Revisiting Colorism

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A tired, but always needed, conversation of colorism in the POC (people of color) community is in constant rotation. Colorism is a manifestation of how Western imperialism has exported European ideals, most notably the universal idealization of light skin, to American shores; not only have whites discriminated against blacks because of skin color, but people of color have also discriminated against one another, according to Ronald E. Hall, Ph.D. However, I think the topic is usually told from only one-side.

In 2012 filmmakers Bill Duke and Channsin Berry produced a documentary titled Dark Girls, picked up by the OWN Network, which explored the deep-rooted biases and attitudes about dark skinned women particularly within the African-American community. The documentary also touches on colorism in India and throughout the world. The women interviewed candidly shared their experiences that went beyond the surface of the issue, recounting their traumatizing stories of wanting to bleach their skin, or remembering their mothers telling them they would be more beautiful if they were just a few shades lighter. These types of messages (amongst other things) are passed on from generation to generation and are making black women feel like they aren’t good enough/light enough/just enough period. And unfortunately this self-hate can turn into resentment towards other black women of lighter variation. The controversy with this documentary is that it failed to show any dark skin women who were confident and unaffected by colorism.

Two years later a Light Girls documentary is in the works and slated to drop later this fall, which will also premiere on the OWN Network. Within the African-American community there’s a stigma that lighter skin POC do not experience any biases or pain associated with colorism. Some may not see the reason a Light Girls story needs to be told, because of this belief that a light skinned person struggles pales in comparison to a dark skinned persons. But colorism affects both ends of the spectrum – from the palest beige to the deepest brown. Gradations in color amongst blacks exude skin tone bias rather than traditional racism. All of our voices and experiences need to be heard.

In fact, discrimination towards light skin POC can too be psychologically damaging. Bias can make the fair hued feel separated from the black community, often having their identity challenged. Some assume that lighter skin blacks don’t face racial discrimination from whites. This also raises an issue when light skin blacks can “pass” as white. They may be forced to endure racist comments from both white and black people. The plight of colorism for lighter skinned African-Americans shouldn’t be overlooked.

In my personal life, it has been nothing new. I, as a lighter skin African-American, did not understand why I was treated certain ways by darker skinned girls and young women.

It never occurred to me until my adult years that the reason I was tormented and bullied throughout middle and high school stemmed from something other than materialistic reasons. The term colorism was something I was unfamiliar with. I grew up in a predominately black neighborhood – I didn’t think such a thing existed. I thought we were all paddling up the same stream. But many are under the assumption that lighter skinned people think they are superior.

This is not to say I feel this way from all brown skin women – I have friends of all shades. But from the opposite perspective of colorism, I get dirty looks from random women on the street, especially when I’m with men with darker skin (maybe they think he “only likes light skin women”?). I’m told three months into a friendship, “I used to think you were stuck up but actually you’re really cool”. Uh, thanks? Or how about when I’m told I don’t understand the “real struggle” because I’m not “black enough”. Instead of figuring who’s more hurt than whom, we should all come together and find a solution to this slave-induced mentality.

It’s unfortunate that society and the media, especially within hip-hop/rap, highlight lighter skin women as being more exotic and lust-worthy. It’s unfortunate that some little girls with dark skin think being black equates not being pretty, smart, etc. And it’s especially unfortunate that many African-Americans are still battling in a colorism war.

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