Stop “All Lives Matter-ing” discussions about colorism

It is one thing to suffer from anti blackness and institutionalized racism from a system that was built against you, but it is another thing to suffer from colorism in your own community.

The concept of reverse racism is readily rejected by most melanin-ated (black)-people. However, for some reason, the concept of reverse colorism being rejected is a hard pill to swallow. In fact, anytime black people get into a discussion about colorism, the mind-numbing saying: “We are all Black, stop separating us” creeps in. In case you all were wondering, it is systematically impossible for oppressed people to somehow oppress those who are superior to them. For this reason, people of color are not capable of contributing to a system that oppresses white people; and darker-skinned black people cannot do the same to lighter-skinned black people.

Most of the time, light-skinned cries of oppression at the hands of their darker counterparts are accusations of them apparently invalidating their blackness. And yes, black people are known to tease others for being too bright, white or not black enough. I get these qualms. As a very, proud West African, I understand how saddening it could be to have the people of your community dismiss you, despite your shared culture. However, in my opinion, this does not compare to what darker-skinned black people go through daily, and it is not an instance of colorism. Colorism, like racism, sexism, etc. involves power dynamics. The prejudice that lighter skinned black people experience is not comparable to the global mistreatment of darker-skin people all over the world. Being perceived as less black has a currency, and has the opportunity to be translated into privileges and benefits. It is not possible for an oppressive system, to go both ways and be “reversed”. Colorism is damaging in the fact that it includes measurable differences in the quality of life of people, based on skintone.

Let’s go back to the days where our ancestors were enslaved and subjected on plantations. White slaveholders used the idea of race as a fixed concept, in order to keep African Americans at an inferior standing in society. Historical figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, felt that the African American race contained fixed characteristics that are not apparent in other races. For example, African Americans were said to require less sleep, were characterized as inferior with superior bodies that were built for labor, and lacked emotion. Fixed race, as an ideology, would be available to help justify the institution of slavery, and keep white positions as unattainable for African Americans.

However, the birth of a mixed or white-passing class of African Americans allowed for race to become a fluid concept and resist their bondage by using their racial ambiguity to transcend their color. With the slave market itself being extremely racialized, slaves of mixed race, especially lighter-skinned female slaves, playing upon the perception of them being more delicate than their darker-skinned counterparts, would be sent to the auction in dresses, gloves and shawls, to slave auctions to encourage the buyers to deem them as light in color. Being lighter skinned meant providing labor in domestic work, as cooks, servants, laudresses, etc. with less subjection to harsh labor. Additionally, their proximity to whiteness meant that they would be perceived as infertile (with white child birth being associated with pain and black childbirth being seen as painless and animalistic), saving them from being forced to breed with their masters and fellow slaves. For lighter-skinned men, for the same reasons as their women, they were able to secure jobs at faster rates than darker skinned men, and it was common for them to work jobs such as coopers, carpenters, draymen. In the antebellum period, a slave’s proximity to whiteness labeled them as more intelligent and more of a threat to white people, in the fact that they could challenge their position in society by appearing as white, and escape their enslavement more easily. With color, the whiter a slave appeared, the easier it was for them to resist their bondage.

There is an undeniable privilege associated with having a lighter complexion in the media, and it is almost insulting to insinuate that darker-skinned people are capable of profiting off of a similar sort of privilege. This privilege is the reason why blackness in Hollywood is represented by a handful of dark-skinned people, but a slew of lighter-skinned people. It is the reason why dark-skin black women are likelier to be in an abusive relationship and are less likely to have access to resources to help them escape from such abuses (since abusers tend to target people that society does not value or protect). It is the reason why natural hair gurus are more successful if their complexion is not the color of midnight oil and their hair texture is full of loose curls and bounces with movement. And, it is why all-black spaces are barely diverse.

Light-skinned privilege is especially relevant in conversations centering dating preferences. And while this privilege exists, there is a difference between having a preference, and being colorist. If you just like lighter skin women, but can STILL find dark skin women attractive, you simply have a preference. But, if you cannot name or see a SINGLE dark skin woman as attractive, you are a colorist. How can a person’s skin tone be the sole factor that differentiates them from other women, and causes a person to see them as unattractive or negatively stereotype them? A healthy, natural preference does not prevent a person from seeing any sort of attractive trait or redeeming quality in a black women, solely due to her skin tone. Regardless, it is impossible for a person to have a preferred skin tone (natural or not) absent of prejudice. However, that prejudice does not aways have to be malicious.

To my light-skinned black folks: You are loved, and you are black enough; but in pointing out the privilege that you have due to your closer proximity to whiteness, I am not invalidating your identity in the slightest. And I am not expediting the separation of the black race and catering to the Willie Lynch syndrome either. By demanding room and representation for darker-skinned black people with hair types that are kinkier that 3C/4A, I am not oppressing you. We are solely working towards making society fairer for all skin/hair/etc. types, as our God-given right.

More sources:

White and black children biased toward lighter skin

The impact of light skin on prison time for black female offenders

The Doll Test

Study: Darker-skinned Black Job Applicants Hit More Obstacles

The ugly roots of the light skin/dark skin divide