Let’s Stop Excusing Colourist Celebrities

If you’re not actively opposing colourism then you are perpetuating it

(Maya Jama)

I don’t pay much attention to mainstream music (or mainstream anything, really) but I kept seeing the name Jorja Smith pop up in various places so I decided to check her out. She’s a singer but the first thing I found on YouTube was an interview with her allegedly talking about colourism. She’s mixed race, and I was ready to hear a fellow mixed race woman talk about her light skinned privilege and maybe touch on how mixed girls are so fetishized within the black community. However what I got was Jorja being interviewed by a dark skinned woman who was effectively fetishizing her. Comments like “if there was a peng ting Olympics I think we’d want you on team GB” ran throughout the interview and Jorja would just giggle back; not addressing how this is colourism at its finest.
 As I stated in a previous article, I don’t think beauty is real but many pop stars are considered "attractive" by society’s standards & it’s sort of part and parcel of the job. However, light skinned celebrities like Jorja Smith have their appearances overly emphasised, especially by black interviewers and fans- pushing the idea that the closer to whiteness you are the more beautiful you are. There’s a saying that white silence equals violence which I completely believe in- and I think light skin silence also equals violence. The only context that Jorja Smith spoke about colourism was in relation to herself; complaining that people were saying she’s only successful because she is light. Rather than turn that into a meaningful discussion or discuss her privilege in any way she simply branded these people "haters" stating that “I get it, I’m a conversation starter. Someone will always have something to say". There are also allegations of colourist bullying against her- with this post from an anonymous dark skinned girl which was originally posted in the comments section of a video on YouTube titled “Dark Skin Girls Explain Colourism”:

There’s a “famous” singer that I used to go to school with. Mixed race, black and white. And she had light skin. She would go out of her way to bully me every single day.

Bully me about my appearance, especially because I have dark skin. She’d call me names relating to my skin colour.

And now she’s “famous”, she’s now surrounded by people of my skin colour and suddenly wants to be associated with it because she knows that with the kind of music she makes, the audience most of the time are people that look like me. But everyone loves her, so I know that if I said anything about her, that stupid narrative of “jealous mean dark skin girl” would be put upon me.”

(Photo of Jorja Smith)

She later revealed that the singer was Jorja Smith but explained she would not be calling her out or speaking about this publicly because of the possible repercussions. Obviously this is just an anonymous comment on the Internet and might not be legitimate, but the fact the poster was reluctant to say who the famous singer was and that she won’t be going public with it makes me think it is legitimate. Coupled with the fact that Jorja has not spoken out against colourism, I’m inclined to believe this.

Colourism is a direct product of white supremacy and if you don’t challenge and dismantle it then you are complicit in it, and you also benefit from it. Celebrities like Cardi B, Jorja Smith and Akala (or any celebrity who is mixed/light skinned) have a duty to use their privilege for good i.e. by drawing attention to the fact that they only got as far as they have in their careers because of their light skinned privilege. However, few ever do, and many are open about their colourist views. The only people I ever see talking about colourism are dark skinned black women. The silence of light skinned people on this issue is deafening and it’s very telling. 
 TV presenter (and Stormzy’s girlfriend) Maya Jama is a mixed race celebrity who was exposed for disgusting colourist tweets yet suffered no professional repercussions for her actions. She wrote out a half-hearted apology and that was that. But she is still perpetuating colourism- because she isn’t standing up to it. She’s not championing dark skinned people and pushing for social change, she isn’t acknowledging how her light skinned privilege has helped her career and she is seemingly not unlearning the colourist brainwashing we’ve all been exposed to. You’d think that her dark skinned boyfriend Stormzy would have something to say about this but he has also posted colourist tweets in the past. It’s not just mixed/light women who perpetuate colourism, many black men are just as guilty, however I wanted to focus on people with light skinned privilege in this article. As a mixed race/light skinned person you are the acceptable face of black which means you have much higher chances of career success than your dark skinned peers. And if you are a woman you are relentlessly fetishized, objectified and seen as a trophy within the black community.

As a mixed race person I have a duty to speak out about colourism and use my privilege for good. I know that a dark skinned woman speaking out on these issues might be perceived as “angry” or “crazy” but because I’m mixed I might be taken more seriously. Having said that my audience is very small, so the impact I can have is minimal. It always makes me angry when people with large platforms and audiences do not speak on this issue- and often times they just perpetuate it further. Not only that but we forgive them when they air their colourist views, as if it’s a perfectly acceptable mistake to make. As if it doesn’t have real and significant consequences for dark skinned people everywhere.

The way that light skinned girls are fetishized within the black community leads many to develop a superiority complex. However, this elevation in society is not flattering, it’s just a symptom of a white supremacist society. I cringe internally anytime someone refers to me as a “piff lightie” because I know they are objectifying me and wouldn’t find me attractive if my skin was a few shades darker. Kristel Tracey wrote a brilliant article about colourism and included this quote that sums up the fetishization of mixed girls brilliantly:

“Growing up as a teenager in the UK I was fetishized for my mixed ancestry by men keen to use me as a prop to bolster their toxic masculinity, referred to as “lightie”/ “that light skinned ting”, while my dark friends were overlooked and disrespected for not passing the modern equivalent of the paper bag test” — Kristel Tracey

I don’t think colourism is excusable, ever. The people defending Maya Jama and others like her for “being young” or “not knowing better” don’t seem to grasp the fact that disrespecting black girls is not some inevitable stage of development that everyone goes through. Sure, light skinned girls suffer from internalised racism themselves and have been brainwashed to a certain extent but that doesn’t mean they can go around hurting other people. I hated being mixed race growing up; but my self-hatred never spilled out onto other people and I always knew that colourism was wrong.

Below are some quotes by black, male celebrities. I thought I would include them to demonstrate the amount of hatred many celebrities have for dark skinned women.

“#handsdown Light-skinned women usually have better credit than a dark skinned woman…. Broke ass dark hoes” — Kevin Hart

“My daughter is the first and last dark skin child I’m having. The rest of my baby moms are light skinned chicks. I even got Asian baby moms to make sure I have a daughter with good hair. Too bad we had a son” — Lil Wayne

“If it wasn’t for race mixing there’d be no video girls. Me and most of our friends like mutts a lot. Yeah, in the hood they call em mutts” — Kanye West

(Photo of Kevin Hart)

I didn’t want to include those quotes in the article but I think it’s important to do so, so that people get an understanding of the disgusting attitudes people have towards dark skinned women. What’s worse is that all these people still have flourishing careers and have experienced no repercussions for their actions. Clearly when dark skinned men are spewing their colourist views it’s coming from a place of self-hatred and internalised racism whereas when it comes from light skinned women the motive seems to be different. Whatever the underlying issues that caused these celebrities to say these things, it still doesn’t excuse their actions and they need to be held accountable.

Why is this important?

Just as it should not be up to people of colour to dismantle racism and white supremacy, it should also not be up to dark skinned people to dismantle colourism. If you have light skinned privilege then you need to be addressing colourism and actively opposing it, or else you perpetuate it. I’m sick of seeing dark skinned women standing up for themselves because no one else will. Let’s call out colourist celebrities and stop supporting them if they don’t educate themselves, let’s stop pretending colourism is forgivable because no one told them better. Let’s tell them better now.

I’m going to leave you with a brilliant video of dark skinned women living their lives paired with some common insults and phrases that they regularly hear. It does a great job of showing the people that colourism actively harms.


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