Written by Stephanie Renee on November 29, 2015
As I was contemplating what I would share with you this week, I saw a link flash on my Facebook news feed about “alternative” Black girls. I had to laugh because, as a writer, I appreciate the fluidity of language. One person’s alternative is another’s bohemian and yet another’s “trying to be white.” So many titles, so many subtleties of interpretation. And rarely do the definitions find easy translation, except when they are embraced by the person in question. Trouble is that we rarely ask him or her about their self-definition. We just label, based on our lens and impressions, and keep it moving.
In the aforementioned article, there was considerable discussion of the concept of privilege. Light-skinned privilege, beauty privilege, even perhaps the ability to determine the categories of privilege at any given moment in a conversation, especially when it’s about keeping the conversation Black in the first place.
Here’s my issue: with all this talk of privilege, are we–in essence–creating a whole new consistency in thinking of Blackness as underprivileged and oppressed?
I’m not naïve. I understand that Black folks have it rough out here. Any stats examining employment, education, incarceration and economic empowerment will show you that Black folks have a lot of work ahead of us to dismantle systemic racism and its effects. But I am wary to join the bandwagon where every single situation is defined by determining the levels of privilege at play in the sociopolitical dynamic. In speaking about Black alternative culture, is it really fair to categorize Zöe Kravitz as being in that world, but also helping to constrain it by virtue of her light-skinned, beautiful, able-bodied privilege? Isn’t it possible that the only privilege she can really claim is benefiting from great genes and the relative wealth of her very successful, creative parents?
I consider myself a child of privilege, but within very specific criteria. I have educational/intelligence privilege because my family has been college-educated since the very first generation out of slavery. I was not raised in poverty. I had a relationship with both of my parents. OK, fine. But I’m not ready to start assigning privilege to the women who are thinner than me, or the fact that public perception sees someone as prettier than me to be a personal handicap. C’mon y’all!
I’m going to chalk this debate up to the same kind of conversation we have about the term “minority.” I don’t use it, don’t like it. Within its common usage is an inherent perception of “lesser than” that I will never co-sign. I’m OK with thinking about myself as alternative without needing to be the definition of the term, nor the poster child. And still, this has nothing to do with white gaze or white perception.
Around my house, people would call the alternative folks “special.” Sometimes with a smirk, but often with a tone of admiration. And if that gives me a sense of privilege, I’m here for it. I’ll be that.