There was a sitcom that aired in the United Kingdom from 1989 to 1994 titled Desmond’s. It featured a predominantly black British Guyanese cast and was set in a London barber shop. It provided insights into black family life as well as the immigrant experience.
One of the more interesting aspects of the programme was how it addressed prejudice within ethnic groups. A source of entertainment was how two of the main characters – both originally from Guyana – would pick on their friend who was from Africa. It could simply be an issue of cultural differences, but one can’t ignore that the ‘high-brown’ skin tone of the Guyanese men, contrasted with the blackness of the lone African.
Along with this is the typical immigrant family drama – the friction that occurs when the traditional values of the parents clash against those that their first generation children have embraced. It’s the mentality that one way of live is superior to the other, with both parent and child looking down their nose at each other. This trope isn’t uncommon in these types of programmes, but it is more nuanced when the story includes the immigrant dynamic.
So what’s the point of all this?
In the midst of discussing race and race relations, and the desire to dismantle the systems that disproportionately affects people of colour, we also need to address the prejudice that exists within these groups as well. It’s all well and good to unite when it’s a struggle of minorities against oppression. But no minority group is a monolith (that’s a common misconception by those who aren’t “in the know”) they too can be very diverse and have their own internal prejudice.
These can range from colourism – the preference for lighter shades – to socio-economic standing to regional origins (especially for immigrants). For example, there’s inter-island rivalry amongst the Caribbean folk, Arabs love to argue over whose hummus is best, and Indian people have an obsession with being as fair as possible.
I acknowledge that a lot of this is cultural… and it’s undoubtedly hard to more past these attitudes, especially when they are deeply entrenched and passed on from generation to generation. But just consider the irony of experiencing prejudice, complaining about it, and then turning around and doing the same to someone else… This is an important discussion that needs to be had by minority groups. Of course, it’s not the same thing as institutional racism. But how we see and treat each other is at the heart of the problem.
So you say you want to change the world? I would advise that you check yourself as well.