The Colour Line. Some of us use this concept because it’s so precise and useful at explaining the problems of limitation that have emerged from systems of black oppression.
In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois - the great race relations analyst – used this 'Colour Line' phrase to describe the experience and mechanisms of racism. Some of us have adopted the concept. It shows that to one day overcome inequality the colour line needs to be overcome. And, I believe that the effects of slavery will finally be over, when the colour line ceases to exist; the day when it truly doesn’t matter whether you are black or white.
Yet we still live in these 'coloured' boundaries. And, I’m asking myself where exactly the boundary is between one colour and another? We all encounter, experience this line everyday but maybe not always consciously. So often it’s unconscious and that can be dangerous as if we take it for granted, we may become more oppressed.
I have always wondered how long this line is? How far it goes? What is between black and white - between Blackness and Whiteness?
One answer is mixed race: that is in between. Though, this is a bit unsatisfactory because mixed race is also a kind of black; a non-whiteness.
And, when you think about being mixed-race long enough you find that in some ways and to varying degrees, it really applies to so many of us. There’s an irony here: on the one hand most of us are mixed race, on the other hand there is the colour line that separates us! How is it possible that the colour line is so strong, when so many of us are made up of both black and white 'somewhere down the line?' It isn’t always obvious from the outside of course, i.e. from our skin-colour. Our mixed heritage is often hidden 'under our skin'. So that might mean that the colour line isn’t always about our heritage, it’s merely a visual thing: it’s only about how we look or it’s not about our complete heritage, it’s only about our dominant heritage.
What I mean is that we usually dismiss our African heritage, once we have 'enough white in us' to be able to do so. Once we can, 'pass for white', we think we can dismiss our African heritage. Once we’ve suppressed it enough for us to be able to hide it from others – and I am talking about visually white people here.
Hiding a part of ourselves. I have a problem with that. What if your soul remembers your heritage, if your spirit cannot let you rest unless you have explored that heritage? I am one of those: I look so white that only very occasionally somebody recognises that I have black ancestry.
And, to understand my story needs a willingness to break out of white supremacist thinking, the kind of thinking which does not consider the wide, significant field of spirituality. And, I’ve broken out - I do consider that through spirituality I 'know' my history.
Let me explain now what I look like: when it comes to the colour line, I am no longer in the 'black field' but in the 'white field'. Therefore, people expect me to be content or can’t see how this could be an issue for me. After all, with my black heritage pushed so far back (all the family I know of also look white) why should it be to the front of my thoughts. True, I have, if reluctantly, 'made the transition' and could be envied by others. The transition 'into white', gives me security and more advantages in an unjust system.
It’s my spirit and my soul which just won’t let me rest; that won’t let me live in hiding. It’s my experience, my being, the essence of me that would be in question if I couldn’t reveal what I might call my internal blackness. This essence is what makes up my identity. What can my identity be if I am not Black outside, not white inside and not mixed race enough? I usually say that I am 'on the far end of mixed race'. Being 'on the far end', puts my enquiry about the end of the colour line, on the spot.
Even if there is no blackness on the outside, there is blackness on the inside of me. Where Frantz Fanon said, 'Black Skin, White Mask', maybe I could say, 'White Skin, Black Spirit'.
For example, my thought process reminds me of my hidden blackness; reading Frances Cress Welsing made a big impression on me. She opened up a whole area of liberation for me. And, even though I still have many more questions, I’ve come to understand why I think differently from 'the others'.
Yet these 'others' (many white people) make we wonder because so often 'race' has no significant meaning for them. Of course, it may have in a negative sense but it doesn’t in a meaningful, depth-ful, spiritual sense.
I cannot be the only 'white person' with a black heritage - and I don’t mean, 'everybody's African because humankind originated in Africa' – there must be others with black ancestry, like me!
What if the typical scenario got switched? In amongst the African-Caribbean’s suffering slavery, and the whites as slave masters, we imagine an African-Caribbean man or woman, somehow making it to Europe and fathering or mothering children through intermarriage.
The innocent off-spring, after some generations, lose their rich brown complexion becoming white skinned but not losing their spiritual connection. Is it possible that the 'spirit of the African' survives beneath pale skin tones? I hope so; this African ancestor would have put up such a struggle in their lifetime that the spirit of resistance might live on.
Who remembers or honours that African ancestor? This is what I am getting at. How can those of us who have these distant cross-cultural family lines easily forget?I wonder about those with an ancestry like mine and a spiritual connection like mine, who try to hide their 'black field'.
I would like to meet more people who sense what I sense, who feel like me. It’s not easy to know your family history – and I’m not saying I know all about mine - but the evidence I have comes through my soul and spirit; seems to remember clearly, informs me of that African ancestry. And, I have to speak out.
I would like to meet such people but I don’t think I’ve come across one to date. How would I know anyway - if I did come across someone like me, with hidden African ancestry? How, if they, like me, are largely white?
I think I would know by their spirit: by their persistence in talking about the issues of history; about age old African empires; and about the disastrous disruption to lives that the slave trade represented. They’d have a deep understanding of racism and the myriad nuances of its ugly, distorted local and global expression. I would recognise it by their insistence on spiritual connection, which assertions of supremacy do not recognise, acknowledge or understand. That’s how I would recognise them.
I haven’t found them yet but I continue to search.
© Ursula Troche January 2010 (all rights reserved)