By Maria Adeola Sheey-Adekale
You probably think that ‘white privilege’ doesn’t belong to me. How could it when my skin is brown? But I have a secret I haven’t shared, something that until now I have dared not say out loud for fear of being shouted down. I don’t think it should be called white privilege. In my world it is not as simple as black and white, nothing ever is. There are a multitude of shades in-between and that is where most of us reside. The truth of privilege based on the colour of your skin is not white, it’s ‘light’. The lighter your skin the more privileged your life. You see, I’m mixed race. I’m Irish Nigerian, born and raised in England and proud of it, but I’m very aware that I am light skinned and always have been. Whether I was too light to fit with one group or too dark for the other, my skin has always been a presence in my life separate from my identity, that I have had to learn to understand and accept. My appearance much like yours begins a dialogue with everyone I meet before I’ve had a chance to speak. Weight, clothing, movements. These things I can change and adapt to control what they say to you, but my skin is all yours to make of what you will. I remember when my partner and I first started talking about having children, and I felt the need to warn him that I could have any shade of child. That just because I was light didn’t mean that with his extra dose of white, my offspring would automatically be lighter. He said it didn’t matter but I wondered if it had occurred to him before I voiced it, and if it did, did he pause for a moment. We went on to have four amazing children, and each one is a different shade, all lighter than me. Some are ‘passing’, others identifiable as ‘other’ by their features or hair, and I wonder if they will notice the paths that their skin opens to them but closes to others. I wonder if those paths will open on both sides, or if the lightness of their skin will bar their way when they wish to be welcomed by those of colour. We shake our heads and show distain for the overt racism we see in other cultures. We view the caste system for the horrific and demeaning thing it is, but the facts of lived experience speak for themselves…the lighter you are the more acceptable, the less feared and the smoother life is. The subtilties of institutional racism have given us all tinted glasses whose lens reveals the other. The thing we are not, the thing that does not belong, that we are to be wary of. But what if that lens is the one you see through when you look in the mirror. When you and those around you only lay claim to the ‘good side’ of you, the one that speaks with a quieter voice, that doesn’t have an accent or a strange name. I’ve long practiced the habit of using my white name and my white voice when I’m applying for jobs, renting houses or speaking to anyone in authority. But isn’t that my privilege, that by being mixed I can choose when to be whole and when only one side is welcome? That by being lighter I can be the token employee, the token friend who lets you off the hook but not in a way that rattles any cages, or forces you to look deeper at your choices? A coincidence of DNA decided what shade I would be, and that shade has chosen which paths are cleared for me, and which are blocked and barricaded. I dance on both sides, and slowly I have come to the mixed ground in-between. My home, my safe space, the place where more and more of us find ourselves every year. I am comfortable in here, on this bridge created between two worlds. You will always make choices based on what you see, your history, your family and your own life will determine that, but my identity is my own, formed by me and voiced by me, and I know the secret of privilege is that it has a dwelling within each of us if we dare to look close enough.
A home educating mother of four, Adeola’s writing has adapted and changed over the years to fit the time constraints of a full life. From short stories, to essays and articles and with various characters nagging in her ears wanting their tales to be told, you can currently find her writing in magazines such as Roots + Wings and Juno, as well as the soon to be published Hear Our Voices collection by Conscious Dreams Publishing, and in the Fireside group at The Kindred Voice. Lockdown seems to have broken the dam, and her pen is firmly attached to the page, so follow her on Instagram @adeola_moonsong to see where she’ll be popping up next. Adeola writes from the UK.