What exactly did she mean by that?

A new battle breaks out:

On 1 July, ELLE India featured the extraordinary author Arundhati Roy as the cover woman of the magazine’s July issue, in which she was interviewed on her writing, exercise habits and first new novel in 20 years. The interview also raised the issue of blackness, which MISHKA WAZAR interrogates.

Fans of Roy and her Booker Prize-winning debut The God of Small Things fawned over the cover and interview, which gave rare insights into the life of the private writer and activist.

However, the bubble of idolisation quickly burst somewhere during Roy’s answer to the first question of why she was featured on the cover of ELLE India. Her response was: “Because I have seen dark-skinned women on ELLE covers. I love that. I’m a black woman. Most of us are. Ninety percent of us are.”

Ok so Twitter gotten hip to Arundhati Roy glibly dropping the fact she’s black in a recent Elle interview? pic.twitter.com/Zm66oV5Aey

— Zoé S. (@ztsamudzi) July 3, 2016

That “Twitter gotten hip?” is interesting – as if Twitter is the obvious go-to place for wise reflection on issues such as who counts as black and why it matters. Why does anyone think Twitter is useful for that? Twitter is useful for picking fights; it’s not useful for thoughtful discussion.

The answer raised some controversy. Tweeps quickly began to wonder why an Indian woman was calling herself black. What exactly did she mean by that? And who exactly is she referring to when she says that “most of us” are black?

And let’s kick the shit out of her just to be on the safe side, eh?

The use of the term black by non-black people of colour has been a contentious issue in progressive circles of late, especially in South Africa. There has been a Black Pride movement recently on the internet, with hashtags such as #BlackOut gaining popularity all over the world. But even within a positive movement, there are problems. When Jesse Williams spoke at the BET Awards last week, internet trolls were quick to downplay the message of his speech because Williams is mixed-race. Erasure of identity is common where people do not fit into certain circles exactly the way they’re supposed to, and so people began to erase William’s blackness. But how is this navigated when a well-known human rights activist embraces a term that many people believe does not belong to her?

By saying she identifies as black and who is anyone else to say she isn’t black?

No? That’s not the correct answer? That’s odd, I could have sworn…

As a black-identifying woman, Sikhona Nazo, a student at the university currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR), explains that, initially, she didn’t have a problem with Indian people identifying as black, because both Indian and black women are affected by whiteness. However it’s very problematic to refuse to acknowledge that the racism experienced by Indian women is different to the racism experienced by black women. Nazo says that the system is against both groups, but it’s against black women more. As an Indian woman living in India, who is not extremely dark-skinned, Roy has never experienced the same form of systemic and structural racism that black women do, and claiming that she does by embracing that identity is an erasure and dismissal of black women’s painful lived experiences.


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