Colorism exists in many cultures and has permeated society for thousands of years. In fact, in Egypt, there was evidence that many of the statues were defaced and changed to reflect individuals with sharper and more European features versus their African ones. Years of seeing one type of beauty revealed as better in our culture, social media, music videos and reality TV shows has deepened the color divide.
Colorism in Black culture goes back far to times of slavery. When slaves came to America, they were beaten so that they would lose their language, culture and any sense of self-identity. Often, lighter skinned slaves were placed to work in the homes and categorized as House Negroes. On the other hand, darker skinned slaves were forced to work in the fields or in positions that required lots of labor. The Willie Lynch letter addresses colorism and how it would create a divide in Black culture and continue to do so through each generation. As time progressed, post slavery, there was the paper bag test. If you were lighter or the same hue of a paper bag, you were deemed more attractive. Often those who were given opportunities in society had more of a European look or image that resonated more with Caucasians.
It was typical for movies in the 80’s to show light skinned sisters ostracized by darker skinned sisters and vice versa. Darker skinned women were displayed as angry, demanding, uneducated and loud. On the other hand, lighter skinned women were highlighted as being more attractive, educated, rational and easy going.
If you look at TV shows such as “Martin” or many of Spike Lee’s earlier movies as well as rap music videos this theme plays out repeatedly. Often the more attractive woman was depicted as someone who was lighter skinned with more European features. And sadly, this continues to happen today.
Kanye West has openly said he prefers mixed looking women for his music videos. When a casting call was put in place for the Straight Outta Compton movie, they classified more attractive women by color categories putting lighter skinned women in a ‘B’ category and darker skinned women in other or lesser classes.
Colorism has been perpetuated over and over in society, historically and reinforced in American culture. These experiences caused generation after generation to focus intensely on complexion, deeming European features more attractive and acceptable by society. It’s sad that we still are having these conversations years later. But, it will take many years to reverse what generation after generation has passed on to each future generation. It’s time to change the way we view colorism.
1. Correct people’s views and stereotypes. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently, and she noted that a woman who was darker-skinned was dark but pretty. I probed deeper and asked her why there was a but around her beauty? Would she say the same thing about someone who was fairer in complexion? It was an uncomfortable conversation. But, change can only start with honesty and in having an open dialogue. Why do we place a ‘but’ in the conversation when a person doesn’t fit what society says is attractive? She stated that the dark skinned women had long hair and very sharp features.
I told her that it is offensive to say things like that because beauty is varied and so much bigger than what we have traditionally been taught to believe. We need to stop saying someone is beautiful because they possess a particular feature or look. Beauty is diverse. Beauty doesn’t fit into one box and when we say these things we are reinforcing negative cultural history.
2. Teach our kids that they are beautiful no matter how they look. Stop reinforcing stereotypes such as good or bad hair or other features that society reinforces as more attractive versus another feature. I’m a big believer that kids become what you tell them they will be. If you say they are smart and intelligent, they will exhibit these qualities and live up to this expectation. If you say they are dumb and ugly, they will manifest and act accordingly.
Believe it or not, just because someone looks a particular way light, medium or dark skinned does not mean they have not had their challenges in life. It doesn’t mean they automatically possess high self-esteem. To move past colorism, we must recognize that we all have struggles and support one another. All of us have had pain; many have experienced discrimination and hurt from inside and outside of our community.
3. Compliment and support one another. Having a diverse group of friends along with candid conversations with them has opened my eyes to the pain and hurt we inflict on one another. Light skinned women sometimes feel rejected as much as medium and darker skinned women because they may feel they do not fit entirely into parts of society, too. They often feel automatic judgments are passed on to them, and ironically medium and dark skinned women experience many of the same feelings.
Having honest conversations, supporting each other and complimenting each other on our diverse beauty is a way to change the perceptions and help one another to heal. Also, being honest about our hurts, experiences and perceptions is the only way to help us overcome colorism.
Being aware of colorism, its roots historically and loving one another is the start of changing our views and moving our culture forward in a positive way.
Post courtesy of blackdoctor.org.