When we talk about Blackness, we typically think of people of recent African descent. It’s not often, especially in parts of the Western world populated with descendants of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, that we think of what it means to be “Black” outside of that context. But Blackness divorced from African-ness is a reality for some Melanesian Pacific Islanders, and it affects them in ways similar to those people of the African diaspora. 

Melanesians are Indigenous people of the region that includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, parts of Indonesia ( Papua, Maluku, and more), New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The name, “Melanasia,” is a combination of two Greek words: melas, meaning “Black” and neosi, which translates to “islands.” 

In many Western cultures, media visibility of Pacific Islanders like Melanesian people is minimal. When it does happen, they’re usually portrayed as Polynesians, people native to Pacific countries like Hawaii, New Zealand, and Tonga. These folks tend to have lighter skin and looser-textured hair. While some Melanesians look “Indigenous,” with lighter brown or beige skin and straighter hair, many are more likely to read as “Afro” (dark skin, coily hair, wide-set noses) to Western eyes. You can see this erasure at work today: Moana, the first Disney movie to center Pacific Islanders, is only focused on Polynesian people and mythology. Netflix, one of the world’s largest global streaming platforms, ran a campaign last year to promote “Pacific Islander Voices.” Of the interviewees, not one, at least by my research, is of Melanesian or Micronesian descent. 

When only one group is permitted to break through into majority white-centric spaces, we fail to capture the beauty of the diverse people and cultures that make up the Oceania region. Like many dark-skinned folks across the globe, the experiences of Melanesian people are often affected by the reaction others have to their appearance. Make no mistake: Issues like colorism and anti-Blackness — which reared their ugly heads under the influence of the European colonizers who first conceived and imported them — within the Pacific Islander community most certainly exist. 

These matters were ever so clear when, in 2019, Papua New Guinean pageant queen Leoshina Kariha, who served as Miss Pacific Islands between 2018 and 2019, was accosted while giving a speech as the outgoing winner at the Miss Pacific Islands pageant in Tonga. Someone in the crowd reportedly yelled the words “black, ugly, and disgusting,” in the middle of her talk. Kariha moved with grace and shot down the blatantly racist remarks, reminding people that though the comment was hurtful, up until that point, she was treated with “dignity and respect” by the people of Tonga. But though the issue appears to have been somewhat hashed out, this instance is an example of how colorism is alive and well within the Pacific Islander community. For some Melanesian people, particularly those who possess phenotypically “Black” features, anti-Blackness has been something they’ve been forced to contend with. 



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