The Light, Bright and Almost White, in Black America
Ever since the publication of “Black and Blue and Blond” by Thomas Chatterton Williams in the Virginia Quarterly Review, we have thought about the delicate question of skin color in the black American experience. Blackness is less than skin color and more than skin color. Writer Thomas Chatterton Williams grappled with this question in all of its nuance and complexity. And, in the end, he came to terms with the risk of permanently killing off the culture, “blackness,” as the black father of a blond, blue-eyed baby girl named Marlow. There was a place until recently in the culture for Marlow in American blackness, Williams wrote, but not so much Paris where Williams lives with his French wife, Valentine, and two blue-eyed, blond children.
We began this correspondence because we questioned whether there is a place reserved for light, bright and almost white blacks today in America. A review of U.S. history reveals a time and a place where blacks with the physical appearance of Marlow were accepted and embraced and warmly seem as part of the culture. The first black lawyer in Ohio, John Mercer Langston, was so fair-skinned that he was urged to pass himself off as a Spaniard or Frenchman as a condition for law school admission in the 1850s. Langston refused to deny his heritage and went on to serve as founding dean of Howard University’s Law School in 1868 and President of Virginia State College in 1885. The first black congressman Joseph Hayne Rainey was accused of passing for white by political opponents at a Colored Convention around 1868. The accusations were not sustained, and Rainey served from 1870 – 1879 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Another light-skinned leader in black American history was the blond, blue-eyed John Hope, the first president of Morehouse College in 1906. The blond and blue-eyed Mordecai Johnson became the first black president of Howard University in 1926 to national acclaim. With the vision and drive seen among presidents of Harvard University, Howard President Johnson brought to office a vision to remake Howard into a stellar world-class institution so that Black America might be elevated. Countless black doctors and lawyers, dentists and teachers, benefitted from President Johnson’s vision. The blond and blue-eyed Walter White proudly served, and risked his life down South conducting lynching investigations, as the first black president of the NACCP from 1929 to 1955. Correlation is not causation, of course, but one would be hard pressed to find national presidents of the NAACP after the Black Power Movement of the 1960s with the physical appearance of Walter White. The fair-skinned and almost white Spottswood William Robinson III earned the highest grade point average in the history of Howard Law School in 1939. Although Thurgood Marshall received much of the public acclaim for the Brown v. Board of Education litigation, everyone in the know knew attorney Spot Robinson was the go-to man when it came to drafting of the litigation papers and court briefs. Robinson stepped down as Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1986.
Today, where are the black leaders who resemble Williams’ daughter Marlow? Where are the national black leaders who have the physical appearance of Virginia State College President Langston, Congressman Rainey, Morehouse President Hope, Howard University President Johnson, NAACP President White, and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robinson? In our correspondence, we explore the vanishing of the light, bright and almost white black from leadership in black America. It is our hope to rethink whether there remains a place for someone like Marlow in today’s America.
Wink & Jen
The Light, Bright and Almost White in Black America
“The more truth we have to work with, the richer we become.” -- Kurt Vonnegut
Twyman: Black writers take advantage of the lack of lived experience among white readers. Some race writers on platforms like Medium.com can throw out stuff and benefit from a readership base lacking the lived experience to say, that’s bunk. What do I mean by lived experience? Consider the issue of skin color. Blacks in the United States come in all skin colors. I’ve known this truism by growing up in my family. Colors run the gamut. So, I can raise a raised eyebrow with confidence when a writer offers an overwrought tale.
When I researched my honors thesis in college, I interviewed Mary Gibson Hundley, the former guidance counselor at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. For many years between 1899 and 1954, Dunbar students outperformed all other schools, black and white, in segregated D.C. Hundley was very perceptive about black achievement since she steered blacks to the Ivy League throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. She was resentful of darker-skinned blacks like Mayor Marion Barry and his ilk who, in her opinion, trashed D.C. and destroyed her beloved Dunbar as a pinnacle of black achievement. Out of resentments and grudges, darker-skinned blacks had taken out their issues against lighter-skinned blacks. This was an interesting perspective to me and countered the traditional storyline of skin colorism; i.e. that light-skinned blacks discriminated against and disfavored dark-skinned blacks. Mavens of black American history and skin color may recall the estimable members of the Brown Fellowship Society dating back to 1790. Founded in Charleston, South Carolina by my daughter’s maternal ancestor, James Mitchell, the Society membership was limited to fifty elite blacks whose skin was light and whose hair flowed in the wind. The society was the watering hole for Our Kind of People (upper-class black people) until it became defunct by 1920. Times change, people change, darker-skin privilege was on the ascent, and racists didn’t draw fine distinctions in Charleston by 1920.
Anyway, I would like your assessment. Choose seven random black American leaders today. How does their skin color and appearance align up with the first black lawyer in Ohio John Mercer Langston, the first black congressman Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first black president of Morehouse John Hope, the first black president of Howard University Mordecai Johnson, the first black president of the national NAACP Walter White, the inventor of blood plasma Dr. Charles Drew, and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Spottswood William Robinson III?
I suspect a vanishing of the light, bright and almost white black has occurred in the ranks of black American leadership.
Richmond: It would seem that earlier political leaders like Langston are lighter skinned, but current leaders run the gamut. You’ve got lighter skinned black Americans like former President Barack Obama, U.S. Senators Corey Booker and Kamala Harris, but you also have darker skinned leaders like former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Representative Allen West, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, and unsuccessful Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that we previously only permitted lighter-skinned black Americans into office, but this has changed over the years.
Twyman: You kind of sidestepped my point. To say “we previously only permitted lighter skinned black Americans into office” implies outside forces fenced out all brown and darker skinned blacks. There is no evidence I’m aware of to show outside whites were filtering out brown and dark-skinned blacks from political office. One of my old go to reference sources for Reconstruction is Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction by acclaimed historian Eric Foner. Foner provided an invaluable service to researchers by collecting and describing the life stories of almost 1,500 black officials who served in any office during Reconstruction (1867 – 1877). It is our good fortune that Foner provided pictures for a number of these office holders. On page xxxix, there is an image titled Extract from the Reconstructed Constitution of the State of Louisiana – With Portraits of the Distinguished Members of the Convention & Assembly A.D. 1868. Every darn face is dark-skinned! Every last one! Now I grant you these pictures are wildly prejudiced and bear no resemblance to actual skin color. I know for a fact that Pinckney B.S. Pinchback, pictured as very dark-skinned, was light, bright and almost white in real life. Google his name and check out his image. Pinchback was not a dark-skinned man and so I dismiss these images on page xxxix as prejudiced propaganda. For further affirmation of the skin color point, review the skin color and physical appearance of Pinchback’s grandson, Jean Toomer.
On the next page is an image of the Radical Members of the So. Ca (South Carolina) Legislature. These images of black legislators are truer to life. For example, Joseph Hayne Rainey appears in the lower right-hand corner of the bottom row as the light skinned man that he was in real life. The majority of the state legislators were black. Of said black majority members, at least 20 legislators were dark-skinned out of a total of black 44 legislators. If around 1 out of 2 legislators were dark-skinned blacks, does this fact support your muse that “we previously only permitted light-skinned blacks into office?” While you think about this fact of dark-skinned representation in the halls of power, allow me to offer other facts.
On page xliii, Foner shows an image of the black legislators of Texas. There were twelve black legislators and, out of twelve, seven were dark-skinned. Does a predominance of dark-skinned legislators support your speculation that we only permitted light-skinned people into office?
Let’s continue, shall we.
On pages xliv and xlv, there were nine back state senators in Mississippi in 1874 – 75. I counted eight dark-skinned state senators. Every single black state senator except one was dark-skinned. Hmmn. Does it still appear that we only permitted light-skinned people into office? What about the house side of the state legislature in Mississippi? What do the facts show? Out of 51 black state representatives, 25 are arguably dark-skinned. If anything, it seems “we” made it easier for dark-skinned men to obtain higher office as state senators than state representatives in the Mississippi legislature. Your thoughts?
I leave you with this final sample – the black and white pictures Foner provided of assorted office holders in the text of his book. Assuming the pictures Foner were able to assemble were totally random, what do the images tell us about the skin color and physical appearance of black office holders in Reconstruction? I reviewed images of thirty-eight office holders in alphabetical order from the letter “A” through the “E.” Using skin color and physical appearance as a rough guide, I concluded that 14 office holders fell into the light, bright and almost white category and 24 office holders fell into the dark and brown-skinned category. 14/38 were light, bright and almost white. This ratio held up as I scanned the rest of the book. Of course, my quick and dirty survey on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in San Diego is not scientific. On the other hand, my research does suggest that people were comfortable voting blacks of diverse skin colors into office during Reconstruction and that roughly 36% of black office holders were light, bright and almost white. The facts do not show “we” were only permitting light, bright and almost white people to hold office during Reconstruction. Nor does the record show that voters were reticent about electing dark and brown-skinned people to office. What I see is true diversity in skin color among black leadership.
Let me ask you a question – could roughly one-third of the random black American leaders you chose pass for white in America today? Neither Obama nor Booker, West, Allen, Rice or Scott could pass for white. Only Harris, of the random black Americans that you chose, could arguably pass for white. This would not have been the case in Reconstruction. Perhaps, there is no longer a place for the Marlows of the world in black American leadership and culture.
This is what Mary Gibson Hundley was getting at, dark and brown skinned prejudice against light, bright and almost white blacks. Hundley perceived prejudice from the inside (dark and brown skinned blacks), not the outside white folks who probably don’t care about skin color gradations in 2020.
Richmond: I was reading an essay the other day (yes, on Medium.com) critiquing the new TV show #BlackAF. I must confess, I haven’t watched this show, and my lack of interest has nothing to do with skin color; rather, when I do watch TV my shows of choice are often spy thrillers, like say, Jack Ryan (as an aside, I love the black actor Wendell Pierce’s roll in this show). But I digress. The essay, which started off with promise, quickly devolved into a critique of Black America’s colorism. This is a fairly new topic for me, and honestly, I don’t spend any time gauging someone’s shade of black or white for that matter. This is not to make the silly claim that I am colorblind. I see color, and find the variety beautiful, but I don’t spend time assessing specific hues.
So, your queries on the disappearance of light skinned black Americans I approach with much curiosity and some discomfort. After all, I’ve always been taught not to judge on skin color but on character, and here I am, dissecting different shades of blackness. I only recently learned of the “brown paper bag” and “ruler” test in reading Lawrence Otis Graham’s Our Kind of People. The ideas were so foreign to me. It was like I had traveled in my mind to a different country. A new landscape. I don’t understand the historical circumstances that made whiteness desirable. Whiteness, in our country’s history, typically was equated with power vis-à-vis black Americans, so I assume this connotation has driven conscious and even subconscious value of lighter skin. But I’ve seen this play out in Asia as well. I remember sitting in Siem Reap, Cambodia with a woman who was covered head-to-toe in protective clothing. The heat there is damn near unbearable, making even the lightest cotton cling ruthlessly to your perpetually perspiring epidermis and leaving you feeling like you’ve been wrapped like a mummy. I sat across from her wearing as little clothing as possible while still maintaining some modesty. She told me that darker skin in Cambodia indicated that you were a peasant who worked in the fields. She wanted to maintain her visual status as an elite. Wow, isn’t that strange? So many light-skinned Europeans want to tan. In an interesting reversal, tanned skin is an indication of leisure time, i.e. beach vacations, that suggest one is a step-above the working class. I remember when I was young and dreaming of my ideal look – I wanted brown skin with my light hair. I thought that contrast would be cool. But alas, not only am I hopelessly pale, but also all of my attempts at tanning end up in a radiant red lobster effect.
In my other travels, I’ve spent considerable time in China. In general, the Chinese can be quite prejudiced against dark skin. I spent much of a semester in Nanjing, China with the African students. Not African-American. African-African. Togo, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, to name a few. Their stories of prejudice were often mind-blowing; America was almost utopian in comparison. Africa was, and continues to be, a place that the Chinese economically exploit. It seems that dark skin was synonymous with poverty and exploitation on the African continent, and the subsequent economic domination of China over many African nations. The Chinese were able to visually express their economic prowess, and identify those they thought were economically inferior, based on skin color.
In sum, the discrimination based on skin color is awkward, messy, uneven and complex. It is not as “black and white” as it may appear from the American experience. I don’t attribute paleness to any moral authority, but the difference between light and dark is played out in different ways across the world.
Ok, back to your letter. Clearly, my assumption that only lighter skinned black Americans were allowed into leadership was wrong. I figured that during a time in our history where open racism was the norm, that many lighter skinned black Americans were given an advantage. The Brown Fellowship Society consisted of only of those with lighter skin and then there is the high-society of lighter skinned black Americans depicted in Our Kind of People, and so I made the leap to presume this is why we previously had more lighter skinned black Americans in office than we do now.
Your musing on the disappearance of light and almost-white black Americans from positions of leadership is interesting. Are you suggesting that this disappearance is the result of prejudice from within Black America? Perhaps that lighter skinned black Americans are no longer capable of representing black culture or consciousness?
If so, I think that assuming a singular black identity that hinges on skin color tone, dismisses the diversity of the black experience. It would be the “brown paper bag” test in reverse – only if you are darker (instead of lighter) than the “brown paper bag” are you allowed to enter into black society. Such a blanket identity lacks nuance and complexity but can also create a sense of belonging and community, making it alluring.
I can’t help but to think that if what you suggest is indeed playing out, we are recreating something akin to China’s Cultural Revolution. In the Cultural Revolution, people would turn against even their own family as they sought to “virtue-signal” their allegiance to Mao Zedong and identify as one of his Red Guards. Eventually, factions even emerged within the zealous Red Guards, and thousands of lives were lost in the pandemonium. So, who gets to say what defines black identity? Who are the gate-keepers or the “Black Guard”, so to speak? Assuming an allegiance to a singular identity erases the colorful history of each individual in an effort to impose a particular narrative around blackness.
Today, there are many mixed-race black people who could pass for something else – for example, Rashida Jones passing as an Italian-American in the TV show The Office – who still chooses to embrace her blackness. Whiteness is constantly derided in the public square. We hear stories day in and day out on the shame of white America (the 1619 Project provides many examples), and I assume that “passing for white” is very passé. Although, Jones’ lightness has caused quite a stir in her #BlackAF TV role, and it appears that some would deny her entry into black society. Even white people like Rachel Dolezal would like to “pass for black”. She embraced a black identity above all others, or this nebulous idea of a black identity that provides in-group affiliation. Dolezal, before her lies were exposed, was allowed at least a foot into the black community. Betrayed by her white genetics, she was eventually stripped of her black identity and consciousness. Do you see a day where we can be fluid in our racial identity and consciousness, much like we can our gender identity?
As our multiculturalism presages a variety of hues on the black-white spectrum, it seems that people are actively looking to apply the “one drop” rule so as to claim a place in the black consciousness of America. But again, I ask – what does that even mean? From the outside looking in, to the extent that I can give a blanket identity to black culture or consciousness, it seems to revolve around a link to American slavery and oppression. We rarely hear about black inventors or doctors or millionaires. In our age of social media fueled outrage, victimhood culture is King; oppression is worn like a crown, and it would seem that consciousness is now built around this oppression. Given egregious examples of continued discrimination in America, most recently evident in the George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery murders, it is little wonder that such a consciousness is so pervasive. These examples, coupled with the media’s glee at any opportunity to create division, has effectively created a vile white persona. If you are right that there is a vanishing of lighter skinned blacks, could it be that lighter skinned blacks are disappearing because the lighter the skin the more one is identified as the white oppressor and not the oppressed?
Twyman: Howard University President Mordecai Johnson is a real herculean hero in black history. Sadly, kids are more likely to learn about Nat Turner and Harriet Turner than President Johnson. Is this due to skin color prejudice against light-skinned black people by brown and dark-skinned black people? My easiest research task this week would be selecting examples of skin color prejudice against light-skinned black people. It is everywhere.
Consider this raw honesty in this post on skin color prejudice directed against light-skinned black women:
I am a light skinned black woman. Most of you are on the outside looking in. Being discriminated against within your own race makes you feel out of place of assignment. Where do I belong, who accepts me? This has been my experience my entire life. Dying my blonde hair black trying to fit “more” in only to then be asked if I’m Latina or Mexican. Women of my same race making faces and snarling their noses at me. Having to work harder because I am judged for the way I look and speak can play on your psyche. Instead of bonding together I have been ostracized and alienated. I am so much more than what I look like, yet ignorance and racism still rears it’s head within our race of people. Why? Rise above people.
Interesting thoughts. However, I am a light skinned black woman almost 80 years old & I have to tell you, not a day has gone by in my life that I did not want darker skin. I was adopted by Black parents & according to my DNA, my mother was White & my Father was African. I was adopted by a Black man & woman & raised as their child. Long story shirt, I have been shunned by Black people because they think I'm White & just don't fit in with most White people. I have 4 children who are all obviously African American. There is no privelege for me in being light-skinned; only a life of trying to fit in somewhere.
Privilege is steroid you don't even know you're taking/given. I can be treated differently because of my complexion right beside you but you will not know that you weren't disrespected because of yours. Privilege makes you oblivious to the experiences of others that may be marginalized. I don't know you but I am more than a. thousand percent sure that you have been given some advantages because of your lighter complexion. I am not justifying you being excluded by the black community however there's a difference between not having privilege and facing adversities. Light-skin privilege doesn't mean your life isn't hard; it just means that your light skin isn't what's making it hard.
@DARINGMARTINI miss lady self hate is NOT the answer! I’m high yellow and have NEVER wanted to be any darker nor have I ever wanted to be white. I have noticed a lot of light skin black from your generation have an incredible amount of self hate which has a lot to do with why you don’t fit in the first place. Instead of loving their natural counterparts (not only romantic relationships) light skin people run from one another and try inserting themselves in spaces they aren’t wanted. Instead of wishing you were darker your whole life how about learning to love yourself and your people.
The way I see it is that everyone wants to be "latte" colored, not milk white or coffee black but latte. So the milk becomes latte and the coffee becomes latte. I'm okay with being milk white but sometimes it is creepy how i can see all the superficial veins on my forehead or the corner of my eye despite being twenty five. I don't attract the gents but I'm not going to pretend I'm something I'm not. Too high maintenance.
These are difficult accounts for me to read. I tend to take people as they are. Skin color varies among blacks but, of far more interest, has been the individual underneath skin color and what said person brings to the table. Are you interesting? Are you quirky? Do you see things beyond the horizon and muse about where the ocean meets the sky? Are you eternally curious about the unsolvable? These are the character traits that matter to me, skin color not so much.
I am not the pulse of black America.
The pulse of black Americans seems to be a dysfunctional resentment and holding of grudges against light, bright and almost white blacks. And so, it seems unremarkable to me that these people wearied of occupying the color line between black and white in America. They made their choice and, comparable to the disappearance of blacks in Argentina, we have witnessed a vanishing of the light, bright and almost white black in this country. There was no holocaust. There was suffocating pressure in blackness, the culture, to look like everyone else.
Caroline often remarks that her family has turned dark over the generations. Grandma is light-skinned and 52% European in ancestry. Grandma’s parents were very light-skinned. Their parents could (did?) pass for white. Their parents bore no physical characteristic of their African heritage. I’m assuming this is something completely outside your lived family experience.
Richmond: In searching for relatives through Ancestry.com, I have found several black cousins. Some were very light-skinned, but others not so much. I enjoy being able to identify with people that span the color spectrum. In my search for cousins across distance and difference, I was specifically looking to connect to relatives who “identified” as black. I wanted to hear their stories and understand their lives and how they may perceive the world differently from me. To be honest, I paid little attention to skin tone as these connections were made. It’s really only now, with your own queries that I’ve had to go and have a look. And again, it feels so wrong. Why do I care about how light or dark they may be? When we connect, we do so as distant relatives, not as disparate races.
Twyman: Is there a place for Marlow in the idea of a black American?
Richmond: Marlow may be able to assume a black consciousness, but I doubt that she would be allowed into the upper echelons of any black movement. Her light complexion leaves her too far removed to be judged on her skin color and therefore to be as susceptible to open discrimination. Let me ask you, why can’t Marlow just identify as an American? Can we ever get beyond race? Today we remain segregated when people choose to use the one-drop rule to identify as black. Why does one have to choose to be white or black? Instead of evolving into a healthier multiculturalism, we are backsliding into tribes, even as our colors continue to diversify along the black-white spectrum.
As I already noted, we often see lighter skinned, mixed Americans actively choosing to identify as black. I believe there is a strength in this identification. Although it would be wrong to create blanket caricatures of black America with everyone living their individual truths, I see black America as a powerful clique. There is a sense of belonging. Black fraternities and sororities, like the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and groups like Jack and Jill, provide a “safe-space” without white influence. This coming together in community to provide solidarity against discrimination makes sense. Many social groups were previously all white, so why not? While I understand the impetus to want to commune with those who have faced similar challenges, ultimately the separation keeps us further away from developing the empathy so necessary to move beyond color.
This color conscious identification and belonging doesn’t really exist in white America. The best that we can come up with is to join others based on interest-groups, e.g. Bowling Leagues or Toastmasters or Rotary Clubs. Some of the black individuals I know who speak out against the predominant dogma of the clique – those like say, Thomas Sowell, Coleman Hughes and John McWhorter – are quick to have the “gate-keepers” pull their race card as they are slurred as Uncle Toms.
I suppose that perhaps the small and raggedy band of true white supremacists that still exist in the white nationalist movement, may have a sense of belonging based on skin color, but your average white American exists without such an in-group consciousness as found in black America. The power and strength of black America is alluring and foreign to our paler existence. Some light, bright and almost white blacks may still continue to pass for white in 2020 or just not mention their blackness on occasion but I would wager that this is more rare in this day and age and most who do, probably made the decision to do so long, long ago. Could this be the reason that someone as pale as Marlow would want to identify as black, not because of the color of her skin, but more in an effort to gain access to a potent in-group persona?
I recently saw a post on the amazing race educator, Jane Elliot. She is the woman behind the eye-opening brown-eye blue-eye experiment. According to the post, she says to her room of white folk, something like this: “I want white people to stand if they would be happy to be treated as a black citizen.” Of course, the post goes on to say that not a single white person stands. But I wonder if the response wouldn’t be different today. I think it might. That’s not to argue that discrimination doesn’t exist, and the cases of Floyd, Aubrey and Christian Cooper clearly highlight that prejudice remains very much ingrained in our society. Despite these gross examples of injustice, I do believe the draw of black consciousness and identification has become more magnetic.
Twyman: I have a third cousin, Brenda Y., whom I love having as a cousin since she enjoys talking about race in an open-minded way like me. She grew up like me in a predominantly white high school, so we have that in common. We are cultural hybrids, somewhere between black and white, I suppose. Brenda is 23% Sub-Saharan African in her ancestry. She appears mixed in appearance and, much like John Mercer Langston, she could say she was French or Spanish and one would believe her. And if she said she was black, which she is in culture (like me, I suppose), one would believe Brenda. She has two white-appearing black daughters who are probably 12% Sub-Saharan African in ancestry. Both daughters appear white to the naked eye. Even if they told you they were black, one would have to take it on face value and go with it. They are proud members of the black medical students’ association at medical school. I still recall Brenda’s relief that her daughters were accepted by blacks in the association. Does this acceptance by fellow black medical students prove there is a place for Marlow, and other light, bright and almost white blacks in the idea of a black American today or not? Or, does the very question sadden you? One day when my path next crosses Brenda’s path, I will ask Brenda’s daughters about what does it mean to be black.
And before you answer my question, let me say I have grown in the course of this correspondence. I began this essay firmly in the camp that blackness equals culture for all of the reasons we have reviewed. However, blackness as culture now seems lazy and clumsy to me. Outsiders would not perceive my cultural choices as black, save for responding to racial perceptions and opinions of family members rooted in blackness. One could argue that having to respond to Jack and Jill and Alpha Kappa Alpha in my family means I am of conventional culture and thus “black.” Having to respond to black institutional tentacles within my living space bears on consciousness, however, not my individual culture. So I now believe, and accept, blackness as meaning consciousness more so than culture. One’s sense of race is always perspective plus personality.
Richmond: If I were able to speak directly to Marlow, I think this is what I would say:
Oh, my sweet Marlow. Today we live in a world of culture wars. Competing identities and competing messages. One day you may be on the right side of history and the next you are repenting for the sins of your fathers.
With your light skin color, you will be told that you will not have the same experiences as those who are more easily identifiable as black. To many this means that you will not have the same experience with the cops and will not face workplace discrimination.
Embracing your black heritage is wonderful, but I would recommend you embrace all of yourself. Many of us choose to identify with the color of our skin. Color creates a consciousness. We need to question this identification. Clearly, it has been true in the history of America that skin color was a divide that almost always lead to inequity and uneven outcomes. But even now we continue to use skin color to divide, instead of unite. Until we can recognize our common humanity, separation based on color will continue to enslave our hearts and minds.
So many black Americans are also of European history (and vice versa). Perhaps not as visibly so as you, but it is true all the same. We all have to grapple with our entire heritage to become whole. To shed a consciousness that keeps us segregated. You have the opportunity to be a leader in this regard, and to create bridges in the community between groups. Encourage difficult discussions that lead to real reconciliation and empathy. Overcome the appeal to create in-group allegiances to color consciousness. In essence, follow in your father’s footsteps and help us unlearn race. You are in a unique position in a unique time in history. Lead us forward into the coming of a better time.
 For example, see these few essays: https://medium.com/@nilegirl/if-i-had-interviewed-quincy-jones-i-wouldve-asked-him-about-his-views-on-colorism-and-3f137f22680c
 Simeon, Aimee “3 Black Women Get Honest About Light-Skin Privilege” May 3, 2019 refinery29.com/en-us/light-skin-privilege-colorism, Commentator SLICKPHONE
 Ibid: Commentator HOTPHONE
 Ibid: Commentator HOTWATERMELON
 Ibid: Commentator HOTPHONE
 Ibid: Commentator FRESHSHOE