I remember while working at my previous corporate job at a law firm I would sit with 2 other black women, and 3 white women during lunch. We would fill the table with food and conversation. It was one particular day that Colorism in Black culture was mentioned across the table and I saw that the White women’s facial expressions read nothing but confusion on this type of self-hatred. I found myself thinking about how many other people, including those of my own race, were oblivious to this form of oppression. Growing up hearing the diss “African Booty Scratcher” and many other jokes that identified blackness with ugliness and non-desirableness was a norm in my childhood. This type of manipulation has damaged so many black boys and especially girls who have and will eventually grow into adults with the stain of this stigma.
So what is Colorism anyway? According to Dr. Jackson-Lowman, It is “a form of oppression that is expressed through the differential treatment of individuals and groups based on skin color. Typically, favoritism is demonstrated toward those of lighter complexions while those of darker complexions experience rejection and mistreatment….”
Colorism was a well-known struggle for Black people during slavery. Having lighter skin was almost considered a luxury compared to how darker skin slaves were treated. Light skin slaves and Interracial slaves (who were usually birthed by slaves who were raped by their owners) were allowed to work in the house which is where the term “House Negro” came from. However, were still considered slaves.
During the 20th century the “paper bag test” was used to discriminate those whose skin was darker than the brown paper bag by holding it up against their skin. This was used at certain churches, fraternities, nightclubs, and colleges. Some of these institutions painted their doors light brown to gesture that only those whose skin matched the color or was lighter were welcome. The “comb test” was another message that these places used to inform people that it was a place for a specific kind of Black. Combs were hung on the doors signaling that only Black people with hair textures closer to Whites were welcomed. Because of this, it made it twice as hard for brothers and sisters with deeper tones of melanin to obtain a comfortable life in America. Being rejected to join clubs and groups lessened the chances of being a part of growth, education, and other opportunities. Howard University was one of the institutions that practiced discriminating those who did not match the brown shade on paper bags keeping current students with darker shades from joining the college’s fraternities and sororities.
Skin bleaching is a popular, easy to do, method to light skin tones. It is practiced throughout the Carribean, Africa, and the U.S. amongst men and especially women of color. Skin bleaching products reduce melanin and can assist in fading scars and freckles. Some skin bleaching agents are so intense in ingredient it is powerful enough to drastically lighten skin. Although it has a reputation for successfully lightening the skin, temporarily, there are dangerous consequences like skin cancer, mercury poisoning, and skin infections that one could be risking if adding it their skincare routines.
Light skin Black people who experience Colorism are often criticized for “not being Black enough” and are left feeling like they are not a part of their own race. In addition to ebony toned brothers and sisters who speak a certain way or have grown up in certain areas that are not considered to be Black enough keeps them from being accepted in other Black communities.
So why is this even happening? why is this even a thing? After asking some of my Instagram followers to share their experience with colorism, surprisingly most of them expressed that Colorism was something they dealt with from their own family members. It certainly is something that has been learned in the home with the help of societies nonrealistic beauty standards. Our family members generation is passing on what they have been taught themselves and it’s only up to us to break that cycle.
‘Beauty is as beauty does.’ …a single monolithic standard of beauty is untenable; it makes no sense. Nature, with its phenomenal diversity, provides a model of the range and variety that beauty may assume. Thus, a lily is no more beautiful than a rose; an oak tree no more beautiful than a palm tree; and an opal no more beautiful than a pearl. Each is beautiful in its own right and each has unique value and plays a special role in nature.” Jackson-Lowman
So what can we do? Embracing our melanin is what will help break down those walls. The same way we are forced to believe what beauty is in this world is the same way we need to be projecting to the world how beautiful our skin tone is. Let’s start by acknowledging that Colorism does exist and educating ourselves especially our children on the issues that arise from this type of discrimination. Colorism will only be dealt with if we speak up about it so if, in general conversation, you or someone else is being discriminated because of the shade of their Black skin light or dark then say something. Maybe educate those who are ignorant of it. If you find yourself being hateful towards other complexions then ask yourself why. The problem you have may be with yourself and not other people.
Have you experienced colorism or know someone personally who has? What can be done to help rid this epidemic in the Black community and how other races view us? Comment below and please come back to visit for more topics!