My Journey

I understand how colorism plays out within communities of color, and I understand how colorism easily influences those who are light-skinned and mixed-Black, such as myself, within the Black community. I will further preface this by saying by no means do I believe the experience of mixed-Black individuals to be more socially challenging than darker-skinned Black individuals. However, I do wish the discourse within the Black community allowed more room for discussing the experiences and challenges those like myself face, such as the cultural confusion and identity crises we often go through, and not least of all, and perhaps even because of, the ostracism with which we are met, often at some point from every community that makes up a part of who we are.

Having said this, I realize and will say preemptively that I support the assertion that the challenges of those of us who are light-skinned and mixed-Black do not sit, nor should they sit, front and center among the challenges impacting the Black community. After all, the challenges of the Black community are none other than a result of the racism and colorism within society, and so I believe it to be wrongheaded for me to assert that my own challenges should take priority over, or that they be given equal attention as, the challenges and injustices that by and large impact the Black community as a whole. I understand, and wholeheartedly believe, that what must always take priority and remain front and center for the Black community and communities of color is dismantling white supremacy and the white hegemony, which requires us to remain vigilant in unpacking the complex intricacies of racism and colorism within our society.

Now, having said what amounts to little other than an unnecessarily verbose preface consisting of caveats and disclaimers, I nevertheless felt this was necessary (esp. in the age of Twitter) to do so before claiming that I find the experiences and challenges of those of us who are light-skinned and mixed-Black are often taken for granted, overlooked, dismissed and often painted over in too broad of strokes that do not afford due diligence to the unique experience many a mixed-Black persons necessarily endure. I, for one, am a mixed-Black but racially ambiguous person, who is also queer and atheistic. My father is Black and my mother is white and I grew up working class in the rural South, and while I do not intend it as a sleight toward my family, I did not have any strongly intellectual family members (on either side of my family) who ever took it upon themselves to educate me about my heritage, particularly in terms of being Black and what it means to be Black in the United States. My family are good, humble folk—a moral and hardworking folk—and in the end, I believe that is what truly matters. But personally, I have always struggled and necessarily had to take extra care to educate myself when trying to understand who I am and where I come from. This includes seeking out mentors, guidance and role models during this journey.

This was important to me growing up, especially given the racism I endured as a mixed-Black child in a nearly all-white school, and it’s only become more important to me as the years go by, not just as a man who knows all too well the pain and the most blatant and ugly forms of white supremacy, but also because of a longing for kinship and having gained over the years a renewed sense of self-worth in being Black and pride in calling myself Black; because, let me tell you, growing up literally drowning in the evils of white supremacy, it does something to a mixed-Black child that any one of us would be and should be considered fortunate and strong to come out of and be morally worth a damn to either our people or society at large (truly, one in the same). I don’t know how I managed but I did, and I am here now, after many years of unpacking racist bullshit–the internalized racism, the self-loathing, the heartbreak, the confusion–all of the emotion that, even if I put forth my best efforts, I would not be able to describe to you here, right now.

I think a great deal of my perseverance is simply happenstance as a result of just the right or odd combination of experiences. After high school, I spent eight years in the United States Marine Corps. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (minored in economics) and afterwards became one of the most recognizable stars in gay porn. I honestly don’t know how the hell any of this happened, but each and every thing I just mentioned played a great part in shaping who I am today. And so, I will conclude by saying I think the Black public discourse happening right now does a very grave disservice to us, and thus to itself, by too easily marginalizing the experiences and wisdom of those of us who carry the mixed-Black experience. You may disagree that this is the case, and for all I know you may be right. I just know that we are here—that I am here—and that our experience matters, too.

6 Replies to “My Journey”

  1. So, you are saying you wish the present discourse on systemic injustices toward black folk should center more the voices of mixed black experiences?

    I’m a mixed race (half black, half white) gay man who was adopted into a white family, so I recognize the confusion and lack of affirmation of our struggles and experiences. I have unresolved feelings about not centering those who experience the brunt of systemic racism, in this case darker skinned black folk. For example, when it comes to LGBTQ people, society has spent decades focusing the discussion and voice on white cis gay men, which in the end did not do as much for trans people of color as it could have, had the voice of their experience been represented. I recognize privilege, power and oppression are a mixed bag depending on ones experience, but I also believe we should be focusing on those who face the worst aspect of systemic racism, which are more often than not dark skinned low income groups of people.

  2. Hi Josiah,
    I know a few mix-race gay men, and your eloquent and soul-bearing look into your life and experiences is so important. I especially appreciate how honest you are in a business that is built on, and relies on, fantasy. Your intentional use of your given me, only amplifies your message coming for your personal experience, in and out of porn.
    Your emotional honesty takes courage, but more importantly, is a perspective that is lacking in the current discourse. Much like how the #BlackTransLivesMatter movement is often “drowned out” in the wider discourse on race inequality.
    As a white, privileged cis-gendered gay man, please let me thank you for helping us “crackers,” who are often blind to prejudice and racial bias even within our own LGBTQIA community.

  3. Dear Josiah Jennings,

    First off I commend you for taking the opportunity to share your experience with the world as a Black, Queer man. It was refreshing to read and I was able to relate to your experience in more ways than one. I would love to engage in discussion from one queer Black man to another and for us to bring our own seats to the table.

    Me being 24-year-old ¾ Black, 1/4th Filipino man (who was in the Army for 3 years). I physically look more Black than Asian and have a medium brown skin and 4C hair so; I naturally navigate life as just a Black man.

    Biracial-Black people/ light skinned Black people do have a special privilege that allows them to navigate spaces more easily compared to Dark-skinned Black people as a result of colorism. This is also primarily because America being very “phenotype based” which is further resulted from White supremacy. And mixed Biracial-Black people are able to partially able to opt out of their Blackness by saying “oh I’m not Black, I’m mixed” Oh I’m not Black, I’m Creole/Native American”. I’m embarrassed to admit that as a teenager I too would say “Oh I’m not full Black, I’m Black and Filipino because I thought mentioning both would separate me and make me feel more special than being just Black. (I’ve grown since then). I feel like this opting out does rub many Full/ Dark-skinned Black people the wrong way because it gives the assumption that being Just Black isn’t enough, isn’t special, is lesser. And this causes Dark-skinned Black people to side-eye, Mixed/Light-skinned Black people…and rightfully so?

    Reading your article reminded of when Jesse Williams (the fine man on Greys anatomy) received the 2016 BET Humanitarian award for his work in activism and advocating for Black people. This was a lot of controversy over it because Jesse delivered a speech on racism. And while Jesse has always championed Black people, has a Black wife and kids etc. etc. Many people (myself included) felt slighted that he received the award. “Who does this light skinned, Biracial, Blue-eyed Black man think he is speaking on racism? “How could he speak on racism when his life could never be as challenging as mine?”

    I did a lot of reflecting during this time. While I didn’t know Jesse personally, I too wondered, why would BET, a Black network, would elevate this pretty boy Biracial man when there has been other Black men and Especially Black women, who advocate for us, Black people. I was like, ”What does Jesse Williams know about racism? He is like 10 shades lighter than me and I know for a fact his experience, as a Black man is completely different from mine. But upon doing my research, I learned that Jesse has always been an advocate for Black people. Jesse isn’t doing the work in activism for credit or for a cookie. Jesse is a Black man at the end of the day, and I am sure he is aware of his privilege with his skin color and eyes and being overall pretty. But what was applaud able was he fact that he took the five minutes he had on that stage to address the world on racism.

    Jesse is able to capture the attention of White and Non-Black folks because he is mixed/racially ambiguous. Jesse used his privilege to champion Black people and to drag Racist non-Black people. Which is something that many Dark-skinned Black people don’t have the opportunities to do so. I realized that many White people and non-Black people would be more receptive to listening to what Jesse has to say over lets say Viola Davis or Idris Elba simply because he is light-skinned. I admire Jesse because he could be like many other Light-skinned Black folks and deny colorism, be oblivious his privilege or simply stay quite when it comes to racial issues involving Black people (because frankly, he would have nothing to lose). I realized, Jesse does deserve as seat at the table and it’s not my job to be a gatekeeper of Blackness. Because at the end of the day, we all Black and Jesse does have his own story that revolves around his Black identity. While the racism he experiences in life may differ from mine, he still experiences racism and navigates life in a way that I can’t step into and I have to respect him and protect him for that no matter what.

    There has been other controversy’s over light skinned Black celebrities speaking on racism that I realized I would never scrutinize like I did Jesse at that time (2016). For example, I would die for Beyoncé but I understand that Beyoncé is a Light skinned, Black-Creole woman. And while I feel she can do no wrong in my eyes, she is not above criticism in her activism, especially when Dark-skinned Black women are criticizing her. I feel like mixed and light skinned Black people will often continue to be scrutinized of their authenticity, of their Blackness. Black people want to know if their really down for the cause, or if their blind to the cause. I’m not sure if the scrutiny is right or is justified, but I guess I can say is that, I get it and I get why its done. But we should all ways remember that the Black experience is not a monolith. We all have stories that need to be told, need to be listened to. And your story is just as valid as the next.

  4. From where I sit as a Dark Skinned Black queen, Black is Black. From the most high yellow to the darkest black. All those experiences matter in the spectrum of Black experiences but there is nuance needed in understanding the ways in which colorism and being closer to whiteness can give you certain advantages that others may lack. I think that nuance doesn’t always come across on social media and the internet but there is something to be said about sitting in that discomfort even if sometimes it feels unfair because as you said it is real. But that reality doesn’t invalidate or lessen what yours or anyone else’s experiences.

    It seems like some of your frustration is getting at a certain type of Blackness being centered in the movement and BLM. But honestly, I think it’s not just an issue with the experience of mixed and lighter skinned Black people. I think that the issue is there isn’t just one BLM movement right now. I think there is the one started by Black Women and Black LGBTQ people that is intersectional and seeks to fight on all fronts for all Black people and then there is the one that Black Hetero Men focus on and parrot. To me, the latter leaves out those same Black People that started this latest movement. I wonder if in that push as well for a certain type of Black Man they leave behind those of different shades in the same way they leave women, trans and LGB people behind.

    Anyway, just my two cents.

  5. Oh and I saw some people mention Jesse Williams just thought I would add a couple other mixed/light skinned people that I think are truly at the forefront and doing the work to show All Black Lives Matter.
    Indya Moore (The Actress)
    Melina Abdullah (Professor/Co-Head of BLM LA)

  6. Josiah, you are a beautiful person. Thank you for sharing. In few words, you are correct, 1000 percent.
    To my brothers and sisters: He is correct.
    Colorism is a part of the White Supremacists’ philosophy/ religion that separates one from another. You may recognize the above statement by the phrase “divide and conquer”. Colorism is not an African invention or term that Africans used. It was heaped upon Africans and their descendants including those of the diaspora by the white supremacist Europeans/ Eurasians’ philosophy or religion as a weapon to separate one from another. To separate Africans from African Americans, to separate African Americans from Afro Latinos to separate Africans from our Asian and Pacific island, Australian, Native American brothers and sisters. We have all been damaged to varying degrees and severity by the religion/philosophy of white supremacy.
    Let’s turn off the auto pilot of self destruction to each other and begin loving all colors and hues of our descendancy.
    My own experience is different. I had parents (yes had they are with our ancestors), that were very Afrocentric. What I will share is some advice. if you have not had the opportunity to do so, go to any country in Africa and you will see many different complexions and that’s what you will find all over the continent. Not because of colonization but because the African DNA is the most diverse anywhere on the planet (second are our brothers and sisters from south central Asia mostly in India) that’s why Africans have descendants of all colors and hues/ complexions. Talking about all of our experiences suffering under white supremacy does not invalidate another brother or sister’s own experience whether that experience was joy or pain if it’s not exactly the same because of differences in our complexions. This is not to deny that those who are “obviously” of African descent and I use the word obvious from a perverse sense, but those who are did and do receive more attacks, but not only. This unfortunately is part of the way the white supremacists religion’s foundation of divide and conquer categorizes weaponizes its abusive attacks of us, on us. Some may be able to hide and pass and present themselves as white to escape abuse and oppression but not all do and I dare say the majority do not do so and suffer along with our darker complexioned brothers and sisters PROUDLY. To say otherwise would deny the contributions of our lighter complexion brothers and sisters who denied themselves the chance to “pass”. For example Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, Sylvia Olden Lee, (look them up if these names are unfamiliar). I agree to begin and continue our healing as a collective this discussion is necessary since it is a part of our combined/shared experiences of the diaspora and also in our time including those from the Motherland due to social media.
    What is uniquely African is our connection to each other and the universe. It’s in our DNA this is our spirituality. This is in our genetic memory and yes there is such a thing it is scientific and real. All of us have damage, let’s not hate but love each other love all complexions of African descendancy. In short let’s all love all our brothers and sisters of many colors and not the shade.

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