Why we need mainstream feminism to start calling out colourism and addressing it

To explore her musings, Mikki has penned a new tome, Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, which explores what she calls ‘hood feminism’, a concept for challenging these narratives and recognising the communities and individuals who are usually ignored.

“Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women,” argues author Mikki Kendall. “Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighbourhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritise these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?”

Hood Feminism gives us a sharp and honest look at how feminism is neglecting marginalised communities, and what we can collectively do to confront and challenge these inequalities from within.

To mark the launch, as well as International Women’s Day, Mikki has shared an extract with GLAMOUR UK…

Despite claims to mean no harm, we all know that skin colour continues to serve as the most obvious criterion in determining how a person will be treated. In America and around the world, because of deeply entrenched racism and anti- Blackness, we know that dark skin is demonised and light skin is generally prized. So it serves no one to feign ignorance of what it means to capitalise on fetishisation and exoticism without doing anything to combat the problems most likely to be faced by those who are disadvantaged by these standards.

While Black feminism has been combating colourism for decades with campaigns against skin bleaching, pushing for better media representation of darker- skinned girls and women, and pushing the idea of beauty aesthetics that don’t centre on whiteness, it’s not just a Black feminist issue. If we want to raise an empowered next generation of Black and Brown girls who can love themselves, love one another, and change the world, we need mainstream feminism to start calling out colourism and addressing it.
We know that white supremacist narratives around skin colour have not just fuelled self-hatred, depression, and anxiety for girls and women of colour, they have also been used to justify white fragility narratives that contribute to the privileging of white women’s tears over the lives of women of colour.

Exotification isn’t freedom; any feminism that hinges on the fetishisation of the beauty of women of colour is toxic. In a media culture where even a Disney princess is subject to colourism, you have to ask why so many mainstream feminist narratives are more likely to call a dark-skinned woman powerful and not beautiful. And then there’s the questions of size, of disability, of the ways that some body types are seen as more valuable than others. There’s a narrative that because Black women consistently report having higher self- esteem than white or Latina women, that means they don’t need the care or concern around beauty that other women do.

But that higher level of self-esteem is built across time inside our communities, and not every girl gets the support that she needs to combat a culture that says her body is always going to be wrong.

It’s easy to say that beauty standards are superficial and unimportant when your skin colour safely positions you at the top of someone’s beauty aesthetic. But, like everything else, beauty is political. Embracing as beautiful a body that isn’t adjacent to whiteness is an act of resistance, a way to keep alive the culture and community that colonialism and imperialism were attempting to crush.

Of course, pretty can be a privilege, but how that privilege functions varies wildly based on race. The same metric that might position a beautiful white woman as someone worthy of adoration or respect can be twisted to mean that a darker- skinned woman with similar features is read as not only sexually available but outright obscene simply for existing in public. It’s the proverbial tightrope over a snake pit.

Being taught you’re strong, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re enough is a generational defence mechanism against discrimination. Even when the confidence isn’t really felt, you know that the more confident you appear, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with racism. As a result, a premium is placed on appearance. Body positivity originated in the Black community because skin shade, size, body type, and visible disabilities rendered many in the community outsiders even in spaces that were intended to be affirming.

Even now beauty is complicated by class, the quality of hair purchased for a weave, the brand of clothes that can be afforded – these are all markers that signal whether your body has a right to be in the space it is occupying. And even if all the trappings are correct, there’s still the question of how your features may be commodified and presented as attractive on everybody but the one you’re in when you’re not white.

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