op-ed: british singer-songwriter vv brown writes frank essay about cultural assimilation, frantz fanon’s “black skin, white masks”, and being unapologetically black

February 12, 2016

I started wearing my White Mask towards the end of elementary school when other people’s awareness of my blackness became the source of humor and mystification. The ignorant question about hair texture and care, musical preferences, Africa, comments about my complexion, etc. all served as a reminder of my otherness. That that’s what white people first noticed when they looked at me. It seemed easier to downplay what white people couldn’t help but see by slapping on a mask to suit their comfort and hide my own pain.

On Tuesday, singer-songwriter V.V. Brown wrote an op-ed for The Guardian about precisely this. “As a black person you almost automatically learn to use this this mask in order to survive in a society predominantly catering to a white audience. It shows in different forms – from extremes of self-hate, where all things black are rejected, to coping strategies such as not wearing braids to a job interview in fear of being deemed “too ethnic”.”

As minorities, we’re expected to assimilate into white culture, to not disrupt the status quo with our other identities. But to fit into white standards of beauty, success, white expectations, etc. “The truth is most white people are not used to feeling different. They see white faces in movies, advertisements, fashion campaigns and more. I would love it to be the other way round for a day so they could feel the social constructs and consciousness that black people exist in,” says Brown.

White people are not required to understand or accept black culture and black people for who and what we are, and any suggestion that they should acknowledge and respect our differences is typically meant with words like “race card” and “divisive”. As if we’re not divided already. So screw it. Do you. 

Read the rest of V.V. Brown’s essay right here. Check out her video ‘Sacrifice’, inspired by the concept of a White Mask down below. 

By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor

*Erin White is AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at erin@afropunk.com.