An Open Letter To Kim Lute About Her “Problem With Black Women”
Dear Ms. Lute,
By now, I’m hopeful that you are aware that your article entitled “The Problem With Black Women” was — in the most plain language — a bad idea. Not necessarily just because it employed stereotypes of “dark Black women” that are not only overly simplistic, but also deeply hurtful and demeaning. Not even because it presented one Black woman’s problems as the “The Problem With Black Women.” No, this post was a bad idea because what was meant to be an exploration of colorism, the telling of a woman’s difficult journey to find a place in a very racially divided society, quickly devolved into a whiny tale of victimization all wrapped up in the unchecked privileges of lighter-skinned womanhood. It seems you were, indeed, out of your “cotton picking mind” when you decided to pen that piece. So were the editors who allowed you to publish it. I make these statements not out of malice or contempt, but because I want you to understand how truly problematic the entire piece was.
From what I gathered, the essay was your attempt at delving into the complex reality of colorism. I’ll give you credit: You painted a very realistic and honest picture of yourself and the upbringing that has led you to perceive darker-skinned women as “competitive,” “strident,” “pushy” and “critical.” You were raised in the only minority family in a white Denver subdivision, while your childhood was “ripe with advantages.” You expressed deep feelings of resentment towards your darker-skinned older sister who was “your mother’s beloved daughter.” Those details are both important and necessary, as they highlight the fact that this “problem with black women,” is actually a problem with self.
You see, as Black people attempt to navigate a world dominated by Whiteness, it is inevitable that we internalize varying degrees of “self hate” and even a contempt for “blackness.” This is exacerbated by isolated living conditions that disconnect us from other people who share our race and forces dependency on the very same stereotypes employed by White people to diminish POC while defining “blackness” or what it means to be Black. In many ways, “being Black” is a matter of cultural proximity. When distanced from Black culture and absorbed into White culture, a Black individual has far less opportunity to develop well-rounded perceptions of Black people or to truly participate in “Black culture,” despite being Black his or herself. In this way, even the most well-meaning person caught in such circumstances can become a purveyor racial stereotypes to his or her — and to those with whom she/he shares a racial connection — detriment.
Your stereotyped and overly simplistic understanding what it means to be a darker-skinned Black women, and your obvious disconnect from those experiences, is what hinders you from creating important, supportive relationships and friendships. Not the characteristics or behaviors of such women, many of whom may choose to now further distance themselves from you after reading your piece. Your problem is not external, it is your own personal dilemma that you must own. After all, our personal issues can only be conquered with self-reflection.
Indeed, the “whole truth” harkens back to slavery where Blacks were pitted against one another. You acknowledged that lighter-skinned women were preferred by society and given “unjust” and “amoral” advantage over their darker-skinned counterparts, yet you failed to understand the ramifications of that preference. The prejudices that you referred to, which continue to jeopardize the relationships of Black people of every shade, are your own. After all, it is each and every one of us that cyclically recreates the hierarchies of yesteryear in modern America. It is us that safe guards those hierarchies when we choose to employ racial stereotypes against those to which we are supposedly inextricably connected. In this case, that is precisely what you did when you mischaracterized your darker skinned “sisters” and attempted to blame them for a divide that was created through decades of institutional inequality from which you not only benefited but continue to conserve.
I return to my claim that your piece — well, specifically publishing your piece — was a “bad idea.” We all have bad ideas at times. In this instance, it was a bad idea for you to go public with what seems to be a deep seated, unresolved issue under the guise of actually exploring, with depth and or totality, the complex issue of colorism. I am a writer and I tend to write about the issues that are important to me, so I know how difficult it is to share personal stories with the public. Understandably, sometimes we may not have fully developed an idea or worked through a problem thoroughly enough to provide readers with the critical insights and points of views they not only desire but need. For that reason, it’s important that I also call out your editor for posting that piece when it should have been obvious that it would be deeply hurtful to your readership — especially the many dark-skinned Black women that frequent the Huffington Post Black Voices site. It’s important that the publications made to service the Black community foster dialogue that is not only constructive and educational, but also healing.
Let us heal one another by first healing ourselves.