Finding Privilege in Black Skin

Michelle Saahene
5 min readFeb 12, 2020

Cynthia Erivo, stunning and talented Nigerian-British actress was the only actor nominated for an Oscar in 2020 who was not white. It reminded me of the interview I did in 2018 in the Philly inquirer about the tension between Black Americans and Black immigrants when Ms. Erivo she was chosen to play Harriet Tubman. Social media went nuts. There was even a Change.org petition to demand a Black American be cast in the role, and threats of boycotting the role ensued.

I felt I knew immediately what was going on.

Growing up in an almost all-white town where microaggressions and racism are part of everyday life, I learned how to cope as best as I could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t healthy. Somewhere along the line, I took notice that white people were interested in my heritage. They would tell me I was different from other Black people. I was told I didn’t quite look like them or speak like them. When I was younger, I thought the hundreds of years of exposure on the American continent, the weather and the food had change their look. (It wasn’t until my 20’s that I realized one major reason Black Americans and Africans look so different today is because of rampant rape that took place during slavery.) When I explained that my parents were from Ghana and I was African, I noticed an immediate shift — a shift of intrigue. So going forward, when I encountered a white person whose vibes were off-standish and I couldn’t figure out if it was my strong personality or my skin color that was the barrier, I would do a sociological experiment: I would make it a point to mention that I was Ghanaian, and wait for the reaction.

The reaction was palpable. Their eyes lit up, they made more eye contact, their body language shifted towards more openness. Occasionally I would even get the far reach attempts of connection, “Oh! I know this African guy named __. Do you know him?!” I didn’t take it personal, but no, I never knew who the person was talking about. It was obvious to me that being African was a better choice than being Black American in the presence of white people. I thought to myself “Ah, this is a safe place to be. From now on I am an African who happened to be more in America.” I found my privilege and I held on to it like a buoy. I wanted to be liked. I knew the stereotypes imprinted on Black Americans and I didn’t want any part of it. At one point in my life I even started to adopt racial biases towards Black Americans. Stockholm Syndrome is very real.

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