November 27, 2022

Brittney is pushing back against colourism in Jamaica and quietly working to empower those who come to her for assistance.

The world she wants is one where girls simply exist safely and comfortably, while having their ideas and thoughts welcomed; however, in order to achieve this goal, she said her activism and resistance had to be done quietly.

Jamaican born Brittney Elliott Williams, who at the time of the interview had just concluded law school, told the Girls Narrative Project she was aware that her goals for girls, especially those who resembled her – dark skinned with kinky hair – was going against the grain, due to the unchecked prevalence of colourism within that society.

“This is something I recognized from a very young age, that the world [and] my society would view me a certain way. And that certain way is I am lesser; I am not as smart, not as articulate, not really worthy of good things or great things. The ultimate outcome is to help myself and people like me to get to where they want to get, to be able to dream and to live out their potential; [if] that is my aim, that’s going against the grain.

“Because I say you are worthy, you are good, you are capable of greater; that goes against the grain. It’s just easier in my mind to be quiet about my activism; I suppose I could call it, because it’s just easier to navigate spaces when I can clearly see what the room looks like, and how the room views me. Or if the room is unable to pin me down in any one place, so it just gives me greater access, I think,” she said.


When asked to explain more about what she meant by ‘how the room views me’, she revealed that it was in high school, around the age of 12, that she not only interacted with children from other ethnicities for the first time, but was harshly introduced to the concept of colourism, and how very differently she was being treated because of it.

“I went to a predominantly black primary school, where – I would say everyone looked the same, everyone spoke the same; it was fine. When I entered high school now, [this] was where I saw persons who didn’t look like me, whether that would be because they were white, Asian or lighter skinned black people,” Brittney explained.

“And I do highlight lighter skin black people as being different from me. That’s mainly because in Jamaica I feel like it’s treated as different. Where the negativity would come in was when I recognized that I was treated differently from those different groups because of how I spoke, how I looked, that sort of thing,” she said.

Highlighting this fact, she gave the example of an incident, involving her high school principal, when Brittney was nominated for the PIM Awards. During this time, she revealed that the principal told her that persons who looked like Brittney never came to that institution in her days, and while Brittney does not know whether she meant it to be a compliment, the observation never truly sat right with her.

“So it was interesting to see that no matter how ‘high’ or ‘qualified’ I was, there would always still be an asterisk that is placed beside my name because of how people perceived me and what my rightful place was in society and I got that same sort of energy from my classmates,” she said.

She gave the Girls Narrative Project an example of how colourism and her sense of justice lead to a conflict when she was around 12 to 13 years old, with a lighter-skinned classmate.

“And like I said in Jamaica, light-skinned people are treated almost as a different race. It’s kind of funny. Well, if you have a cynical sense of humour. I remember the first couple months this girl says to me that her father [could buy me and my entire family]. I don’t even know how your mind conceives that sort of thing,” she said.

Another example she gave during her youth was when a light-skinned friend of hers somehow was awarded a scholarship that had never been advertised.

“I had a friend in high school who – a very close friend – she was tall, she was slim, she was light-skinned, she had not curly hair but looser textured hair. She got a scholarship from the school that was never advertised,” she recollected.

“Which told me that the – the example of the girl I gave you before – it wasn’t just one person saying one very mean thing, it meant that it went all the way up. That it was a part of the society. It was just ingrained in the system itself. At the time there was nothing I could do about that. And I recognize that from a very early age, it wasn’t just people saying mean things, these are ideals that are ingrained in society and it will shape the opportunities I get, the spaces I get to enter into, that sort of thing,” she said.

While these incidents affected Brittney on a personal level hurting her feelings, she also revealed that they helped her to shape how she could successfully navigate spaces and better survive.

“For example, if I enter into a room, I sort of get an idea of how I’m viewed in that room, versus who I believe myself to be in that room and it sort of helps me to exist. Thrive. So I don’t think it necessarily impacted me negatively,” she said.


Although colourism is something that is reflected in all of Jamaican society, especially their media, with seldom dark skinned people in commercials being portrayed in a positive way, Brittney said that it is more important for her to be surrounded by like-minded people that base friendships on physical attributes.

She revealed she has always had a strong sense of self, and in her youth was active, sometimes obnoxious, confident, extremely stubborn and strong-willed. She credits her father for these personality traits, saying “but I do think that came from my family because my dad, for example is a very confident person, almost obnoxiously confident, like arrogant almost”.

“He looked like me and he always described himself as beautiful and smart. So I think growing in a space for so long where everyone not only looked like me, they sounded like me, they had the same values and they affirmed those things. It was as if I came upon opposition outside of that group my natural instinct would be to push back because it was just in opposition to what I believed to be true,” she said.

Brittney said that as she matured, and entered more professional spaces, she began to realise that there were not a lot of people who actually looked like her and to survive, she had to change her tactic of how she pushed back, saying that it couldn’t always be forceful or forthright, but the approach be a lot more subtle, and intensified.

“Living in my body, living where I live, I’ve started to realize – this is the hand you were dealt, … so let’s do what needs to be done to just protect us,” she said.

“I’m very aware of where society has placed me and also what society expects of me. Even something as simple as celebrating a victory publically, I wouldn’t because it forces people to then react in a negative way. To then place me back in that position that they think I should be in,” she said.


In her young age, Brittney explained that she has been ‘sharked’ out of various opportunities, be them for her own career gain or for getting more resources to help women and girls whose plights are being wilfully ignored and it all made her realise that Jamaica really did not care about their girls and their future enough.

Revealing a meeting to discuss projects and resources at what she called ‘Youth Parliament’, back in 2017, she recounted that her suggested project, which had been aimed at helping to change violence against women and girls was vetoed, with her getting a lot of pushback from men, while the other women failed to press for the green light with her.

“The men were actively pushing back, and the women were passively pushing back, because they just sort of sat by and allowed the men to say, ‘no, no, there are more pressing issues, let’s move on’. So that’s on a small scale for example, but on a larger scale I did some research for the World Bank Group Women, Business and Law and through that research, realised that the laws in Jamaica actively protect men, not women.

“I think out of my research what I realized is that Jamaica’s laws – not only do they not protect women, they protect men actively. Which is very disappointing and saddening, because you might have a feeling that there’s an issue and I think a lot of persons will have that feeling that there’s an issue, but to actually see it written in law is very disheartening,” she said.


At the age of 24, having completed her law degree, Brittney recognises how far she has come in her way of thinking and what she actually wants from the law and how it is used in her home country of Jamaica.

It is her belief now that the law should not be about personal convictions nor seek to dictate how others live in their consented private lives. Using the LGBTQ community to share how her beliefs have changed, she said, “Growing up I didn’t think that for example persons of that community should be able to get married. Because I remember what I said essentially is – listen, these are my beliefs, these are my personal religious beliefs and as such, that’s how it should be reflected in society”.

“It’s almost like Christians are using the law to evangelize, which is strange. Which to me, Brittney now, I think it’s strange that persons would think, and I thought at one point, that persons within the community, that they should – that you should encourage the change of behaviour through law. That’s just crazy to me. The law shouldn’t be used as a hammer almost to dictate how people should live their private lives”.


Recollecting on her younger self, she said her girlhood came to an end at the age of 12, when her mother become sick, but reveals that even as she was able to speak candidly to her older sisters, she wished that she had had a mentor to really guide and prepare her for what looking like her would entail.

 “…lots of things would be easier if myself and persons like me just had a mentor. Someone who looks like me, who is in a position of power and who says, this is how I got there. This is how I dealt with the situation and so on and so forth. So I think mentorship is one resource,” she said.

While Brittney will be the first to say that she is not a planner preferring to work on one thing at a time, she is very clear that she wants to be in a position to do meaningful work that she enjoys and allows her to give people more access to resources and power.

“I’d also say practically to journal so that you can see your progress. See where your head is at this year versus last year versus the year before. And lastly, I’d probably say don’t allow persons to steal your shine, your effervescence,” she said.

To those who look like her and are going through their own acts of resistance, she encourages them to stay intentional about learning all aspects of themselves, reaffirming all that is good about them and to surround themselves with those who can guide them to their unique concept of success.

written by,
Ashlee Cox

Author, Writer, Entrepreneur

Ashlee Cox is a multi-genre author and writer. She formerly worked for leading news outlets within the Caribbean, as a journalist, and is currently the lead writer on her blog ‘Ashlee Unscripted’.

About the author 

I Am A Girl NGO

The Caribbean's leading non-profit organisation in support of girls, to inspire, empower and provide opportunities for girls to lead and exist in a world where they feel safe, protected and celebrated.

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