Gatekeepers of Blackness

I was involved in a rather heated conversation online today. Black women were saying Halsey could not wear box braids because she is white passing (using the picture above). Sigh. I am so tired of this conversation in 2020.

Singer Halsey with box braids

Full disclosure: I don’t think anyone has a right to deny / quantify anyone’s blackness. I’ve had it done to me all my life and it’s hurtful. And, trust, due to power dynamics, I don’t like white people with box braids / dreds, but Halsey isn’t white. For the record, I am also not a Halsey fan, but I am not going to be intellectually dishonest. Halsey’s dad is black and her mother is white. I am 33% white. But I identify as black. My grandmother looks as white as Halsey, but according to her DNA test, she’s also about 33% white.

Biracial people can look anything like Vanessa Williams/ Halle Berry / Obama / Jesse Williams / Lenny Kravitz to Halsey / Haille Seinfeld / Wentworth Miller / Cash Warren / Gabby Reese. Genetics work in a mysterious way. Cash’s dad, Michael Warren (from Hill Street Blues) is definitely not white passing or someone I would mistake as biracial.

We can have conversations about privilege. For example, I know I can’t enter certain conversations because it isn’t my lived experience as a fair skinned black woman. I have had these conversations with my mom and grandmother about privilege and how you are treated (especially by the white dominant culture) based on how you look. This is all reality, but when people have denied our blackness, it is dehumanizing and hurtful.

I don’t think box braids is off limits for Halsey because she is black — although to white folks, perhaps she doesn’t “look black”. Dreds and box braids never OK on white folks, if that person is committed to anti racist work. Halsey isn’t white. I’ve always heard Halsey identify as black and every article has said as such. Halsey isn’t pretending to be black and denying her blackness is dehumanizing and upholds white supremacy that white people look one way and black people a certain way. For me, denying blackness seems reminiscent of blood quantum laws.

I just think it becomes a slippery slope when we start defining what blackness is to each individual. For example, Obama is biracial, but many wouldn’t know. He “looks black” and he moves through life as a black man. Halsey has black features. I wasn’t surprised to learn she is black. She doesn’t look white to me. She looks racially ambiguous. The only people Halsey looks white to are ignorant white people who don’t understand that black people come in all shades. But I realize in many spaces, Halsey walks through life as a white woman.

Regardless of my light skinned privilege, white people see me as black. I am aware when I talk to white people, the conversation takes a different direction vs if I was darker skinned. I try to use that privilege for good. I have always seen Halsey use her light skinned privilege for good. She seems self-aware.

Meghan Markle identifies as biracial. Halsey always says black. If you are biracial, it’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you say you’re biracial — you are denying blackness. If you say you’re black — you aren’t black enough.

It is understood that the more proximity to whiteness, the more privilege. The more dark someone is, the more that person is dehumanized. We (black folks) need to find ways to talk about privilege / proximity to whiteness without trying to deny someone’s blackness.

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