The #EverydayColorism campaign has shared personal stories of colorism – discriminatory or preferential treatment of same-race people because of skin tone – from people living in the Caribbean. Colorism and racism are both rooted in white supremacist culture. But the prevalence of colorism in the Caribbean did not prepare Dr. Nycole K. Joseph, a neurology resident physician from St. Lucia, for anti-Black racism in America.
Growing up in St. Lucia, the mere possibility that my race could impede my ability to enter certain spaces was a foreign concept. Exemplary Black men and women surrounded me during all stages of my life, exhibiting their talents and aptitudes across all spheres. I did not yet understand the sense of validation these individuals instilled [in me] from a young age. I did not necessarily visualize them as role models. At the time, it just seemed like the norm.
“My blackness entered the room first”
Upon migrating to the U.S. for subspecialty training, I anticipated having to adjust to a new environment. Yet despite being educated on racism, I was ill-equipped to handle the extent to which interpersonal and systemic racism continued to disenfranchise Black people in America. I arrived in America as the same person physically, but I was now seen differently. My Blackness entered the room first, and my other attributes followed. I went from being the majority to a minority and “the only” Black person in spaces.
The magnitude to which imposter syndrome manifested was overwhelming. I was navigating amidst a dense fog, trying not to lose sight of my purpose for coming here. This was far beyond simply adjusting; it was an identity crisis. I lived through not only my experiences but also that of the friends I made, becoming more cognizant of the immeasurable adversity that Black people face on a daily basis while just trying to live their lives.
Our mental health bears the brunt of the assaults as we battle with overt racism, microaggressions, implicit bias, tokenism, and minority taxation, among other things— alongside the torment of witnessing a growing list of names of Black men and women killed unjustly at the hands of the police.
“By being Black in America, we are all at risk”
I recall my exact location and what I was doing on September 6,, 2018, when I was informed of the murder of my former schoolmate and fellow St. Lucian Botham Jean by a police officer who mistakenly entered his apartment. I find the circumstances, narrative, and outcome perplexing to this day. This was my moment of realization that by being Black in America, we are all at risk. Our nationalities, credentials, and humanity are disregarded because of our melanated skin.
Irrespective of our different walks of life, we live in fear that our stories may be inextricably tied to one ending; the death of another innocent Black person. We live in fear of being another headline or hashtag. The reality is that, as a young Black woman and essential worker, my fate could be that of Breonna Taylor.
The current COVID-19 global pandemic has had devastating impacts on the Black community, with disproportionately higher morbidity and mortality rates recorded. This compounds the pandemic of racial injustice that Black people have been fighting for as long as they can remember. As the world was placed on an obligatory pause in light of COVID-19, platforms and social media outlets were consumed by reporting and dialogue on institutionalized racism, economic inequality, health-care disparities, and police brutality. George Floyd’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” are symbolic of the knee of oppression suffocating Black people for centuries. The world is now forced to pay attention and acknowledge the need for a revolution. Silence during this moment is complicit; allow these conversations and movements to infiltrate every space. It is time to get the knees off Black peoples’ necks and allow us to breathe.
White supremacy in any form is deadly
Colorism, racism, systemic oppression. White supremacy in any form is deadly. There is a direct line between the experiences of colorism our contributors from across the Caribbean shared and the racist, senseless murders of Botham Jean, George Floyd, and so many other Black children, parents, siblings, colleagues, and friends.
As Dr. Joseph’s painful and eloquent condemnation of anti-Black racism reminds us, silence is complicit. We thank her and everyone who has contributed to this series on #EverydayColorism for the courage, honesty, and passion they summoned in telling their stories.
Stories change the world, inviting transformation in both the teller and the audience. While stories alone will not eliminate colorism and racism, change will not happen without them. For stories help people to take off their own shoes and step into one another’s. If this series resonated with you, please share it with others, and please consider sharing your stories about #EverydayColorism on your social media channels.