Colorism: A Divisive Perspective

Updated: May 31

I think I may have been in college the first time I ever heard the term colorism mentioned. With a very inquisitive look, I asked the young lady sitting in front of me in my African American literature class to please explain what this is. I overheard her going off in a rant to someone over the phone that colorism is alive and well! I guess me being nosy, and also a future therapist, I decided to probe. She said, "colorism is the daily reminder that I would get from other black people that my chocolate hue complexion is not as equally valued as their lighter skin complexion." I proceeded to further ask, "how are other black people reminding you of this?" By this point of the conversation, we were completely ignoring our professor, who was a very sweet old lady, but had a very laid back teaching style that made our conversation all the more less awkward. The young lady went on to say, that whenever she would hear people say, you're pretty for a dark skinned girl, or overhear a group of guys gawking at how beautiful the light skinned or red bone girl walking by was. As much as I was beginning to empathize with her, I still couldn't fully grasp what she was saying to me from a woman's perspective, so I started thinking of all the times I would hear other black men describe their ideal depiction of a woman's beauty, or when a famous singer or rapper was performing, typically their background dancers or the supermodel in their music video was usually that of a fairer skin complexion. I remember apologizing to my classmate for all of the different times me and other black men who she probably will never meet, but who subconsciously have held on to the mindset that beauty within African American and Carribean communities are largely determined by the lighter shade of melanin.

As divisive as this way of thinking could be within different African American subcultures, I started to realize that this color spectrum hierarchy started out as early as pre-k. It's also not just a black woman's issue, but the black men who developed this mindset that beauty is determined based on a woman's melanin shade, were inadvertently taught this by their sphere of influence. I'm not saying that men are not entitled to their particular preference when mentioning what attracts them to black women. What I am saying, is that we should pay more attention to what has helped to shape our perspective regarding the attributes that come to mind when we think of a beautiful black woman. If you've read this far in, you're probably wondering what does this have to do with one's mental health? Well, I'm glad you asked. Think about this for a second from the perspective of women who are of the same skin tone as my classmate who first introduced me to the colorism concept. As far back as they can remember, they would hear whispers of how beautiful the fairer skinned girls were, or how you're cute for a dark skin girl. On top of all this, they would hear the ugly jokes and insensitive comments that were directed towards dark skin women. This is not only triggering, but also a continual slap in the face to their self-confidence. Shortly after my conversation with my classmate, I started to learn of all the various black people in the United States and those living abroad who are into skin bleaching. That's right, skin bleaching! I had no idea how far the ripple effects of colorism could go. If you're a person of faith, this is a direct slight to the God who created you in His own image. If you're not, it's still a blatant disrespect as to how much you've devalued the level of beauty and uniqueness in your natural skin tone. Whether it's black, brown, caramel, a bit of mocha chocolate, dark chocolate, almond, pecan brown, it's all beautiful and should be regarded as such. Maybe Beyoncé was on to something when she wrote her hit song Brown Skin Girl. It is an ode to the beautiful depiction of skin tones of black women throughout the world. Also, Lupita Nyongo wrote a children's book titled Sulwe, which is about a young black girl who wished her skin wasn't so dark, and goes through some creative measures in attempting to brighten her skin tone.The colorism conversation has helped me to see that women in general, regardless of whether they're African American or not, already have a hard enough time as it is fighting off comparisons of photoshopped models on magazine covers that are on display at the Publix checkout aisles. Now to add more insult to these comparisons, comes the added pressure of having to feel like you don't measure up to the women within your own black culture, due to your particular skin tone. I guess that's why it's referred to as colorism. It's as if self-hate and racism had a baby and named her Colorism. My hope is that black men and women from all walks of life, will start to change the colorism narrative by embracing the beauty that exudes from a woman's natural black skin. Also, black and brown parents have to be aware of certain comments that they may make around their children in regards to how beauty is addressed in relation to one's skin tone. Kids pick up on all of this and before you know it, will form their own perspective on the colorism issue based on what they have heard and witnessed in and out of the home. When we start to normalize the eclectic beauty that exists in all the different shades of black women, then will we start to see authentic change to the colorism narrative!

Marcken Volmy © 2021

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