Racism, the black community & colorism : the experiences of Ulyshala

Ulyshala’s story

Ulyshala is an African-American woman from Memphis, Tennessee. She is currently in Berlin and works as a freelancer videographer. Going to Berlin was spontaneous and unexpected. Indeed the opportunity presented itself to her and seized it. However she had some apprehensions before coming, to find herself in a place where the majority of the population is white, it was new for her. In her city, African-Americans (or Black Americans) make up more than 69% of the population, representing the largest community. Despite everything, she decided to go for it.

Ulyshala's Portrait
Ulyshala’s Portrait

Growing up in Memphis in the Black Community

Her parents always encouraged him to travel. They didn’t get that chance when they were younger, couldn’t afford it. They were married when they were 18 years old and her mother became pregnant with Ulyshala two years later. Her father was then incarcerated for 6 years in prison.

Despite all these experiences, it did not affect the relationship with her father. On the contrary, they are very close. She lived most of her life in Memphis, in a black neighborhood.  Playing basketball, barbecues, rhythm the daily routine but also the fact of looking after each other. What she sometimes misses in Berlin, being surrounded and part of a community.  Before coming to Europe, she wondered how to behave without embodying stereotypes. Although she has been confronted with uncomfortable situations in Europe, such as people staring at her or sniffing her hair, the experience in the United States is quite different. She experienced racism much more intensely and violently.

Racism at the University

Ulyshala studied at the University of Wake Forest, North Carolina, southeastern state of the United States.  It is clear that white people enjoy certain privileges. For example, “black face parties” are allowed. These are parties where white people paint themselves and/or disguise themselves as famous black people (basketball players, singers, rappers) or as a “gangsta”, to embody the clichés.

The softball player Hannah Rogers with two people, dressed up as Afro-American football players.

One of her friends denounced one of the “black face parties” before it took place. Her name has been found and some have tried to dissuade her from pursuing this denunciation. The pressure was so strong that she ended up with moving off campus grounds to escape the pressures on campus.

When the Afro-American sororities and fraternities organized a party, checkpoints were set up at the entrance to make sure they did not bring any weapons or alcoholic drinks. While for other sororities and fraternities, there was no checkpoint and alcohol was allowed. Then one day, while the black student union was having a party, someone called the police, thinking there was a riot. When the police arrived they used tear gas against the students. It was too much for her.

During Trump’s election last year, a student went around campus and called an African-American resident adviser a “fucking Nigga”. This is not to demonize Wake Forest University as racist, but to highlight some of the discrimination that African-Americans face.

Discrimination within the black community itself

Slavery and segregation have impacted society at the relational level. Social diversity is still new in the south of the United States, communities usually do not mix, they each have their own neighborhood, mixed couples are not that common, even if we are in 2018. Ulyshala has a little apprehension at the idea of going with her boyfriend because she knows that she will have reflections from some men: that it is not correct what she does, that she embodies the role of the master with her slave and so on. However, when African-American men decide to have a white partner, it is not a problem.

Then there is colorism. These are prejudices or discrimination suffered by people with a dark complexion, by people belonging to the same ethnic or racial group. In the black community, for example, people of dark colors will be denigrated, invective due to their skin color. Ulyshala is neither light nor dark, she has not had this experience but she has witnessed it. When men prefer to approach her because the people she finds herself with have a dark skin color.  Or her dark-skinned sister has been criticized a lot about her. Much remains to be done to combat such discrimination.

Here’s a video about colorism :

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