Diversity Conversation: Sophia Brewer and Yaba Blay

(music)>>Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to
“Diversity Conversations.” My name is
Sophia Brewer, and today, I am talking
with Dr. Yaba Blay. Welcome, Dr. Blay.
>>Thank you.>>We’re gonna jump right in
and start asking questions. We’re really excited
to have you here today. So to get us started, tell us
a little bit about your work, and what you’re gonna be
talking with us tonight.>>That’s a
big question. I do a lot
of things. I’m a professor,
an academic, an author, a producer,
content creator, I’m a mother. And tonight’s
conversation, as part of the Diversity
Lectures Series, is really going to be
taking folks on a journey into my own
journey, right? This kinda contextual
conversation about why I do the
work that I do. I think what we see in
the academy so often is folks detach
themselves, or at least attempt to perform
a detachment from their work, when, in reality, all of us are
very much attached to our work. And I think what brings
power to the work is knowing what
that attachment is, knowing why it is I do
the work that I do, and so, I’m speaking
from the position of a black woman who’s
first-generation Guianan, born in
America, who’s born and raised in
New Orleans, dark-skinned, daughter of
immigrants, and it absolutely has impacted
the choices that I’ve made, in terms of the
work that I wanna do, work that ultimately empowers us
to see the beauty in ourselves. Yeah.
>>Well, thank you. A lot of your work
centers around colorism and racial identity. Why should we care
about colorism? What is
colorism?>>Colorism is
an institution, not unlike white
supremacy, I think, in our everyday
existence. If we’re tuned
into anything, we’re tuned into
social inequality, we’re tuned
into racism, we’re tuned into
white supremacy, especially now, in
terms of the way that it works in folks’ lives
to create systems of inequity. Colorism is
no different in that white supremacy is
very much based on upon color, right, the difference between
who’s white and who’s not. Colorism is what happens when
we take that institution and that paradigm, and
inflict it upon ourselves, so that within
communities “of color,” that we place more
value on those of us with lighter
complexions than those of us with
darker complexions. And so, there’s
really no separation between the ways in
which colorism impacts people’s lived
experiences and the ways that racism
impacts our lived experiences, and so we should
absolutely care, ultimately, because it’s
impacting all of us.>>Okay.
>>Yeah.>>In what ways– because
I wanna make this relevant to people who may not be
of any minority group, so in what ways
is it relevant to maybe a white person, a
white person on this campus? Why should they
care about colorism when it comes
to our students? When it comes to the people
that walk through our doors?>>I mean, I don’t know
that I can tell someone why they should
care, necessarily, as much as it is something
that happens, right? In the same way that we
“should care about racism,” not everybody does. So it is to say that the person
who would care about colorism is somebody who
would care about the ways in which social
inequity impacts people’s lives. And so, if you
care about that, then you would understand
how colorism impacts us all. So that if you’re a
white person, perhaps, let’s think of
WHICH black people you feel
comfortable with, WHICH Latinos you
feel comfortable with. Are they the ones who are more
aligned with your value systems? Is it the one who–
I mean, even when we think about the Latinx
community, we have folks within
that community who self-identify
as “white Latinx.” That’s an
oxymoron. ‘Cause to be Latino
is to NOT be white. Right, so I think even in the
conversations about identity, even in the conversations about
the ways in which we look and present
to the world, we come to understand
just how insidious white supremacy has been
to all of our thinking. It impacts every single
way that we think, particularly in
Western societies. And so, when we look at colorism
and other systems of inequity, it helps us to really
unpack that, I think.>>This is a great segue
into the next question. In talking about–
we’ve been conditioned, so when we talk about
white supremacy, we’ve been conditioned
not to like ourselves. What do we do
about that? How did we get there and
what do we about that?>>Well, we didn’t
get there. We were
taken there. You know, really understanding
how important representation is, how important it
is to see yourself, and so, if you don’t
control the news channels, the news stations, if you
don’t control the platforms, if you don’t
control what images get projected out about you,
what can you do about it? You know
what I mean? And so, it is to say that, once
we were able to think critically about what we’re
being exposed to, then we also can
empower ourselves to create our own
vision, our own world, our own
representation, which is a lot of
the work that I do, that since I can’t
control mainstream media, maybe it would impact it
to a certain degree. Ultimately, we don’t
own those platforms. So now, social media, for
example, is a beautiful example. We don’t need TV as
much as we need YouTube, as much as we
need Instagram, as much as we need to
be able to stream stuff. So y’all can put whatever
y’all want on ABC and NBC, if we don’t see
ourselves there, we’ll watch ourselves
on YouTube, ’cause there’s
some young creative who’s gonna create the TV show
that you won’t give me. Right, and so, I think
it’s important for us to see ourselves and to know how important it
is to expose our children and our communities to
beautiful images of ourselves. ‘Cause otherwise, all we
have is what we’re given.>>And so, what do
we say to people who, in reading up
on colorism online, there are some people that
say by focusing on colorism, we’re only perpetuating
white supremacy? We’re only perpetuating
this noise that break people out into
classes by their skin tone, what do you say to people that
might have that view of– you know, when we focus
on the internal conflicts in different
minority groups, that we perpetuate
white supremacy?>>It doesn’t make sense to me
as an argument, ultimately. I mean, I think, at
the end of the day, top of the morning, if there’s
something impacting us in our communities,
we should talk about it, and talking about it
doesn’t make it the thing. It calls the thing
out, you know? And so, if it ails us,
it deserves our attention.>>Okay. So recently, I was
having a conversation, on August 22nd
was Equal Pay Day. And so,
that’s the day when African-American
women make what— um, Equal Pay Day
of 2019 is when African-American
women made what their male
counterparts made in 2018. So it took– so we make
61 cents on the dollar compared to our
male counterparts. And I was recently talking to
a mother and her daughter, and talking about
this whole idea that African-American
women are supposed to be the most highly educated
people in America, yet we make 61 cents on
the dollar to the male. So even though
we are educated, we’re still
devalued in a way. So what do we say
to young girls, who might be come into school,
might be coming to GRCC, or young girls– uh, young women
who might be coming to GRCC, or young girls, what do
we say to motivate them to become this
professional black girl that you talk
about often?>>Hmm, I mean, I think, again,
particularly as a space of higher education,
they just have to know. You know, I think one of
the most terrible things we can do as
educators, I think, is to sell our students
a false dream, you know? I graduated from
undergrad without a job. I graduated from both
of my Master’s degree and my PhD
without a job. Like, that
is a reality. And so, we don’t do
our students a service by making them think
that this degree is going to open
the doors for you to get this magical job
and this perfect life, ’cause it’s
not, right? It’s all about work
and progress. So I think
it is to say… the students need
to know the numbers, they need to know what
they’re up against, but then also feeling
empowered to say something, because if we
don’t say anything, we can’t do
anything about it. So it’s about acknowledging
what’s happening, and then trying to do
something about it.>>So last question. So let’s talk
about your book, “(1)ne Drop: Shifting
the Lens On Race.” What makes this
book unique compared to other
books on colorism, and what will we learn
from reading it?>>Well, it’s not a book
on colorism, per se. I think most people
understand colorism to only speak about
the disadvantages that come with having dark skin
in a racialized society, which is why I tend
to use the language of “skin color
politics” more, for us to understand that
there are politics at play across the spectrum
of skin tones. And so, what this
book does uniquely, as it looks at
skin color politics from the perspective of
people on the lighter end of the skin tone
spectrum, folks who are not
black from a distance, folks who self-identify as
black, or some version of it, but their physical appearance
might make people question, or, in another historical time
period, they may have passed. And so, speaking to
them about blackness. What makes it unique is that
we’re getting a conversation about blackness from the
perspective of folks who don’t look black.
(music)>>Thank you for
spending time with us. We’re looking forward
to your speech tonight, your presentation tonight,
at Spectrum Theater, here at Grand Rapids
Community College at 6 PM. Again, my name
is Sophia Brewer, and you’ve been listening
to “Diversity Conversations,” from the Office of Diversity,
Equity, and Inclusion, here at the Grand Rapids
Community College. (music)

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