As much as I've accepted my life as a brown-skinned gal (although it's still very much a work in progress), there are some things I will never be at peace with — things which I believe to be serious problems for women of color in society today. Perhaps the fact that I've grown up almost exclusively around white people and within a white family means that I've developed super-sensitive race detectors; after all, I've spent my whole life navigating complex situations essentially by myself. But I also believe that regardless of upbringing or socio-economic status, there remain a number of microaggressions and many other slap-in-the-face injustices that will simply never cease to exist for women like me. Or at least, not until we orchestrate a new world order or something.
All too often, when women of color point out the deeply rooted systems of oppression or subtly racist nuances that we face each day, we're also encouraged to stay silent. We're supposed to prevent others from feeling awkward, and we're not supposed to readdress the power balance which keeps us all in our assigned societal roles. To be a conscious woman of color today, therefore, means existing in a constant state of confusion or despair, where we often must think twice about doing something — things which our privileged peers, whether that privilege is due to gender, skin tone, or any number of other sources, can simply do freely.
But even if you're not a woman of color, just being aware of your privilege in relation to the lives of others may inform behaviors that can work towards improving the world for everyone. Here are just a few things women of color often feel the need to think twice about doing on a daily basis that others may not.
1. Engaging In Feminist Discourse
Women as a whole are a marginalized group — and women of color even more so. But sometimes, engaging in feminist discourse with white women can be hard, especially if they aren't interested in how racial inequality is linked to gender inequality. Known as White Feminism, this is the idea that the mainstream promotion of women's rights excludes the experiences of women of color. (And to be clear, the term "White Feminist" refers to people who practice White Feminism — not simply to feminists who happen to be white.) This is why we need intersectionality, because, to paraphrase Flavia Dzoden, feminism must be intersectional or it is b*llsh*t.
2. Turning On The TV, Reading A Magazine, Or Otherwise Engaging With The Media
Are you a woman of color who is prepared to be completely overwhelmed and disheartened at the constant stream of women who look nothing like you across all forms of media? Can you say with confidence that you'll be able to resist the unsubtle pressures from a culture which continually reinforces white, Eurocentric beauty norms in favor of your own appearance? Will you be able to stomach the invisibility of women of color in magazines, television, film, music, and radio, bar a few tired stereotypes in which women like you may see their sexuality exaggerated, their attitude amplified, or their cleaning skills complimented? If you answered "no" to any of the questions above, then you should probably refrain from engaging with mainstream media too much as a woman of color. Although in recent years there's been a shift towards greater representation of women in advertising, European societal norms saturate media across the world. It's exhausting existing in a world that constantly reminds you that it's not for you.
As a half black, half white woman of color, I haven't been subjected to some of the more insidious sexual assumptions that my black friends who aren't multiracial have when dating online because I guess I'm somewhat ethnically ambiguous. But I have been fetishized for my brown skin at several points in my life. I've been called "exotic" because I'm not white. I've had my skin compared to chocolate, caramel, and brown sugar when naked. And I've had to fend off stereotypes relating to the black female body from white men who just assumed that my butt would be spectacular.
What's more, many of my friends have it worse. I'll never forget one black girl who showed me a sick message linking sexual domination to slavery. I also know many Asian women who are equally tired of having their race fetishized. And countless women of color feel the same. Dating can be fraught for many women, but there's a particular brand of awfulness many women of color deal with when dating dimply as a matter of course.
4. Going To Work
Although studies have shown that more women in the boardroom can greatly improve a company's reputation and profits, women in general and women of color in particular still struggle with visibility at work. Last year, CNN reported widespread dissatisfaction among women of color in the United States when they couldn't be their "authentic selves" at work, suggesting what many of us already know to be true: That sometimes success at work means making our color more palatable for our white bosses and co-workers.
Images: Georgina Lawton/Bustle; Giphy (3)