say or demanded.
Conversations during the session were personal; sometimes intense, often painful to hear. I had never been in a room before with both other POC and white folks talking about personal experiences with colourism. I’ve had my own inner monologues about colourism and heard people talking about colourism in abstractions, but here was a roomful of people giving real world examples of how colourism has affected them, and the impact of that struck me at my core.
We participated in a workshop where we had to come up with a commercial that was the opposite of colourism—affirming to darker skinned POC. Even that was a challenge for each group for a variety of reasons—some ideas triggered others while those supporting those same ideas felt that they were being dismissed/silenced. It was a very eye-opening process that revealed how difficult it can be for even small groups of POC to reach consensus on how to address colourism.
As a POC with skin and middle class privilege, I have very complicated feelings surrounding those privileges. On a good day, I feel like an operative for the “resistance”—my privileges let me move in ways that some POC may not be able to, and so when I “make moves” in life, I do my best to open up spaces for other POC. Whether it’s sharing information like this, or connecting POC to resources they might not have heard of due to systems of oppression like institutional racism intentionally blocking them from that information, donating funds to POC Kickstarters/Indiegogo/DonorsChoose projects—I do whatever I can to empower POC.
I feel like a daily practice of combating institutional racism as a person with skin privilege involves repeating small but intentional acts of disruption on a daily basis, so I disrupt things. Every day. POC Zine Project is one of the ways I actively work to disrupt the narrative/lie that white people are superior to people of color.
On my bad days, I see how colourism is hurting my POC peers and darker skinned members of my family to a degree that I simply can’t abide and I want to claw my skin off. I don’t want it. I don’t want any of this fucked up bullshit.
Fuck all systems of oppression.
Fuck white supremacy.
Fuck the concept that because my skin is lighter, somehow that earns me several “level ups” in life.
I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to be a “safe minority” and I didn’t ask for my skin to be a point of contention sometimes between me and other POC.
So yes, claw it off. Claw it all off. Let me be blood and bone. Claw it off until all that’s left is my spirit.
And even as that hurtful, toxic thought (clawing my skin off) bubbles up in my brain, other toxic thoughts bubble up that say…
"Boo hoo. Your diamonds are so heavy, Daniela. How dare you privately feel bad for having light skin. How dare you even spend two seconds feeling sad when you experience racism or other systems of oppression. You have it so easy—just shut the fuck up and make as much space as you can for other POC and don’t talk about your own experiences with colourism. Not only do you not have the right or permission to talk about this with others, you don’t even get to think about this on your own. Ignore your pain because it doesn’t matter. Your experiences with racism and colourism are NOTHING. NOTHING. SO SHUT THE FUCK UP AND PRETEND THAT YOU DON’T HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT THIS. YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO EXAMINE HOW COLOURISM IMPACTS YOUR LIFE BECAUSE IT DOESN’T—NOT COMPARED TO HOW IT IMPACTS OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR. YOU DON’T GET TO HAVE ANY FEELINGS AT ALL WHEN OTHER POC SAY PROBLEMATIC THINGS TO YOU ABOUT YOUR SKIN, YOUR HAIR, YOUR FEATURES, THEIR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT YOUR PRIORITIES AND POLITICS, SO SHUT UP SHUT SHUP SHUT SHUP SHUT U-”
You can probably imagine that this kind of internal monologue leaves me feeling like shit. It is also the last thing I want to admit in a public forum like this, but I made the difficult decision to disclose how I feel to help move a conversation.
The conversation I want POC Zine Project as an advocacy platform to help grow is the conversation about colourism in communities of color.
So many zines address colourism from a personal point of view. Look at the posts on Tumblr about it. This is clearly a topic that is very painful for many people of color.
So, let’s take this on as a community. Let’s help this conversation to grow so we can understand how we are hurting each other. Let’s understand it so we can stop doing it and also create safe spaces for respectful & patient discourse, healing and forgiveness.
I want to have this conversation for myself, because I need healing from it. I want to have it for my friends of color who experience traumas I never will because of my privileges, who also need healing in ways that I don’t understand because I don’t know from personal experience what it’s like to walk through life with darker skin.
I want to have this conversation because I am going to be a parent in the next 1-3 years and I want the tools to be the best parent I can be, and part of that will be to be able to—in fierce vulnerability*—have open conversations about colourism with my children, who will (due to intersecting realities of institutional racism and the problematic foster care system, through which I will become a parent) more than likely be darker skinned than me.
I don’t want my children to EVER feel like they can’t talk to me about the pain they are experiencing because of colourism. I want them to have the understanding, vocabulary and the safe space to create their own analysis. I want to help them find ways to address all types of oppression in their lives in a manner that makes sense for them.
Right now, I honestly don’t feel equipped to do that. I feel a lot of shame about this, the same way I feel tiny pinches of shame whenever a well-meaning person of color questions why I founded POC Zine Project when I don’t even, really, look like a person of color.
Instead of simply smiling (while crying inside) and explaining that I am a Latina/Chicana with skin privilege but who still feels fiercely about destroying institutional racism and white supremacy and then changing the subject to avoid those tears spilling out into the real world, I want the tools to have an open and healing conversation about colourism in all its manifestations.
Yesterday’s workshop was a watershed moment for me and I suspect for at least a few others in that room.
After being exposed to some of the horrific ads that air in India about skin bleaching and even vaginal bleaching that correlate white skin to superior beauty, spiritual enlightenment and upward mobility, I felt like clawing my skin off again when an ad aired where the final and “idealized” version of a woman looked like me—a light skinned woman with dark hair and light brown eyes.
I found myself thinking about how colourism in the media works to divide communities of color in the U.S.
I found myself for the first time examining (in my head—not out loud) why I felt like I had done something wrong, simply by being born into a system of lies and oppression that in the lottery of racist bullshit gave me a pass into spaces just because of having lighter skin. I found myself questioning why I have carried this guilt since experiencing my darker skinned father being racially profiled repeatedly at a young age and being asked by white police officers if I was “OK,” as if my own father was a threat to me, his lighter skinned daughter.
I found myself examining why conversations about white guilt are so triggering and why I do everything in my power to avoid them. I found myself privately shutting down at times during the session, and then in the next moment feeling awakened and inspired by the honesty and courage from other POC who shared their stories.
At the end of the session, I invited attendees to submit their thoughts & experiences tied to colourism to the POCZP Tumblr (either with their name or anonymously) so that more voices could help you, dear reader, understand what the session was like beyond my own description & reflections. A few people committed to doing that so as soon as they submit, we’ll share (if you weren’t at the conference but feel inspired to share your thoughts on colourism as well, please do!) them here as part of a comp zine on colourism that POCZP will release later this year.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
I am not a perfect person. In my own timeline of both experiencing colourism and unintentionally participating in it, there have been plenty of mistakes. I never mean to hurt anyone, but sometimes I do. I’ve carried this baggage for years and I think it’s taking up space that could be used for healthier and more productive things.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s take the skeletons out of the closet and make room for healing. Let’s talk about colourism. Let’s do it together and find solutions we can put into practice in our daily lives.
I am not inferring that there aren’t already several people/groups around the world devoted to addressing and dismantling colourism, because there are. I am talking about what I can do as an individual, and as part of an advocacy platform I’ve helped to create.
We’re (POCZP) going to talk about colourism on this year’s Race Riot! tour, because it’s an intersectional reality that we talked about last year as a biproduct of sharing our personal stories. Only this time, I want us to do this in a more intentional way.
We’re still going to talk from our own personal experiences, but we want to help keep the conversation going after we leave each city. We want to support those guiding conversations about colourism in the communities where we hold events and beyond. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel—we want to support ongoing actions. These are things we talked about while inside the tour van last year as we rushed from city to city and I think that this year we can do it.
POC Zine Project is going to figure out how to collaborate with Jyoti Gupta from The Colourism Project and other entities on this year’s tour to help move these colourism discussions in a praxis-driven model that ensures our event attendees in each city feel like they are in a safe space to both be exposed to these conversations and participate in them.
It’s such beautiful challenge that we face: going to (now) 20 cities and holding over 30 events in October and early November that will be fun/entertaining, informative and healing. It’s a lot to take on but I think we can do it.
And even if we fail, the next person/group can learn from our mistakes and do it even better.
POCZP isn’t really about the zines. We are an experiment in sharing lived knowledges to transform our lives as people of color. Zines can be a tool to facilitate community-building and the sharing of lived knowledges. We are a third space empowering POC to use independent writing/publishing to find inspiration, community, healing and affirmation. We are here to disrupt the narrative.
And since we know that colourism is as old as colonization, white supremacy and institutional racism—healing must happen so that we can all grow in ways that aren’t possible until this healing takes place.
So let me tell you a little about a colourism-related project I found out about by participating in yesterday’s session:
[DESCRIPTION: Marceitte holds up a flier for her documentary “Toasted Marshmallows” on June 22, 2013 at #AMC2013]
At the colourism session, I ended up sitting next to POCZP Midwest Coordinator Joyce as well as Marceitte, who I didn’t know until yesterday. I know Marceitte a little bit now and want to share with you, dear reader, what she shared with me:
Marceitte and her creative partner Anoushka are making a film about mixed-race women in North America and mixed race identity called "Toasted Marshmallows." The idea for the film grew out of a performance about the same topic.
Marceitte and I went to lunch after the session. She revealed that she was at the conference both for her own personal growth and to collect more stories from attendees who identify as mixed-race for the film.
Among other things Marceitte shared during our lunch was that her mother is black, and that her experience growing up a mixed race woman has been complex, to say the least. I don’t want to speak for her, so here is the trailer for “Toasted Marshmallows” and info on how you can get involved:
From the filmmakers’ Indiegogo page:
Toasted Marshmallows is not just a film but is a part of a larger project to build a mixed-race community. Toasted Marshmallows expands on work that is already being done by asking hard questions of the people closest to us and artistically telling the stories of mixed women across the US and Canada.The project is deeply invested in listening to and sharing the stories of others, and in community building. On our journey, we will be holding mixed-girl brunches where we will talk to and interview mixed-women from similar backgrounds.
We will be travelling to Gresham Or, Vancouver BC and San Francisco in August and New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Toronto and Montreal in September to interview our friends and families as well as conduct interviews with other mixed women who have agreed to share their experiences with us. Although people have generously agreed to offer housing, the cost of airfare is a huge burden.
This project is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas so all donations are tax deductible! Just make your donation and Fractured Atlas will send you your receipt.
$3500, alongside generous volunteer support, will ensure that this film is not only completed but shared with those interested in sharing the stories of mixed-race women.
If you would like to be featured in the film or know someone who might be interested, you can contact the filmmakers on Facebook, through the website http://toastedmarshmallowsproject.com/ or via email: 2toastedmarshmallows at gmail dot com
Feel free to send them your suggestions, ideas, support and/or concerns. They want to hear from you.
FINAL THOUGHTS (FOR TODAY)
I would love to help signal boost other colourism-related projects through POCZP’s digital platforms and during this fall’s tour. Send your info to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Credit for “fierce vulnerability” emphasis/concept: Kim Crosby
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