She Addressed Her Own "Light-Skin" Privilege As She Fought Against Racism

black women in airline employee uniforms
L. Graciella Maiolatesi
January 3, 2022

Ruth Taylor never actually wanted to be a flight attendant – she was a nurse. And yet, she made headlines as “America’s first!” Why was she going into a career path she didn’t want in the first place?

Because she had a secret agenda up her sleeve.

Through the 1950s, airlines wouldn’t hire Black “stewardesses” at all. But when she filed an official complaint of discrimination, they were publicly embarrassed. One airline agreed to hire women of color – so Taylor applied.

Out of 800 Black applicants, Taylor was chosen. Soon, other airlines followed suit, and Black women suddenly had a new career open to them! But she wasn’t done yet.

Taylor made it clear that she’d only been chosen because of colorism; she was light-skinned! All Black women deserved opportunities like this, not just the white-passing ones.

She was soon fired; the airline claimed it was because she got married, which was against the rules.

Taylor dedicated her life to exposing colorism and racism.

In 1982, she co-founded the “Institute for Interracial Harmony Inc,” developing tests to measure racial bias in social settings. The institute still offers testing! Their motto: "Prejudice Is Learned – It Can Be Unlearned."

Colorism unfortunately still exists. Taylor challenged white supremacy while simultaneously critiquing her own light-skinned privilege. Like her, we must acknowledge our ENTIRE identity as we collectively challenge white supremacy and the ways it works to divide us!

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